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Note to the Class of 2011: Be careful what you put on your shirts

Submitted by on Tuesday, 5 January 2010 No Comment

Note to school officials in Dearborn, Mich: Teens do stupid things. Incredibly stupid things that at times demonstrate a stunning lack of awareness of history.

And something that happened in 2001 is indeed history to today’s high school juniors, who were in second grade or so when the Twin Towers went down. It doesn’t seem all that long ago to the adult mind, but when I was a teen about all I remembered about the 1972 Summer Olympics were Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. Those a bit older than I likely will first recall the massacre of Israeli athletes.

That’s why the hoo-ha that led Edsel Ford High School officials to call a group of students – members of the class of 2011 – into the office and confiscate their sweatshirts is stunning. We expect – or we should – teens to do stupid things. We don’t expect adults to react as if the World Trade Center had been bombed all over again.

The shirts, which the Detroit Free Press said the students had had made over the holidays, featured the number 11 at the enter, with the digits stylized to look like high rises. The school’s mascot, a thunderbird, flies toward the towers. The words “you can’t bring us down” are beneath the number.

The shirts were “offensive” and “in poor taste,” a school spokesman said.

Ay, but offensive is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s doubtful that even school districts in Texas have dress codes so strict as to prohibit a graduating class from using its year in a graphic.

It’s understandable that some would view the shirts as offensive. It’s just as easy to see how the shirts could be interpreted in a positive light, as a salute to Americans who refuse to be broken by the bombings. The teens say they meant neither – they were simply saluting their graduating class.

Likely because the students were Arab-American – and we all know we must treat anyone of Middle Eastern origin with the utmost suspicion – the least-flattering interpretation was taken and the kids were called on the carpet.

A community meeting was held, and emails were sent out to staff and parents, according to the Free Press. Commenters on the newspaper’s Web site called the teens everything from junior jihadists who should have been expelled to terrorists in training.

And it’s all over a sweat shirt that any rational person could see has two possible interpretations – three if you count the teens’ “it has no deep meaning” explanation.

Clearly, Dearborn officials could see only the negative interpretation or else they wouldn’t have sent an email blast out to parents.

That reaction makes the officials seem just as immature as the kids they called into the office to confiscate their clothing.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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