April 21, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 21, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Response to the Teaneck High School Walkout

In his letter to the editor in your Dec. 7 edition (“The Teaneck High School Walkout”), Dr. Dennis Klein of the Teaneck Board of Education presented his explanation for having supported the decision to permit the pro-Palestinian student protest march at Teaneck High School during the school day a couple of weeks ago, along with some recommendations as to how to move forward from here.

As someone who was given the opportunity to say a few words at the rally held the night before the protest march in opposition to it, and who also reached out to the board both before and after the march (and hence, I suppose, engaged in some of the “rhetoric” to which Dr. Klein referred), I think it is important to address some of his points.

His primary justification for agreeing to allow the protest march seems to be that encouraging students to express themselves in this manner is “imperative” and is indeed “education for our students by other means.” First, let me note that it is my understanding (as explained to me by a legal expert — I am not one) that the right to freedom of speech does not apply to students in school who use their speech to disrupt the regular school day. Surely, a protest march during school hours, which Dr. Klein acknowledged was “divisive” and featured a message which he called “provocative and incendiary” — so much so that some Jewish students skipped school that day because they were too frightened to come to the building — falls into the “disruptive” category. What lesson, then, was being taught by permitting the march?

More important, I would ask Dr. Klein and his fellow board members what the response would be if a group of THS students who identified as “White Supremacists” or “anti-gay” or pro-something else deemed abhorrent by another religious, social or ethnic group in our community would try to organize a non-violent march on school grounds during school time, with the chanting of offensive slogans. I think we all know that such a march would not be allowed at the school, and correctly so, in spite of the students’ “need to express themselves … in response to global events that stir their passions and shape their worldviews.” I’m not sure why this case is any different.

As for Dr. Klein’s constructive suggestions about better educating the students, bringing them together “to share their perspectives … for building a … safe school environment,” and creating “student-centered forums … to promote inquiry and reflection” — those are of course very worthy ideas. But they are of value quite independently of having allowed this protest march at the school — it’s not an “all-or-nothing” proposition.

Indeed, such programs should probably have been in place before the march was ever proposed, and certainly once it was, they could have been implemented as part of a clarification as to why permission to hold it during school had to be denied. Would it not have been educationally sound to tell the students that it is inappropriate to use the school day and the school premises for this march, while at the same time affirming that after school they would have every right to civilly express their feelings elsewhere on behalf of whatever their cause? As I wrote to the board, this episode could have been a wonderful “teachable moment” focusing on school unity, encouraging school pride, and highlighting the importance of demonstrating sensitivity to and care for all fellow students — even those with whom one might profoundly and strongly disagree — at least within the confines of the school itself.

As a high school teacher, administrator and principal myself for over 40 years, I know that teenagers, while often thoughtful, sincere, and well-meaning, are also sometimes impulsive, impetuous and unable to see all the ramifications of their actions. That’s why the directives of the “adults in the room” are so important. Let us certainly educate all of our students as best and as creatively as we can about the major issues confronting our world today and about how to react to those issues properly, but let us also call them out when their behavior crosses a line and provide them with the guidance they need to help mold them into adults of who we can all be proud.

Rabbi Michael Taubes
Teaneck

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles