We agree with the parent of a Santa Monica High school student who suggested at a recent school board meeting that the obscene message that appeared in several places on the Samohi campus a couple of weeks ago should not be described as graffiti, but as a hate crime. And, like many other people, when we heard about it, we were, by turns, angry, disturbed and very sad. Angry because it was ugly beyond words. Disturbed because it was racist, and racism is profoundly stupid, and neither racism nor stupidity is tolerable in Santa Monica, much less in its schools. Sad because it was proof that there are people at large who are so cowardly or frightened that they can only express themselves anonymously and in the dark. As currently constituted, Samohi is so fragile that it has been fractured twice in recent months by the assaults of a handful of people. Just as residents of divergent views have found common ground in their battle to take control of this gorgeous beach town back from the policy wonks, Samohi administrators, teachers, parents and students of divergent views must find common ground and work together to ensure that the campus is immune to future fits of rage or stupidity. There is perhaps no more complex organism in the universe than a big, heterogeneous high school. Everything is in perpetual flux, and learning is a highly volatile activity. It is up to the District and High School administrations and the Board of Education to create an arena that can contain, but not inhibit all points of view, and then they must work – with teachers, students and parents – to make a coherent whole in which everyone and every point of view has a place, and no one is marginalized. Nothing can be imposed from the top. Everything must emerge from teachers, students and parents, because no one knows better than they what they need. In that way, it will become their school, their turf, and they will not tolerate, much less be undone by such vile assaults as the recent episode. But all this requires that the administration and school board listen, and thus far they have been better at talking than listening.
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