With fake news running roughshod throughout the media, one thing that people of all political stripes agree about is that it has become more difficult – and more critical – to separate what’s true from what is merely rumor. It’s an issue on the national front and even more so on the micro-local level. Piedmont’s recent high school assemblies and the resulting news coverage offered an illuminating example of how slippery ‘facts’ can be.
For anyone who has missed the shocking and disheartening story, PHS and Millennium both held assemblies a few weeks ago to address multiple incidents of racist and anti-Semitic behavior amongst students. Parents from both schools received multiple notifications, and a recent School Board meeting was dominated by questions and concerns from parents and students. The primary emotion expressed seemed to be: what exactly happened?
It makes sense that most people were befuddled by the news and felt unable to react without having more details about the incidents. The idea that despite our touchy-feely Northern California location, despite the tremendous focus our schools place on social-emotional learning and ‘life skills,’ despite Diversity Day, despite Holocaust speakers, despite the Wellness Center, despite a prevailing feeling that these kids are so much nicer than we were back in the day, despite it all, that there can still be hurtful, threatening, unacceptable behavior – it makes no sense. And so we demand more information, and those of us whose kids were directly affected in one way or another are tempted to overly focus on the ‘process.’ As if all the District needed to do was to turn to page 268 of its handy Crisis Management Handbook and follow the instructions, and yet they botched it. There’s no doubt they made mistakes – we don’t need a play-by-play to figure that out. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable.
Because the world is never completely transparent and seems to be becoming even less so, it’s incumbent on sentient citizens to do our best to interpret whatever information is available. Sometimes the only choice is to use common sense to make your best judgments about he-said, she-said situations. If the President sends key members of the intelligence community out of a room before saying something to the FBI Director, he was probably aware that he was crossing a line. If the outcry about a wonderful community member’s dismissal as a coach is noticeably missing any input from current players or their parents, it’s safe to say there were at least a few people who welcomed the change. If the PUSD isn’t providing extensive detail on each and every incident, they’re probably either still investigating or are treading carefully through a minefield of overtly threatened or implied legal action.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know and understand more about what happened. But we all know enough, already, to focus on what’s truly important about what we’ve learned over the past few weeks. We know to talk with our kids about how racial or anti-Semitic slurs are never funny, and they’re never acceptable. We know that teenagers make stupid mistakes and there needs to be a path for them to make things right. We know that like the rest of this imperfect country, Piedmont still has a lot of work to do. That’s not exactly good news, but it’s not the worst news in the world either. And it’s definitely not fake.