Speaking for Love Equals Suspension for Three Students

I was introduced to these three stories today; three stories that can be very disheartening. Each one speaks to the difficultly of being a True Rebel voice as a young student.

The first was on the cover of the Toronto Star today. A 17 year old Catholic high school student distributed a Valentine's Day letter in his high school cafeteria addressed to the girls of his school. You can find the full story here. The main body of the letter read as follows;

You don’t need to dress or act a certain way to fit in, to feel attractive, or to BE attractive. You’re all far more attractive than you realize. All of you. But that’s not to say that you should all dress in revealing clothing. No, not at all. Sure, a girl who dresses that way might turn a few heads, and get some compliments. But real attractiveness doesn’t come from wearing the latest fashion, and it doesn’t come from being scantily clad in public, or putting on make-up, or having a pretty face, or a nice body. No. Real attractiveness comes from having a certain dignity. It comes from having class. It comes from being true to yourself, being yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin. This message is for all young women within the sound of my voice and beyond. You’re all beautiful. You all have inner beauty AND outer beauty.

The letter was actually approved by the high school administration to be read as a speech, except they wanted to make a few changes. Paul Gomille did not make the changes and distributed his letter instead independently, which resulted in a two-day suspension for “opposition to authority".

Paul had addressed his letter to "the ones that don’t talk about people behind their backs" and "the ones that don’t dress in revealing clothing". The section was thought to be too judgemental. On the other hand, if your letter is about the beauty of having dignity why not challenge those things that are usually praised that make a girl less 'beautiful' by her actions? In any case, Paul wanted to make a certain point and didn't want to edit it.

It's a ridiculous suspension for a young man who wanted to stand up for a different kind of beauty and encourage his female peers to see the beauty in themselves; a true love letter on Valentine's Day. I'm glad Paul brought it to the media attention; on the other hand, I think he should serve his suspension with PRIDE! His willingness to pay the price would make his action all the more honourable!

The next suspension was handed out earlier in February to a girl in Wisconsin. You can read here about 7th grade Miranda who was suspended for teaching her classmate how to say "Hello" and "I Love You" in her family's native language of Menominee. Miranda was originally benched in her basketball game for "attitude problems". Another older teacher became upset at Miranda for upsetting the other teacher, and quickly being benched in a basketball game was upgraded to a suspension. When the original incident occurred "The teacher went to where the two were sitting and literally slammed her hand down on the desk and said, "How do I know you are not saying something bad?"

What really makes this situation all the more infuriating is that Native Americas make up over 60 percent of this particular Catholic school's population. In some ways it is like nothing has changed. A girl is teaching her classmate how to say "hello" and "I love you" and ends up suspended because of it. The message is clear to this young girl, not even high school age yet, "Your language is something to be questioned and feared and even punished." It is the same message the first peoples of this land have always gotten from us.

The motivation of the individuals does not have to be racist for the results to be racist.

A racist system is exactly the accusation that one student made against her school system in Rochester New York. Jada Williams, a 13 year old student, has even gone so far as to compare her experience of the school system as akin to a modern version of slavery. The article was just put online today and you can find it here.

Jada is an absolute inspiration; 13 years old but she speaks with wisdom, insight and challenge in a "bold comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass". Here is an excerpt from the article;

In her essay, which was written for a contest, Williams reflected on what Douglass heard his slave master, Mr. Auld, telling his wife after catching her teaching Douglass how to read. "If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him," Auld says. "It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master."

Williams wrote that overcrowded, poorly managed classrooms prevent real learning from happening and thus produces the same results as Mr. Auld's outright ban. She wrote that her white teachers—the vast majority of Rochester students are black and Hispanic, but very few teachers are people of color—are in a "position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom."

Instead of truly teaching, most teachers simply "pass out pamphlets and packets" and then expect students to complete them independently, Williams wrote. But this approach fails, she concluded, because "most of my peers cannot read and or comprehend the material that has been provided." As a result, she continued, not much has changed since the time of Douglass, "just different people, different era" and "the same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man." Williams called for her fellow students to "start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you" and challenged teachers to do their jobs. "What merit is there," she asked, if teachers have knowledge and are "not willing to share because of the color of my skin?"

You might respond that it is unfair of Jada to make this about 'racism'. It might in reality be more about socio-economics and that kids in poorer areas of the United States are not afforded the same dedication to their education as kids in richer areas. However, like I said earlier, "The motivation of the individuals does not have to be racist for the results to be racist." If poorer areas have a tendency to be filled with Black and Hispanic students, then, by and large, students of colour are not being educated and 13 year old Jada has poignantly condemned the racism that results from such a system that is comparable to the practices of slave-time America.

It was a comparison that the teachers were so offended by that Jada was kicked out of class and attempts were made to suspend her. Eventually her parents withdrew her entirely from the school. While Jada was celebrated with an award from "the conservative Frederick Douglass Foundation" her school missed the opportunity to equally celebrate the intelligent expression of their student. Instead they chose to be offended and essentially force her out of their school, a school in which "only 19 percent [of] eighth graders were proficient in language arts last year (and just 13 percent in math)—well below the state average of 60 percent."

The article rightly states that "attempting to silence Williams by branding her a troublemaker and driving her off campus isn't the answer. Now she is walking away from this controversy convinced that white teachers don't want to educate black students at all."

Three students in trouble at their school; three students who could have been celebrated rather than chastised. One who wanted to show beauty in dignity, one who simply wanted to say "I love you" and one who just wanted the dignity that any true educator affords to every student.

Three schools challenged to become places for True Rebels. Three schools asked to embrace differences; differences in appearance, differences in language and differences in race and/or socio-economics. Unfortunately, every school failed the challenge.

Do we want students who are taught that they are not allowed to express themselves? Students who must conform to the parameters of control of their educational institutions? Students who fear punishment for speaking the truth as they see it?

If this is truly the education we are receiving perhaps a suspension for "opposition to authority" is a badge of honour. Question authority! If our intent is love, equality, dignity, honour, respect than any punishment we receive as a result is a punishment we can be proud of.

Received an e-mail in

Received an e-mail in response to this blog that I thought was great!

Thank you for including my sons story in your article.
He is truly a wise and courageous young man! What made this event even more upsetting was the words that were said to him by the administration when he was suspended. One statement that I remember him telling me about was "You have ruined Valentine's Day!",
what kind of thing is this to say? He has always looked to the adults at the school with respect now he feels that they do not respect him or his feelings . Who else in the school has been spoken down to?

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