PRO-HATE HIGH SCHOOL FIELD TRIP: And for present and aspiring school-building leaders a good teaching case study on how not to organize a school field trip.

Laura Keener spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Covington:
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion. We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement.”

Nice start, but not nearly enough…

Several Teachable-Learnable Takeaways From Covington Catholic High School’s Field Trip:
I guess we should start with the low standard of intellectual rigor, the absence of inquisitiveness and critical thinking skills that is being offered to these students. And for a school that by definition claims a religious affiliation, there is a terrible absence of proof that these students have seriously engaged the writings of any prominent (even Catholic) theological thinkers (e.g. Paul, Augustine, Pope Francis, Merton, Matthew-Mark-Luke…) But despite their apparent theological learning deficiencies, it would be totally amazing and sufficient, if over a 4 year Catholic high school experience, they were to somehow managed to accidentally stumble onto the words of Jesus!

•Let’s just call it what it is, the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) slogan and hat is a statement and call for racism and bigotry. Elected officials, military, police personnel and everyone else who wears the hat believes in the MAGA’s undergirding vision of Making America White (Supremacy) Again. And if the answer is yes to the question: “Would Jesus wear a MAGA cap?”; then we are lost, and we all might as well sign up for team Nietzsche.

•The call and chant of “Build The Wall”! clearly has nothing to do with border security, crime or terrorism, and everything to do with eliminating and reducing the number of American Brown bodies in the US. It’s a racist response to declining white birth rates and the perceived loss of white entitlement. Also, were these students (and their chaperons) the least bit concerned that their “Wall Call” likely meant walling off a lot of fellow Catholics; or was the overriding motivation to wall off people of color, Catholic or not?

•The so-called ‘pro-life’ movement has some explaining to do. In many instances it is simply serving as a front that provides a platform for male old-fogies (some so uninformed that they think a condom is an apartment you purchase) to control the reproductive organs of women; and thus, keep them ‘in their places’! What is ‘pro-missing’ from this movement is the compassion and concern for mothers, their babies (especially when those babies are Black and Brown) after they enter this life. Increasingly, women are not fooled by the ‘pro-life’ hypocritical rhetoric; they are fully aware that this ‘movement’ has nothing to do with their dignity, agency and even less to do with the well-being of their children.

•Where were the adult chaperons (there is no way these high school students took themselves on a field trip), when these young people verbally and physically abused this Viet-Nam Native American veteran. Why did they not stop the students? Did they agree with, and encouraged the ugly hateful behavior of the students? It’s good that students are being disciplined but what about the adult administrators and teachers?

•(Especially on an out-of-state trip) Student safety is #1 (just ask any of my former students about hotel beds being pulled into halls for the assigned night watch staff!) The faculty advisors/chaperons and the principal should have had a ‘cover all contingencies’ pre-trip meeting. I would be slightly worried as a Covington parent if they did have such meeting and this was the result! Now in life ‘stuff-happens’, and so you can’t predict everything that could possibly happen on a trip. But what you can do is plan responses for those things you know could very easily happen, for example: “What do we do if a student or chaperon becomes seriously ill or injured, if an ‘intoxicated’ or ‘belligerent’ person confronts the group”. You also have a pre-trip briefing meeting with the students to discuss the do’s and don’ts of the trip, and what will result from a deviation and/or violation of those guidelines. Next you put in a ‘redundancy rich’ fail-safe system that will allow the chaperons to make the ‘in the best safety of the students’ decisions on the spot. For example: On a trip to “physics day at an amusement park” my teachers concluded that there were too many students from other high schools who seem to be not-well supervised, and trouble was brewing. The chaperons wisely decided to cut the trip short. And its important principals that you back up teachers when they are forced to make these types of decisions.

•Those of us who know a few things about the ‘inner-workings’ of schools are asking some larger school culture/operational questions about this Covington situation. High schools as a practice, and for a lot of good reasons I won’t go into here, tend not to send the ‘prone to trouble making students’ on field trips, especially out-of-state on ‘potentially controversial’ trips. In fact, these types of trips would most likely be made up of ‘prone to behave’ student leaders! And so, unless these students were members of the Junior Evangelical Fascist Club (such a school club would also be problematic), the sheer number of ‘regular’ students participating in the ugly behavior says something about the school culture generally. Further, the hateful boldness and aggressive moral disregard for the humanity of a person of color did not suddenly appear on the bus ride to Washington. These students are clearly being exposed on a daily basis to a curriculum that teaches (perhaps not explicitly) that they (white people) are superior and Black and Brown people are inferior. There is also an obvious pedagogical fail in the history department, or why are these students (and their chaperons) so ignorant and dismissive of Native American history and culture in the context of American history? I have a lot of other questions like, politics aside, why chaperons are allowing students to place themselves in a confrontational and potentially dangerous (of violence and/or arrest) situation, but I’ll stop here.

•Not sure how this school trip fits into the best ‘caring for others’ (like refugees) theological concepts of the church, But let’s imagine that the school really wished to deliver a ‘pro-life’ learning objective to the students, well they failed. What does MAGA or harassing Native American people, or “Build The Wall” have to do with “pro-life” issues? We are accustomed to students going ‘off-task’ during a lesson; but the chaperons and an entire school going off-task? The other possibility is that the ‘real’ learning objective being honestly taught here is that: “pro-life”, MAGA and “Build The Wall” are indeed morally, philosophical and, politically linked in the school’s collective belief system thinking.

•The entire school (and others) must with outside help, undergo a major truth and reconciliation deconstruction, followed by a moral-ethical and theological reconstruction process; or the ‘disciplined students’ will be seen as martyrs and heroes of the: Pro-Making the Nation Safe for White Racist Life Movement. Without this demonstrative ‘house cleaning’ process; the hateful parts of the school’s culture could indeed intensify and grow more dangerous.

•Finally, the Catholic church should use this as a teachable moment. And the only suitable person to teach this lesson is the Pope himself. The Pope should deliver a homily that is read in every Catholic church in the world (Yes, he has it like that!) The topics should cover: (1) “We Catholics are not what you saw at the Covington Catholic High School’s Field Trip.” (2) “We don’t believe in building denigrating walls between people” (3) “And the true Makings of Greatness is the amount of compassion we act on in behalf of our fellow human beings.” Such a powerful message would not only educate billions of people around the world to the dangers of teaching and acting on hate; but it would also go a long way in healing the world-wide hurt and pain caused by the POTUS author of the “Build The Wall” slogan and that stupid MAGA hat.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…