Grace Manning ’21
I was shown a video recently which started with the phrase, “if every high school principal gave the following speech, America would be a much better place”. My mind immediately jumped to words of inclusion, promotion of diversity and equal access to quality education, among other traits that I would hope to see in schools across the country. However, the video, “Every American Needs to Hear This Speech”, narrated by Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host and author, opens with a statement that left me shaken: “This school will no longer honor race or ethnicity”. The principal who wrote the speech goes on to explain how he will systematically eradicate any forms of expression of identity such as gender, sexuality, religion, culture or language. He will, in fact, forbid the speaking of any language other than English. If you are interested in speaking another language, he says, do not attend my school. When speaking of race in particular, I was reminded of the dated and inaccurate phrases, “I am colorblind” or “I don’t see color”. The principal says he couldn’t care less where his students are from or what color their skin is. This supports the beforementioned phrases which ignore and reject the idea that one’s skin color or the country that one comes from, can be integral parts of their identity. Saying that race doesn’t matter simply doesn’t acknowledge historical injustices towards certain races and is insufficient to address issues of systemic racism and inequality in America.
Having attended high school in France, I can understand the reasoning behind videos and speeches such as this one. The French school system similarly forbids any kind of expression of religious identity, such as hijabs or crosses, while one is in school. This is supposed to promote a general acceptance, to minimize discrimination based on religion and to support the idea that school is for learning and for nothing else. However, I believe that this way of thinking can also be problematic. It is simply unrealistic to assume that students attending school are thinking solely about their schoolwork, one hundred percent of the time. Most students’ favorite parts of school have little to do with the actual classroom time. They are involved in clubs, on sports teams, perform in plays or musicals and they identify with a group of peers who they choose to spend time with because they have things in common. If we remove the students’ sense of identity from their school life, what are they left with? Do we want to be encouraging a homogenous school population in which everyone is exactly the same? Part of what makes America so unique is the diversity that we have in our schools and in our country in general. I have been lucky enough to attend school with people from all over the world, who speak different languages and who have introduced me to their cultures, countries, traditions and beliefs. This, I strongly believe, makes me a more well-rounded, better educated person than if I had gone to school with people who had to stifle or hide their identities.
So why is it that this video rings true for a number of people? Well, the principal justifies his decisions, saying the exclusion of foreign languages encourages English fluency. He also makes and remakes his main point: school is for learning and only for learning. Anything that might distract from this learning, has to go. He wishes to take “politics and propaganda” out of school life and rewards students for excellent work, not simply to avoid making them feel bad. However, this is at an expense that I don’t believe America can afford. It assumes that students who are at a critical moment in their lives for discovering, shaping and fostering their sense of identity, can ignore it and still thrive and succeed academically.
There is a hypocrisy here that we cannot ignore: we are consistently taught throughout school that we need to be well-rounded and balanced in our lives, not only to promote mental and physical health, but to explore ourselves to prepare for college and for the real world. Students won’t have the chance to recognize who they are and what they are passionate about, if their identity is constantly being suppressed. I think the question that begs asking is, what is our definition of what will make the American school system “better”? Is it to create a uniform student body in which one student is indistinguishable from the other? Or is it to embrace the diversity, uniqueness and difference that makes America an example for the rest of the world to follow?
“Every American Needs to Hear This Speech.” Youtube, PragerU, 29 Aug. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeqBbO_jpXk&vl=en.