Viewpoint

High schoolers hurl insults Trump-style

Joan Vennochi
Joan Vennochi

It’s a teachable moment. But what’s the lesson when ugly chants during a high school basketball game trigger thoughts of a Donald Trump campaign rally?

At least no one’s making excuses for students from Boston’s Catholic Memorial School who taunted rivals from Newton North High School with choruses of “You killed Jesus!”

Catholic Memorial administrators quickly reprimanded those who participated in the rude chants, apologized to the Anti-Defamation League, and pledged to update their curriculum to include lessons on Judaism. The archdiocese of Boston called the chants “unacceptable” and Catholic Memorial students were asked not to attend the semifinal basketball game.

Newton administrators said they would address the chants of “sausagefest” that their students directed at fans of the all-boys Catholic Memorial.

In this case of insult gone wild, adults acted like adults. They took the incident seriously, responded to it swiftly, and called it a learning opportunity that would not be wasted.

Yet, given the tenor of these crazy political times, can these students be blamed for getting a mixed message about what constitutes appropriate language and conduct when it comes to religion or other differences between us?

The Trump effect has been directly tied to other high school incidents. In February, a mostly white group of students at a Des Moines high school began chanting “Trump” after they lost to a school with many Hispanic students. At an Indiana high school, students carried a giant cut-out of Trump’s head and chanted “build that wall.”

I’m not saying Trump instigated the “You killed Jesus” jeers. But the demeaning language Trump has been hurling at rivals certainly sets a much-noted low bar of civility. And Trump has pointedly declined to denounce any of the poisonous rhetoric spewed by his supporters.

The Republican presidential front-runner mocks critics of his profanity and insults as purveyors of political correctness. And he continues to make religion and ethnicity a dividing line between Americans.

That’s the message from the leading Republican contender for the White House. Of course, Trump’s not responsible for every word uttered by every backer. His supporters are adults, and he is not their principal. He can’t give them detention, but he can show disapproval. He chooses not to.

Meanwhile, the culture created by his words and rhetoric are what teachers and administrators are up against today, as they try to be role models for young people in a world gone ugly.

Ironically, the chants during the basketball game came a day after Cardinal Sean O'Malley called upon Catholics and Jews to “build a civilization of love.”

In the era of Trump, that lesson is more important than ever – and much harder to teach.

Twitter: @JoanVennochi

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