During my first week of teaching science at my former middle school on the Oregon coast, I noticed a student happily decorating his science notebook. I interrupted him before he put the finishing touches on his swastika. I brought the book to the main office, expecting shock and disgust from the administration. Instead, the incident was met with inadequate action.
My experience over the next two years was witnessing a steady stream of assaults on the marginalized communities in the school by a certain faction of the student body. Several teachers made formal complaints—one providing pages of documentation. The extent of the administration’s efforts to address these attacks was a talk with the offending students that resulted in no improvement.
To be clear, violence was happening. Threats were made. Students and staff were targeted. White power signs were flashed. Complaints were made to the highest level of the district administration by several staff members. While they actively listened to concerns, they were minimized once the meeting was over. The assaults on students continued.
We could place all the blame on the principal, but the blame falls on the entire district administration. It was impossible to concentrate on teaching for most of my time there. I didn’t feel safe. I resigned.
When I see images of Kyle Rittenhouse, I see students at my former school. They walk the halls, free to assault anyone they please based on their own biased attitudes with the support of an enabling administration.
Often, when someone tries to hold them accountable for their actions, a few false tears and a stream of lies allow them to escape any consequences. They receive a pat on the shoulder, and off they go to inflict more irreparable damage.
If you are seeing this in your school, you need to speak up.
Marginalized students and staff need allies. When members of marginalized groups reported these attacks, they were often dismissed as being overly sensitive or having an agenda. While the reports of people from these groups should be enough to merit action, we know that they often are not. If allies corroborate these concerns persistently and provide documentation, their concerns will be taken more seriously and more likely to result in positive changes.
Being an ally isn’t complaining about it. It’s taking action against it. Action that could get you in trouble. Do it anyway. Kyle is in your building.
Lynette Harthold teaches middle school science in Chicago. She previously taught in Oregon.