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This is a teaching moment in history

These are teaching moments in our history.

As the majority of Americans stood in disbelief while the leader of our nation yesterday defended protesters dressed in hoods, carrying symbols of hate and facing the opposition with the Nazi salute, something that I had heard earlier in the day kept going through my head.

In a conversation with Mobridge-Pollock Superintendent Tim Frederick about a bit of a controversial situation concerning a picture of a M-P student wearing a Confederate flag shirt in school, he said “this is a teaching moment for the district.”

A story in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader noted that a picture of South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs standing with M-P students after her visit here last year, had been taken down from her website. The reason was because one of the students in the picture was wearing a T-shirt adorned with a Confederate flag. A reporter from the Argus Leader had called Frederick to ask him about the photo. He told the writer that Mobridge-Pollock dress code does not explicitly condemn clothing with Confederate flags. He said the teachers and administration deal with dress code issues on a case-to-case basis. 

Frederick told the reporter that this situation and those like it are teachable moments for the staff and the students of the district. He said this is about teaching kids to be sensitive to others and their rights and their beliefs.

In our conversation later that morning, Frederick said he wondered if students in this part of the country really know the background for controversy concerning that flag. He said in this area the flags that we see are more of a symbol supporting Second Amendment rights.

He said if others had complained about the symbols on the shirt, the staff and administration would have dealt with it. He reiterated that is all about creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for students of the district. 

As I watched our nation’s president defending those who marched in Charlottesville under the banners of hate and intolerance, Frederick’s words came back to me; this is a teaching moment in our history.

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a human issue.

The Nazis, under the rule of Adolf Hitler, murdered millions of Jews because they were Jews. The pictures of the incident in Charlottesville show the prevalence of the Nazi party symbols among the crowd of white supremacists.

The president defended the group, saying some of them were nice people, just wanting to protest the removal of their history. Those symbols, statues of Confederate soldiers and heroes of some southerners, are also symbols of hate and an oppression of a race of people by others.

This is a moment when we need to stop and ask ourselves if our white ancestors had once been sold like we sell cattle today, probably treated less humanly in some cases and were stripped of their families, their dignity and their rights, would we want to be reminded of that in very public places on a daily basis?

No matter what our beliefs about whether or not the symbols of the Confederacy should be taken down from public places, it is not about hiding history. It is about teaching why these symbols of the Civil War may be offensive to a large portion of our nation’s population. It is about saying that that time in our nation’s history was a turning point. Our leaders made the decision that keeping people in the shackles of slavery was wrong and would not be tolerated.

It was about economic strength of the South that was built on the backs of people who were enslaved. The people of the South did want to give up the wealth they had because they had slave labor.

Now when hate mongers and groups like the KKK are using our president’s words to be emboldened enough to come out of the shadows and proclaim the so-called supremacy of the white race, it is a time when we must teach the youth of our nation about how difficult these beliefs were to overcome.

Those of us who witnessed the Civil Rights movement and watched in horror as humans were treated worse than animals in Selma know that that part of our history is not that far in the past.

The incident in Charlottesville is not what we are about. People who hate others just to hate are not “nice people.”

Instead of blaming those who would stand up to the hate, intolerance and ignorance of the white supremacist in Charlottesville, the president should have taken a lesson from one of his Republican predecessors who addressed hate mongers in a similar issue.

“You are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.” – Ronald Reagan

This is not about conservatism against liberals, as some would label it. It is about teaching what is right and wrong. It is about halting the march of hate in our country. It is about teaching our youth that there is more behind the Confederate flag than the right to bear arms or a cool looking shirt.

Katie Zerr –