Wednesday, November 13, 2019
US flag

Do rainbow signs at Yorktown promote equality?

A group of teachers at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, posted rainbow-colored signs around the school that they say promote diversity, fact-based science, women’s rights, and justice, but others say the signs don’t belong in a school because they’re political in nature.

(FOX-5, Washington DC)

Fox-5 in Washington reports that some people who oppose the signs have said that by promoting only one viewpoint or side on several important issues, the signs don’t promote diversity and equality but the exact opposite.

Messages on one sign:

Patriots know:
Facts are not political
Diversity strengthens us
Science is real
Women’s rights are human rights
Justice is for all
We’re all immigrants
Kindness is everything
We are Yorktown

One teacher answered an inquiry from the news station with a letter showing how all the statements on the sign were supported by the mission statement of the school district where Yorktown High School is located.

“I have read through the sign numerous times; I have also studied the [Arlington Public Schools] and YHS vision statements. I can find nothing in these signs that are not supported by, and in fact promoted by, the values and beliefs of [APS],” the station quoted Deborah A Waldron, a teacher at the school, as saying.

Ray Pasi, who asked that the signs be taken down, explained why: “These are divisive times in our society, unfortunately. We do want to keep our school a safe, positive, and caring place for all,” he wrote.

Although it’s clear that a lot of thought went into the messages on the signs, they are restricted to a single viewpoint on certain issues. And while I agree with the motive behind the message—and physics teacher Aaron Schuetz said the response has been largely positive and he especially appreciates, as I do, the statements about facts and science—many of the sentiments expressed aren’t factual in nature.

It is debatable, for instance, that diversity strengthens us. I think it does, but there’s a case to be made for the other side: that a unified army makes a stronger and more capable fighting force. We’re not talking about armies here and our goal isn’t that kind of strength, but the danger of bumper sticker-length slogans is that when kids leave the school, they may take those tweet-worthy sayings out of context. That’s the danger from an educational perspective.

As a result of the likelihood of taking the signs out of context and promoting learning that fails to account for the complexity of scientific (and political) information in this country, I believe the well-intentioned signs should be taken down and possibly replaced with a seminar or after-school opportunity for students, where the complexity of these issues can be discussed.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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