Words Matter: English Department Speaks out About Letter

Dear Seaholm Community…

As English teachers, we instruct students on the skills necessary to read, to write and to speak, not just effectively, but with an engaging and personal voice. The content of our discipline is not fixed in formulas, dates or numbers, but rather based on the skills we all use daily to communicate with our colleagues, our peers, our neighbors, our loved ones. We nurture the love of language and the power of words.

The recent scrap of paper found in a classroom has reminded us of that power in a hateful way, a way that both shocks and yet sadly haunts our past. Maybe a dozen words scrawled in poor penmanship on crumpled paper, carelessly tossed on the floor, and yet, those few words shatter the trust and commitment built over the months and years.

And in its place, the guilt, the recriminations, the fear and isolation—and yes, it is such a small number among us, who—for whatever reasons– prejudice, anger, childish glee— can misuse words, but are able to make us scramble to find words to right this wrong, to repair that trust, to assuage that guilt, to restore our belief in ourselves as better than those dozen words would suggest to the world.

But how? How do we—faculty and students alike—how do we resist this branding of our community as at the least, living in a “bubble” and at worst living a bigoted lie? Perhaps the answer lies not in grand gestures—no more scripted (however well intentioned) assemblies, no more candle light vigils or parades, but rather honest, open dialogue among us all without the cameras. Those events have their place and served us well, but perhaps we need to dig more deeply into ourselves as individuals and react.

In the halls, in your classes, in the cafeteria—just a word or two can communicate an openness, a welcome—among all races. We have marvelous students whose very being resonates with the need to seek social justice and equality. They are to be commended with our highest praise. But those few should not carry the entire student body on their shoulders. No, it is for us all, teachers, students, administrators–citizens of every ethnic background—to make a daily commitment to ensure Seaholm is a welcoming community.

Words can generate hate, as we have seen, but so, too, can they build lasting and honest communication. And, believe us– as your English teachers, we know you students are quite expert at verbalizing your thinking.

One act that can begin with the individual and would not involve the organizational skills for an entire building requires, simply, your voice. Write a note, send an email, post a comment or tweet some supporting words to any of the staff or students who have been affected by this painful incident. Just a few words can make all the difference to someone who feels isolated, targeted or unwanted. We have a tendency to pull back, saying, “I don’t know that person, so I wouldn’t want to intrude, or perhaps that person doesn’t know me, so why would he or she want to hear from me?” Or, just say a few words, as taught in your speech classes—concise, direct and with conviction, “I am glad you are here. What can I say or do to make you feel safe?” Let’s not allow this lone discordant whine to overwhelm our collective harmony in the ears of our teachers and friends. In fact, because their friends have already probably hugged them in support, the words of those they do not know, or do not know well, become even more powerful.

Sure, a note written privately, or a few words spoken quietly, may not convince CNN that we are not bigots, but who are we trying to persuade? The country or our own faculty and students?

Finally, expand that thoughtfulness, increase the scope your voice to include others who may for whatever reason feel isolated and alone at this school. As your English teachers, we can offer you no more authentic experience that using the power behind words to heal the soul of our school.

Sincerely, Your Teachers in the English Department

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