Sunday, August 7, 2016

Words Matter, Mr. Paladino!

This weekend a School Board member made national news when he went on the record to express his views/opinions about our President’s religious affiliation.  Carl Paladino cited patently false and repeatedly debunked accusations that President Obama “is a Muslim, not a Christian.” Further his remarks insinuated that President Obama, if not a Muslim is a “sympathizer”.  Although he leaves the listener to surmise with what or whom the President identifies, he clearly believes the President is un-patriotic, is only supported by the “uninformed” or the “elite” and doesn’t care about the average American. While these remarks would appear to be aimed only at the President, the covert message is that somehow, being a Muslim is a problem; signals un-American tendencies; is intolerable and sinister.   

I am appalled that an educational decision maker would make such remarks without consideration of their impact on the student population he serves.  And as a fellow Board member, I believe that silence becomes complicity in support of this behavior. It should be acknowledged that Mr. Paladino has freedom of speech to express his views.  And he is doing that as a citizen not as a Board member. Likewise, my comments are not made on the behalf of the Board or of myself, as a Board member. In fact, the Board is prevented by Education Law from formally admonishing or sanctioning one of its members.  However, as Mr. Paladino has, I also have the right, and the obligation, to exercise my free speech rights and do so as a grandmother, child advocate and educational stakeholder. 
Buffalo Schools serve over 34,000 students.  African American, Latino, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islanders comprise nearly 80% of our student population.  An increasing number of our students are immigrant children who come from countries where the predominant religion is Islam.   We also recognize that many of our students, American citizens, are Muslims.  Our country was founded on the belief that religious freedom is a fundamental right.     All of our children, regardless of religious preference, deserve and MUST see educational leaders/adults modeling behavior that demonstrates a valuing, respect and tolerance of difference. Our educational system actively promotes the goal that “All students will demonstrate the ability to live harmoniously and to cooperate with others, valuing the enrichment provided by diversity, and incorporating our democratic civic values of equal opportunity, justice, and peace.”  In other words, we message that regardless of race, creed, religion, national origin or sexual orientation we expect the ideal that all will treat each other with dignity, honesty and respect. That includes adults. 

Our students understand coded language.  They are more technologically savvy than most adults and they respond to social media in formats that we’ve never heard of.  Comments such as those made by Mr. Paladino are not confined to CNN or the Buffalo News.  Our students understand the hypocrisy of adults, who exercise situational ethics in their interactions. They reject the attempt to impose a set of standards for behavior on them that are not mirrored in the behavior of those who make the policies. They expect us to model the behavior, adhere to the ideals and validate the goals we’ve developed to guide the system. Yes, words matter, actions matter.  Our students are watching us Mr. Paladino.  What will you do or say next?