In the latest episode of Mad Men, the characters’ affairs are interrupted by the assassination of Martin Luther King. A fair number of them react as if having lost a beloved family member.
I asked my parents if they remembered King’s assassination and the reaction among their (upper) class of fellow southerners. There, too, it was greeted with sadness, although not the emotionalism on display on Madison Avenue. They exactly nobody who took any satisfaction in it, although my mother recalled her own father, a building contractor with no axe to grind about civil rights, being concerned about King’s alleged communist associates.
The episode brought to mind this statement in a community paper from its high school principal, which I came across in researching my review of Transylvania:
Recently we have found ourselves confronted with the ugly reality that the negative actions of a few can affect the attitude and atmosphere of an entire student body and the community in which we live. We have had several occurrences of hateful graffiti and derogatory terms drawn on school surfaces. Such acts reflect poorly on the school, the students, and . . . as a whole. We as a staff and community cannot stand for this type of behavior.
Last week I met with our entire staff to address this issue of anti-Semitic and other racial illustrations being found in our school and community. We had a homeroom last week where senior class leaders met with each senior homeroom to bring awareness and brainstorm ideas of how to prevent this type of behavior. As a result of these meetings, several seniors led by . . . came to me with an idea of addressing our students in grades 9-11 and to continue follow-up homeroom activities throughout the rest of the year. I am so proud of our students and their response to this issue.
. . . .
As always, focusing on developing the social and emotional needs of our students is important to us and we are looking forward to the positive impact of two guest speakers who will be visiting. Gerda Weissmann Klein is an author, historian, speaker, and Holocaust survivor. She will speak to our community on . . . in the auditorium and to our students on . . . . Dr. Mykee Fowlin is a clinical psychologist and motivational speaker who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 2001. He will bring his powerful message about tolerance, acceptance of differences and appreciation for diversity to the community on . . . in the auditorium and to our high school students on . . . and . . . in two separate assemblies.
I can say that in my 22 years in education I have not seen a more powerful demonstration of leadership, compassion and guts to stand up for what is right than I did today. Well-done seniors!
Graffiti and vandalism are evil and stupid. Graffiti and vandalism that attracts the attention of the FBI (as happened in this case) are not the keys to a happy, successful life, and I hope for their sake that its perpetrators come away from this experience having learned this lesson if nothing else.
However . . . on their way to building fodder for their college applications, these student council demonstrated not “leadership, compassion and guts” but rather their opposites. Whatever the merits of their actions, they didn’t actually lead, but imitated what the adults around them were doing, including adults rich and connected enough to privately fund, not just one, but two guest speakers to lecture on the evils of upsetting rich and connected adults. And I am reluctant to praise the “guts” of someone for actions that only carry personal upsides. The civil rights activists faced nontrivial risk of arrest, violence and death. These guys only polished their résumés.