Joined: 18 January 2006
Some Washington area schools are being targeted for protests by an extremist church from Kansas whose website attacks gays, blacks, Jews and other minorities, as well as any whites who manage to get along with them.
On Monday, Westboro Baptist Church members protested at private
Sidwell School's middle and upper school campus in the District, where
President Obama's two daughters attend. Yesterday it was Bethesda-Chevy
Chase High School in Montgomery County because, the group's website
says, the school has a diversity club. And later in the day it was
Sidwell's lower school campus in Bethesda.
Westboro, in an effort to stir controversy and gain publicity, stages protests around the country and announces many more protests than it actually holds. Military funerals are a special target, on the church's theory that fallen troops are God's punishment for a country tolerant of homosexuals.
On Monday ffive Westboro representatives were met by several hundred Sidwell students and adults dressed in rainbow colors and holding signs with positive messages. The same thing happened yesterday at BCC, five Westboro representatives found hundreds of students and BCC staff stood together quietly holding signs with messages of tolerance and peace.
Before the protests, parents exchanged e-mails debating the best way to react to Westboro. Some argued for using the situation to let students engage in civic action by banding together to stand up for their beliefs.
"In my opinion, BCC community members are right to use this as a teachable moment," said one parent e-mail. "How can diversity be honored within healthy communities? How can healthy people respond when an unprovoked attack occurs on people they care about? How do we show love (a universal value) in the face of hate?"
Others said that it was best to ignore the group, arguing that Westboro loves publicity, even when it is negative. Said one parent e-mail: "Please use your heads! If you threw a party and no one showed up. .. would you throw another one anytime soon?"
Here's a message sent out to the school's parents by the principal intern, Bennie W. Green, after yesterday's events:
Dear B-CC Parents,
The protest by the WBC and the counter protest by our students went off without incident.
The WBC was represented by three adults and two children. B-CC was represented by several hundred students and many of our staff. There was also a significant police presence in the area.
From the beginning, you would have been proud as our students silently demonstrated their solidarity with one another by standing together and displaying signs with positive messages. Throughout the counter protest students communicated a sense of unity and respect for each other.
The counter protest concluded at 7:24 a.m. with an impressive recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. After the protest concluded, students immediately proceeded to their first period class.
During the beginning of first period, I praised the students for their maturity, self-control, and the positive way in which they represented B-CC. They were great!
Bennie W. Green, Principal Intern
Bethesda Chevy Chase High School
Here's the question: Should schools ignore protesters with messages of hate or use the occasion to encourage students to make their own anti-hate stand?
Joined: 18 January 2006
The school, long a favorite of Washington's leading families, is no stranger to presidential children. But in the months since Barack and Michelle Obama decided to send their daughters there, Sidwell has been pulled into the spotlight of a distinctly 21st-century culture -- one that is increasingly celebrity-obsessed and often shockingly unmannered.
Educators and others at Sidwell have portrayed this as what their most famous parent might call a "teachable moment."
When five anti-Obama, anti-gay protesters appeared in front of the school's Wisconsin Avenue NW entrance Monday morning, they were met by 150 Sidwell students waving signs ranging from "There is that of God in Everyone" to "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It."
"I guess they think they can influence what we think because we're young and vulnerable," said Daniel Edminster, a Sidwell junior. "They can't."
The school, founded in 1883, taught children of three White House occupants before the Obamas: Theodore Roosevelt, Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton. Vice President Biden's grandchildren go there, as did Al Gore's son while Gore was vice president.
But in the 1990s, when Chelsea Clinton attended, Twitter and Facebook didn't exist to amplify and extend conversations. (There have been more than 175 tweets about the protests in front of Sidwell since Monday.) Nor did the Internet function as a gathering place for the political fringe to the extent that it does today.
Administrators at Sidwell said they remembered two protests in the 4 1/2 years that Chelsea Clinton attended the school. This year, there have been two protests since mid-September.
The news media and the blogosphere have put the school under a microscope, too. GQ recently named the school's admissions director the 50th most powerful person in Washington. The Obama girls' first day of school merited a two-page spread in People. Its racial dynamics were analyzed on NPR. Its lunch menu is scrutinized by sustainable food advocates and doctors groups.
On the political front, pro-school-voucher activists invoke Sidwell again and again in their arguments for letting families use public money to send their kids to private schools.
Parents, students and educators say that the Quaker school's values of egalitarianism and thoughtfulness haven't changed under the spotlight but that expressions of students' views have become more visible to the public.
"I don't think anything in the culture has really changed," said
Chris Dorval, whose daughter attends Sidwell's high school. But, he
said, the attention has "kind of crystallized their culture in a way."
The school's former head said that even negative attention could, in
the end, be valuable for the students. "In some ways, these kinds of
experiences deeply enrich the education students get," said Bruce
Stewart, who spent 11 years as head of Sidwell before he retired at the end of June.
"You want to hear those voices, listen to them and make a judgment
about it. That's an important thing for kids to learn . . . not
acquiescing to it, not being duped by it, but hearing it."
Even at the lower school, where the five protesters chanted slogans that were not lower-school or family-newspaper appropriate at dismissal time Tuesday, parents said that they would try to use the demonstration as a teachable moment.
"My son is in kindergarten, and he won't really understand the content," said Amy Henderson, who was waiting with her preschool-age daughter in the car line. She could have stayed at home with her daughter and had someone else pick up her son, she said. But she said that she wanted to see the protest and talk about it with him. "We have too many same-sex couples as friends for it to be an issue," she said.
Not everyone at the school sees a big difference in public interest in the school between the Clinton and Obama eras.
"It's not really different between the mid-'90s and now," said Ellis Turner, associate head of the school. "This has happened now within a condensed period of time," he said of the protests, which he called "a low blow."
Turner said he didn't know whether protests would become a regular feature of school life. "We'll have to see," he said.
On Monday morning, an orderly counter-protest didn't prevent orderly learning.
"Guys, first-period class is getting ready to start," Turner told the massed students shortly before 8.
All but a few packed away their signs and headed into the school, leaving behind the five protesters on the other side of the street.
Joined: 24 September 2007
Ah I am surprised that the Westboro members were not beaten up.
I think they should be called in for an intelligent discussion and given cordial treatment.
It seems that the Westboro church should either be closed down or the person in charge arrested for instigating problems.
Joined: 18 January 2006
Joined: 28 August 2007
Schools should use the occassion to teach students. Students should be encouraged to express their views on such hate-demos. It is a good opportunity to teach the students that not all people in the world can think straight. They can be encouraged to think and express what is the best way to tackle them- ignore, ban or fight back.
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