Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times February 4, 2000
Is Buncombe School Board serious about its anti-bullying program?
By Monroe Gilmour
By initiating a comprehensive anti-bullying program, the Buncombe County School Board is to be commended for recognizing the negative impact of school-based bullying on student victims and on overall school safety.
Yet, there is an irony here. While declaring the school system's desire to decrease bullying on the school yard, the Board's own brand of bullying continues at the top.
The characteristic behavior of a bully and the impact of bullying on student victims elucidated in your feature article (AC-T Jan 19) describe well the School Board's own behavior in resisting the elimination of Indian imagery and mascots at Clyde A. Erwin High School.
The Society of (American) Indian Psychologists meeting one year ago called for the "retiring of offensive team mascots."
Dr. Dennis Tibbetts, PhD, Society member, and Director of the Center for Naive American studies at Northern Michigan University, stated, "It's distressing when Native people who are searching for their own identity or attempting to present their tribal identity as accurately as possible have to combat the dominant culture over the offensive use of our images and symbols." Why does the school board, vocally concerned about the effects of bullying, ignore such advice?
The National Indian Education Association has also called for the elimination of American Indian mascots.
Yet, like the bully who is indifferent to the suffering of his/her victim, the Buncombe County School Board continues to denigrate American Indians who say today, like Rosa Parks said forty five years ago, "no more."
With Board efforts to deny the legitimacy of the issue and even of the Indians calling for change, the School Board has built a self-deluding fence around its own intransigence. Moreover, the Board refuses to acknowledge the broad-based sentiment for the change locally and nationally.
For example, last summer the western North Carolina United Methodist Church's 1,146 churches passed a resolution asking for change.
The national NAACP convention and the local Branch similarly called for eliminating such mascots. Dozens of Indian, church, education,, and civic organizations have done the same.
The Board has not even addressed the substance of the curriculum, educational, moral, or psychological impacts the many resolutions for change have enunciated.
Some Erwin alumni see the American Indians who raised the issue as "bullies" themselves for challenging the status quo and hurting Erwin's 'heritage.' One Erwin Advisory Council member was earlier quoted in the AC-T saying the Indians should "go back home."
The broader irony of that statement aside, the family raising the issue has lived in the Erwin District since 1964 and has had five children graduate from Erwin. Is this alumni lack of caring part of the "disturbing resistance to change" that former Superintendent Bob Bowers referred to in his recent interview with the Asheville Citizen-Times? (Jan. 17).
History's river of justice saw similar, though eventually unsuccessful, efforts to retard its flow in the 1960s.
Georgia restaurant proprietor Lester Maddox tried to stem the river's flow and for a moment became popular enough to be elected Governor of Georgia.
Maddox, who gained his popularity by standing in front of his restaurant with an axe handle to defy the desegregation of eating facilities is today discredited and a mere footnote in history.
Buncombe County students will benefit if the school board chooses to follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rather than its current Lester Maddox model.
The Buncombe County School Board stands at a fork in the road. By choosing to eliminate harmful stereotype mascots, the Board will choose a vision of fairness, good curriculum, and hope.
To go the direction its attorney apparently prefers, the Board chooses momentary popularity with some Erwin alumni.
It also chooses an in-your-face, bully-like indifference to an increasing national consensus on this issue and guarantees itself a Lester Maddox-type footnote in Buncombe County history.
In short, the choice made will be an early barometer of whether or not the Buncombe County School Board is serious about its anti-bullying program.
(Gilmour is coordinator of Western North Carolina Citizens For An End to Institutional Bigotry and may be reached at PO Box 18640 Asheville, NC 28814 or via WNCCEIB's web page, www.main.nc.us/wncceib/ )
Please let the Buncombe County School Board know how you feel on this issue by sending an email today: Interim Superintendent Stephen Page
To read an unedited version of this commentary in which quotes from the Board
attorney and from the Erwin Dt. Lions Club president demonstrate the
parallels to bully behavior,