Teachers took wrong course on high school art vandalism

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
February 6, 2018 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — Okay class, settle down now and let’s get on with our lesson on permissive vandalism and how the rule of law and common sense can be suspended for those promoting social justice.

As you may recall, last week we got to hear of a one-person show of insensitive narrow-mindedness. A selfish act, where under the name of Black Lives Matters, a student from a local high school defaced a painting. A painting that in this case featured the iconic car from the young teenage boy friendly-TV series of the early 80’s, Dukes of Hazzard. The car, known as the General Lee, featured the Confederate Flag and was the source of the vandal’s maleficence.

The actions of the student vandal bother me but not as much as the claim that both her social justice teacher and the vice-principal gave her permission to vandalize the painting. For people who speak of and teach social justice, the illegal destruction of someone else’s property as opposed to constructive dialogue seems counterproductive and totally contrary to their supposed beliefs.

Social justice is about the equality of all people and in particular, equality under law. It is not about destroying the private property of people you disagree with. And it is not about ignoring the rights of others in order to serve your own self-interests.

I was around in the '60s when people like President Kennedy and Martin Luther King were among the first to stand up for true social justice. Those men and everyone who followed in their paths battled for reform, especially when it came to reform of a criminal justice system that treated non-whites more harshly than whites.

They didn’t fear or ignore history. They used dialogue and demonstration as the means to begin change. And they used the law as the foundation of their argument not just a legal convenience when it suited their purpose.

There were no “safe” rooms or places in privileged high schools when in 1965 and under the orders of then Governor George Wallace, civil rights marchers were viciously attacked on the Edmund Pettis Bridge and savagely beaten by police using clubs, whips, dogs and tear gas. Social justice just outside of Selma, Alabama that day was earned and paid for with the blood of real activists.

Later that year, and as a direct response to their bravery and determination, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in an attempt to ensure the rights under the 15th Amendment were afforded to everyone, including African Americans.

That’s just a small part of how and what real social justice is and came about and it has nothing to do with childish petulance and destruction of someone’s art. People did not pay with their lives so that a teenager, with the help of teachers, could deface something that they so obviously misunderstood.

As King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” So why does a teacher who teaches social justice, a senior administrator who should know better and a student still trying to figure things out, use the darkness of an illegal act to demonstrate a purported belief in social justice?

I excuse the student. She is young and her enthusiasm for a just cause led to a moment of “destructive selfishness”. There are better and more credible ways to start and engage in this kind of discussion and at some point she will come to better understand the cause and the process.

On the other hand, those entrusted with her education need to rethink their responsibilities and teaching methods. Not only is it alleged that they counselled and perhaps conspired with a young student to commit an illegal act but did so while wilfully neglecting the rights of the person who created the art.

I don’t believe for a moment the artist’s painting was an act of intolerance that was in support of slavery and discrimination and I do believe a heartfelt apology is due to the artist. And I think it’s time for teacher and administrator to turn this into what it should have been to begin with... a conversation on social justice and the long road for real equality that still lays ahead of us all.