I have been reading the online comments in response to the 14-year-old boy who was identified as the person who posted the swastika at the high school. The majority of those responses are focused on punishment. Their tone is one of anger. His act is releasing its own form of hatred from members of our community, one that seems rooted in righteousness. Growing up in this culture that is so divided and filled with hate and judgment, is it a surprise that a child would reflect what is already prevalent in our society?
The Chicago Tribune wrote after the election: “More than 56,000 voters in a Chicago-area congressional district cast votes Tuesday for an avowed Nazi and Holocaust denier. Self-proclaimed Nazi Arthur Jones, running as a Republican, managed more than a quarter of the vote against Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in the district that includes parts of Chicago’s South Side and several neighboring suburbs.”
This is much more disturbing than what this 14-year-old child did.
Instead of punishment and revenge, we should use this moment to teach this young man and those who think as he does. This should be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the teachings we present to our children each day. This boy’s act has held up a mirror for us to take a good look at ourselves, and reflect on how we teach and live out tolerance and acceptance of those who are different from us.
What are the natural consequences for this boy’s actions that will help him to understand what the hate he celebrated has caused in our world? His “sentence” should be to visit the Holocaust museums in Skokie or Washington, to listen to the recorded histories of survivors, and to sit and talk with any remaining survivors face-to-face to hear their stories firsthand. He should be taken to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and the lynching museum and memorial in Alabama.
Our public schools should adopt a curriculum such as, “About Us: Facing History and Ourselves” (https://www.facinghistory.org/about-us), whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.
These are just a few ideas of how to help a child who is misguided to become a positive contributing member of our society. Let us all be awake to the possibilities of this moment. We are the society that has produced this hatred, and we have to be the ones to change our world into a more peaceful and accepting place for all.
Steven Parker is an Oak Park resident.