My old school made the national news three times this year. Its two most famous alumni– Glenn Frey of the Eagles and peace activist Tom Hayden– both passed away in 2016. Detailed obituaries chronicled their tenure at Royal Oak High School and how it shaped their respective futures.
Ten years ago, the vintage 1920s Royal Oak High School building was beautifully restored and transformed into Royal Oak Middle School. Here, we find the school’s third major news event of 2016. The day after the presidential election, a group of seventh-graders began chanting “build the wall” in the school cafeteria. Someone (another student, I presume) filmed it and posted it to social media. It was not long before the video went viral.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Detroit area, Royal Oak is a suburb of Detroit– the city ends at 8 Mile Road; Royal Oak begins at 10 Mile Road. It is known as a hip, progressive community. There were far more Hillary yard signs than Trump signs. Pride flags are a common sight. With its bars, restaurants, and trendy boutiques, Royal Oak’s downtown attracts a diverse crowd. If the disturbing incident in the cafeteria could happen here, then it can happen anywhere. It can happen in your city, at your former school.
How should teachers, administrators, and community members respond to this? How can caring adults convince kids this behavior is wrong when they’ve seen the president-elect on TV engaging in this very same behavior? How will this generation of kids develop empathy when the leaders of our society don’t seem to have any?
There are no easy answers.