In January, Catholic high school students waiting for busses near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. are approached by an Indigenous activist beating a drum and singing a prayer. One of the students stands face to face with the man with a smile and no apparent motive for negative confrontation.
Meanwhile, the rowdy group of students surrounding them clap, dance and yell. It is impossible to determine if these are cheers or jeers.
Images of the incident move swiftly through social media then are picked up by mainstream media outlets. The student and his classmates are deemed privileged, white and racist. Why? They were wearing “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats at the time.
When the facts of what actually happened later come out, the story is far different than what was presented by almost everyone, including those working in the field of journalism.
In Moose Jaw, Sask. last week, a Grade 9 student is singled out during an art class and told he should be embarrassed and ashamed. He is called racist and sexist, and the teacher invites the class to “boo” him. Finally, the youth is told he has a face that the teacher would like to punch.
Why? He is wearing a MAGA hat.
It is disconcerting that politically active adults of all stripes are making youth the targets of their rage against certain politicians and beliefs. Not only is this an intellectually weak way to discuss and debate conventional political issues, it can be detrimental to a student’s social and intellectual development.
This is also the sign of a general lack of maturity among those “triggered” by the results of an election. Of course, MAGA hats represent U.S. President Donald Trump. Many who dislike the president, validly or not, seem to think it is proper and civil to emasculate anyone wearing the red headwear. Disturbingly, even kids can be the targets of these attacks.
Both Canada and the United States are free societies, where one is encouraged to speak for or against values and beliefs. However, when did it become appropriate to single out teenagers – many of whom do not fully understand their own values and beliefs – in public forums?
When did we decide that youth are free game for disrespect and persecution by adults for following a legitimate political structure? When did we, as a civilized society, decide that teaching high school and university students what to think is more important than teaching them how to think?
In the case of the Kentucky student, the young man’s life has been turned upside down at a time when he is contemplating what he will do for his post-secondary education and career. The false story behind his encounter with an adult activist could impact his opportunities following high school graduation.
In Moose Jaw, a teacher has deemed it more important to embarrass a youth for the sake of promoting his own paradigm.
The debate over what direction a country is and should be moving is absolutely integral to democracy. But adults belittling youth for the stances they assume shows a disgusting lack of thought and maturity in our public discourse.
We all need to grow up.