Some Personal Thoughts on Recent High School Events

  • David Hoffman You may be aware of the anti-Semitic images that were posted on-line by a few Mercer Island High School students. Our staff joins in the condemnation of the offensive images.

    Here at Island Park, we work each day to infuse our students’ school experience with age-appropriate curriculum and activities that address and celebrate diversity, social justice and inclusion. Through our Second Step social-emotional lessons, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports initiatives, anti-bullying assemblies, and community events, we partner with families to create a solid foundation of skills and knowledge that nurture and support kind, empathetic and healthy children.

    No one, especially an impressionable child, should be subject to words and images that disparage their religion, race, ethnicity, cultural identity, gender and any other positive self-identifying marker.

    Having myself been subject to anti-Semitic comments in my childhood, I know the extreme hurt and confusion that such communications elicit. Thankfully, I had loving (and wise) parents who calmly addressed each incident and taught me some valuable lessons and insights. I share the following:

    1. Teach your child to be proud of who they are. It is a parent’s job to instill that sense of pride through dialogue, listening and, above all, example.

    2. My parents never spoke negatively of others. Author, Nobel peace prizewinner, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said that the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is ignorance. My parents shared that those who speak hateful words are uninformed. They have not walked in another’s shoes nor have been educated to the causes and consequences of prejudice.

    3. When appropriate, take the time to share with others your pride in your religion, beliefs, culture, heritage, and identity. Explain the meaning of rituals, customs and celebrations. Similarly, ask others about their unique traditions. Find commonality and stay curious. Listen with an aim to understand.

    4. Read, read, read. Read about other cultures; read about your and others’ history. [Interestingly enough, I grew up in a time when the Holocaust was not taught – in the public or religious schools I attended. In my experience, the Sixties was a time of great assimilation; when many parents, right or wrong, wanted to protect their children from the horrors of World War II. I also know, from teaching a Holocaust Studies class to teenagers, that there are issues around age and pedagogy that require careful consideration in order to maximize learning and minimize fear. Profound topics require trained and knowledgeable teachers.]

    5. Understand that the first rungs on the ladder of prejudice are not violencerelated; they are bullying and stereotyping. It is important to refrain from telling, or standing silent when others say, inappropriate jokes that bully, harass or intimidate. [In our Second Step bully prevention curriculum, we address the roles and responsibilities of perpetrators, victims and bystanders of bullying]. When we are flippant with our language, we become more susceptible to acting on it.

    6. People’s mistakes often hurt others. Give others the grace to learn and grow from their mistakes.

    7. Stay optimistic. Multiple acts of kindness are experienced every day. Always try to be a role model and mensch (Yiddish for a person who is to be admired and emulated, who acts kindly without needing acknowledgement or praise.)

    Our students are entitled to come to school every day feeling happy, healthy and safe. They are entitled to come to school knowing that they will be free to be their glorious selves. They are also entitled to come to school where adult topics, conversations and worries remain as invisible as possible. Thank you so much for helping to create a reassuring school climate.

    Let us continue to strengthen our bonds as a learning community. Let us, in every way possible, communicate to our students our confidence in their ability to excel and flourish. Let us, through our love, do everything possible to maintain and grow a school community where children exude eternal optimism, appreciate and care for each other, dream big dreams and dance lightly on their feet.

    David Hoffman