Opinion: Move beyond Rebel debate



Ed Scott

5:32 a.m. ET May 21, 2017

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The South Burlington community is about to choose a new mascot. While painful and divisive to the South Burlington community, getting rid of the Rebel name and choosing a safe, inoffensive name will show respect for the black community and bring South Burlington in line with other schools such as Rice and CVU that have changed their mascots out of respect for the sensitivities of other minorities.

But while erasing the Rebel name will remove the reminder of slavery from score boards and yearbooks, it doesn’t end racism nor does it educate South Burlington students about the deep implications of the Rebel name.

While the Rebel controversy is painful for the South Burlington community, it has brought the issue of racism to the surface and thus created an opportunity to develop courses to teach students about slavery and the 150 years of racism and discrimination that have followed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Typically high school history courses include units on black history, but history courses alone do not impart the painful reality of black kids suffering racially motivated bullying in schools or increase the sensitivity of white kids to what it must be like to be black in a white society. Programs need to be developed with courses that are a priority in the program of studies and not merely units in a larger history course.

The non-profit program Facing History and Ourselves, though developed around the Holocaust, provides guidance for schools in teaching students about all aspects of racism and discrimination from bullying to genocide. Its goal is to teach students to “make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives.”

South Burlington already has a junior-senior elective course about the Holocaust, but a required course for younger students about the impact of racism needs to be added to the curriculum to sensitize all students to the issues facing blacks as well as all other minorities.

The unfortunate controversy that pits alumni loyal to the school against “political correctness” has divided the community, but an awareness about the effects that a name can have on the minority community means changing the name is the right thing to do. Now South Burlington needs to use the opportunity of this controversy to teach its students about racism, and how to face their moral choices with the benefit of history and an understanding of the evils of racism.

Ed Scott lives in Richmond.

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