One of the more bizarre incidents I have come across recently involved three students who attended a high school hockey game involving Red River High School and Fargo Davies High School in North Dakota. A recent fad in the area is to attend high school hockey games dressed in white — as the students do at the University of North Dakota. But these three students (?) decided to dress in Ku Klux Klan outfits, complete with hoods and eye slits. A photograph was taken by a visiting student who was aware enough to wonder if the three were “racist,” and the incident has drawn considerable reaction in the region.
But the thing that interested me the most was the comment by the Athletic Director, Todd Olson, presumably an adult. Olson attempted to dismiss the incident as a tempest in a teapot — you know, kids will be kids. No, Todd, kids just being kids is when they wear tee shirts to a game in a hockey rink where the temperatures are low enough to freeze the nipples off a brass monkey. But Todd persists, “To be very honest, I think you’re looking for something that is not there.” Wrong again, Todd, there is something there and it is called “ignorance,” and as an educator you should be doing everything you can to eradicate it wherever you see it.
In this day we have come to expect the unexpected from young people. Further, we also expect the kids to be ignorant of their history and have no idea how offensive those hoods might be to minorities in this country who have had to deal with the hatred and prejudice of twisted minds for years in the South. And, granted, the likelihood of a black student attending a high school hockey game in North Dakota is slim indeed, still one would hope that the adults in this school would try to make this a learning experience for those kids and perhaps teach them a bit about American history, race hatred, and white prejudice. At the very least someone might have approached the three and suggested that they remove the hoods — if not themselves.
One of the truly disturbing things about the incident is that it involved young people who are supposed to be open-minded and liberal in their thinking: many see them as the hope for our future, even though recent studies have shown that they are even more self-absorbed and stressed out than their parents are. But even if we assume that those three students, presumably, who wore those robes thought it would be funny and had no idea what they were doing — which is a distinct possibility — one would think that at some point before they sat down, or during the game, someone around them would have pointed out how inappropriate their behavior is. Clearly the student who took the picture realized how offensive it was, but he only made the comment later, after going public with the photograph.
Given all the negative fall-out from the incident, we can hope that the school will, in fact, turn the situation to their advantage and make of it an object lesson. And they might start by having a long talk with Todd Olson.