Teacher-Tolerated Anti-Semitism in our Public Schools?
In the recent local school board elections, the battle lines seemed to have been drawn precisely between the public school and private school communities. And the bulk of the often euphemistically termed "private school community" out here is Orthodox. Many in the community had been worried, in the wake of the private school agenda sweeping the elections, about an anti-Orthodox backlash. Though I have heard much anecdotal evidence of that rising anti-Orthodox sentiment in recent weeks, none so eloquently - and seemingly agendaless - as this op-ed piece from the local paper. Written by a local Lawrence public school atendee, Ilana Yurkiewicz, she rightly condemns such blanket intolerance as being unacceptable, whatever the underlying motivations may stem from:
The budget vote. One of the most - if not the most - important days in the Lawrence school district each year. Since the Lawrence budget had been defeated for the past three years, forcing the district to adopt an austerity budget, it is understandable this this year's vote incited strong opinions among both teachers and students.
In the weeks prior to the vote, the budget seemed to be on everyone's mind. Flyers, stickers, and mere word-of-mouth tried to persuade the uncommitted. In the classic public vs. private predicament we face every May, proponents of each side criticized the other through the spoken and the writen word.
As Election Day drew nearer - and passions grew more agitated - something about the nature of the discussions changed. Comments about the "private sector" waned while those about "the Jews" grew. It had finally happened; the classic public vs. private scenario had been replaced by something much, much worse.
Us vs. The Jews.
"Don't drop your money, the Jews are here today," mocked one Lawrence student, to the amusement of the class.
"An Orthodox parked in my spot," another complained on Election Day. "Jews voting down a budget - very typical," said another. For these students, the battle of the budget was now a battle of religion.
I know; I was there; I heard it.
Just imagine if someone has said "don't drop your watermelon, the blacks are here today." Or a similar outrageous comment about Hispanics, Muslims or any other group. Needless to say, such comments would be vehemently condemned. From when we were in elementary school, we've always been taught that any form of stereotyping is wrong; we learned tolerance along with our ABC's.
Apparently, there are exceptions. Now, tolerance is secondary to budgetary concerns.
Ironically, much of the anti-Semitic words came from Jews - the only difference between them and those they mocked being degree of religiosity. Even worse, the blatant anti-Semitic comments were dismissed, under the guise of pre-election rhetoric. I did not hear one teacher say "This is wrong - don't ever say it again." In fact, no one even acknowledged such comments as what they were - anti-Semitic. They at best ignored them, and at worst, laughed along.
I know; I was there; I heard it.
Has the threat of austerity become so great as to allow for anti-Semitism? Or are such anti-Jewish comments the reslt of a long conflict between two diferent segments of the community? The answer is: it doesn't matter. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, no matter how hard some may try to rationalize their disdainful remarks in light of the election.
I know what the teachers reading this are thinking. "I never heard this - if I had, I surely would have said something!" Such after-the-fact banalities are meaningless. The fact is that several anti-Jewish remarks were expressed in classrooms, in front of teachers, with no repercussions.
I know; I was there: I heard it.
We'd all like to believe high school kids are smart enough to say and do the right thing. Hopefully, the next budget vote will be based on factual and reasonable debate rather than biased discourse. Until then, everyone needs to pull their heads out of the sand and take some responsibilty for their actions.
Or rather, lack thereof.