Teri’s Notebook: Controversial cartoon presented by teacher provides civics lesson

A Dayton High School teacher has come under criticism this week over a controversial cartoon she included on her history final. The cartoon entitled “Tale of Two Hoodies” depicted a police officer in a Ku Klux Klan hood pointing a gun at a young black boy who’s holding a bag of candy. In the background the Confederate flag appears behind a tear in the American flag.

The teacher was placed on temporary leave Monday, her future with the school district unclear, after some parents took to social media to protest the image. By Thursday, the story had hit some national sites.

Since the initial complaints were posted on pages, including Dayton Peeps and Armed Nevada Radio, the majority of voices has shifted to the students, most of whom support the teacher.

Coincidentally, I returned to Dayton High School on Monday as well, teaching a journalism class for Western Nevada College’s Jump Start program.

Before we knew anything about the scandal, we were discussing the First Amendment and the importance of freedom of speech.

This has turned into the perfect lesson, giving students the platform to express their views. They’re also seeing first-hand how Constitutional rights are just words on paper unless people are willing to stand up and fight for them. That goes for both sides.

David Anderson, 16, started the #SaveClausen, referring to the teacher in question. It’s one of about a handful created to show support.

“It makes me sad, sad that a good teacher is being pulled out of school because of a few people’s opinions regarding that stupid picture,” Anderson said. “Ms. (Elizabeth) Clausen wants to teach the coming generation the facts about our history, so as to not repeat it again. People these days get extremely offended and bent out of shape when someone doesn’t fit the status quo.”

As the story has gone to a wider audience, Zachory Edmiston, 17, can see how these things take on a life of their own, with little connection to the people who are actually involved.

“It is astonishing to see how far this argument has come, and seeing people make comments about a teacher they don’t know,” he said. “Most of what I’ve seen coming from the parents’ perspective is a jump to a very faulty conclusion with no factual evidence. It’s unfair of her to be belittled in this way by people who have only seen the picture and nothing else.”

As we’ve looked through history in our class, it’s clear free speech has been anything but free. It has been a battle — from a gag order in Congress prohibiting lawmakers from discussing abolition to the mysterious murder of a reporter after he reported on the indiscretions of Thomas Jefferson.

This fight isn’t new. And it isn’t easy. But it’s necessary.

We tend to underestimate young people, but from what I have seen they have brought reason and diplomacy into this heated debate.

Their wisdom is sometimes the simplest but most true. Like Asa Howe, 17, who wrote, “Censorship. Lol.”

Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at terivance@rocketmail.com.


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