Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or completely off of social media), you have no doubt heard about the viral story of the students from Covington Catholic high school and their interaction with a Native American tribal elder, Nathan Phillips, on Saturday. I won’t take the time to recap that story; there’s plenty of coverage out there.
What I WILL respond to is the reaction to the story from those who say that the teens were unfairly attacked for what looks like harassment, when in fact other videos and the statements of the teens themselves refute the harassment assertion.
Is there more context to be gained from watching those other videos? Absolutely. We learn, for example, that the students were verbally assaulted by another group of protesters, and that Phillips was trying to defuse that situation.
We also have the statement from the young man who seems to be in the center of the videos, stating that he was not being disrespectful, and that he was also trying to defuse the situation.
One of the best analyses I’ve seen comes from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, who spent some time over the weekend going through a number of videos and statements from people who were there, and shares his opinion of what they show: Making Sense of the Phillips-Sandman Viral Video. I encourage you to read his piece, and follow the links he provides if you are interested.
Finally, I will note that both of my commentaries on this situation focused more on the adults than on the teens themselves. We all know that teens sometimes do stupid things, and teens in groups sometimes increase that possibility. I am less upset with the students than I am with the adults. Where were the chaperones? Where was some sort of management of the situation, starting with the interactions with the other protesting group? If the young man was impeding Phillips, the Native American tribal elder, from leaving (as Phillips has said), why did not some adult step in and defuse the situation?
And finally, I will reiterate my ongoing call for learning to take place. The school is talking about expulsion, and I maintain that is the wrong answer. It is a cheap out for the school, instead of doing what it should do: take a look inside and see what sort of culture they have built and are building, and whether respect for others and a diverse world view are part of that culture. However you may feel about the actions of the students – at fault or not – we can all agree that this would be a better outcome of this story.