As someone who stands a pretty good chance of eventually facing censure for the things I say to students, my heart was warmed this week by video of an openly gay student in Michigan speaking out on behalf of a teacher who he felt was speaking up for him, and other students like him.
The Daily Intel writes, “at a school-board meeting on Friday, openly gay 14-year-old high-school student Graeme Taylor came to McDowell’s defense, thanking the teacher for doing “an amazing thing” in a town home to the KKK…”
You can read their full post and watch the video at The Daily Intel.
The video, which has been circulating around the web since the weekend, is of a very articulate and poised young man speaking to a town school board about the temporary suspension of the Michigan High School teacher. What certainly isn’t in dispute here is the passion and grace with which this student feels compelled to defend an educator standing up for the rights of at risk youth.
While I whole-heartedly support teacher Jay McDowell’s solidarity with queer and questioning youth and his zero-tolerence policy for hate speech and symbols of hate (the classroom discussion eventually turned to the question of Mr. McDowell’s ban on confederate flag apparel), I think that his decision to kick a student out of class, based on the coverage I’ve been able to find of the incident, may have done more harm than good.
USA Today quotes ACLU Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan as saying that the “teachable moment” McDowell may have missed, was the chance to start a conversation with the students immediately following the incident. “We believe,” Kaplan said of the comments that eventually got a student kicked out of class, “based on those statements — as offensive and upsetting as they were — they were protected speech.” He went on to suggest that, “the only way we’re going to create a better environment in schools is to start talking about this.”
Can I really fault a teacher like Jay McDowell for doing what he thought was right? No. Do I wish that he’d been able to turn the incident into a meaningful and productive classroom discussion? Absolutely, and I bet he does too. I’m sure that the legality and effectiveness of Mr. McDowell’s actions will be thoroughly debated, politicized and then forgotten. In the meantime, I’m going to just enjoy the fact that Graeme Taylor, a young man with the courage of his convictions, is the future of our nation.