Let them teach basic human rights

Examining the statements made by the superintendent of HSE schools regarding teaching Black Lives Matter, as well as the consequences for all of us


Staff Editorial

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, Dr. Allen Bourff, the superintendent of Hamilton South Eastern public schools, wrote a controversial and self contradicting letter to the faculty of his school district essentially telling the teachers not to state their opinions on an issue of basic human rights.

The letter described Black Lives Matter as a political movement, and gave that as the reason why teachers cannot express their beliefs on the issue. That is a pathetic excuse. First off, all important social movements are also political. To achieve any real lasting change, change must come in legislation.

So what if it is a political movement? We teach political movements as good and bad all the time. Women’s suffrage, abolition, civil rights, anti-war protests, were as much political movements as Black Lives Matter is, yet it would be ridiculous to ask a teacher to say that they were opposed to, or even ambivalent about any of them. We teach these movements as positive forces that made our country and world a better place, because they were, just as Black Lives Matter is. The only difference is that the Black Lives Matter movement is happening now. Should the deciding factor on whether or not teachers can express their opinion on human rights really be whether the human rights in question are of humans that are alive? We do not think so.

When we learn history, it is impossible not to insert some sort of bias or narrative. We learn about the American Revolution from the perspective of the colonists, World War 2 from the United States and other allied nations, because they were the forces for good. If we want to teach Black Lives Matter without any bias, we would have to teach the rest of social studies without bias, which would be impossible.

BLM is a movement demanding change. Change in the way that we think, the way we talk and the way we act. This is a necessary change, and change that must be incorporated in all aspects of society; from our decisions as private citizens, to decisions made at places of work and education, all the way to policy decisions made at every seat of government in the nation. Any meaningful and equally important social movement to Black Lives Matter demands to also be a political movement by sheer nature, and to dismiss teaching about that movement would be negligent.

The universe does not fit into neat and tidy boxes the way we imagine it does. Sometimes, these boxes are not perfect rectangles, they are the wrong size, and they can even be the wrong shape. Social movements are somewhat political, political movements are somewhat social, and neither of those facts should prevent teachers from saying that they believe that Black Lives Matter.

Teachers are governmental employees, restricting them from talking about certain political views is allowed, but let’s put away the argument on whether or not it should be for now. Black Lives Matter is about more than advancing a political agenda, it is a social justice movement, promoting a better and more inclusive world to live in. It is up to schools how to deal with certain cases regarding restricting teacher’s political speech, so the government is not forcing them to restrict teachers this way, it is their choice.

The first sentence of the letter acknowledges that this was brought by parents complaining when some teachers expressed support for the Black Lives Matter. Not only is this shameful for the parents who complained about this, but the schools and superintendent, who bent to the will of a handful of parents instead of fighting for their students and social justice.

It is not the place of the parents to decide what should and how movements should be taught, that is the job of the educators that are certified and trained to do this job. A parent has the right to teach their children what they please in their own homes, but not at public schools.
If you have a problem with BLM, you most likely do not understand it. Black Lives Matter does not mean matter more, or matter instead of, just matter. It is about human rights, not about exclusion.

It is simply wrong to tell teachers that they cannot voice their support for Black Lives Matter, because the alternative is saying that black lives do not matter. This is different from whether or not a teacher says they are in favor of a certain economic policy, wish for a certain candidate to be elected, or their opinion on policy. This is about human lives and acknowledging the inequality that persists in our nation and working towards positive change.

It is unknown what the effect of that letter will be. Thankfully, a letter came out the next day that directly contradicted the first one, stating “Black Lives Matter” clearly in the very first sentence, and emphasizing inclusion. And while it definitely was good that they did that, it does not replace the damage that they have done in the process. Teachers will be afraid to speak out in causes they believe in, important causes advocating for equality and human rights for persons of color.

Schools are where we learn how to make the world a better place. If we want to live in a truly better world, we need to accept the teaching from our educators, whether we agree with it or not. We need to trust that children will not get “brainwashed” and learn about opposing viewpoints, even if we disagree with them. Giving teachers a gag order is not the way to do that.