Friday, March 9, 2012
"USA" Chant Targets Citizens | Casey's Last Word
The recent story about some Alamo Heights High School kids in the stands chanting “USA! USA!” after their basketball team beat Edison in a regional play-off game has become fodder for some controversy-hungry radio talk show hosts around the country.
Some of them are outraged that any students would be disciplined for chanting “USA! USA!”
They would have a point, of course, if this were an international match and Edison High School was from France.
The fact that the heavily Hispanic Edison High is only three miles from Alamo Heights gives the chant something less than a patriotic patina – and something more.
That geographical context made it, simply put, a racist cry – implying that Alamo Heights’ team is American, and Edison’s is something other, just because its players and fans are Hispanic.
Such slurs should not be tolerated at school events, and that is exactly why I think this is a good-news story.
It wasn’t tolerated.
Alamo Heights Coach Andrew Brewer immediately silenced the students, and later apologized for their boorishness.
And the students who raised the chant are being punished.
What impresses me is the nature of the punishment.
Over the past 20 years I have covered numerous stories in which school officials have issued stupidly severe sentences in the name of “zero tolerance.”
A girl was suspended because her mother left a butter knife in her lunch box.
A boy was suspended because he bought a souvenir “sword” at a museum gift shop on a school choir trip and brought it on to the school bus.
A 10-year-old boy with no disciplinary history was sent to alternative school and charged with a felony for filing a false fire alarm, and the district continued to press charges even after its own investigation determined that he neither actually filed the alarm nor even intended to, but acting on a dare merely pulled off the alarm’s clear plastic cover, setting off a local horn blast.
The police officer who arrested the boy under the misimpression he had pulled the fire alarm apologized to the boy, but the school officials, the ones we pay to help raise our children, never did.
The worst thing is that these punishments, by design, actually hurt the students’ education.
By contrast, the Alamo Heights chanters were given an appropriate punishment.
They were barred from attending the next play-off game.
“They made a mistake and we're going to use this as a learning experience,” said Alamo Heights Superintendent Kevin Brown.
That’s what educators should do when, inevitably, kids do dumb things.
Educators should educate.
I suspect the chanters got the message.
Years ago a very close friend of mine was assistant principal at Mark Twain Middle School.
One day a boy was sent to her office for yelling the “N” word in class.
She was authorized to paddle him or suspend him.
But she did neither.
She told him that at the end of the day he had to go see the proud African American teacher’s aide who ran the after-school detention center.
He had to ask her what it felt like to be called the “N” word.
She checked after the last class and found him in the hallway heading to the detention center, looking really scared.
Like the Alamo Heights chanters, this kid didn’t need zero tolerance.
He needed a lesson in tolerance.