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A world without grownups

Where were the adults when it came time deescalate tensions at the Lincoln Memorial?

Holy cow, do folks have their knickers in a knot about what happened last Friday afternoon, January 18th, at the Lincoln Memorial. But not many of them are saying what needs to be said: we only really needed ONE RESPONSIBLE ADULT to step up and so much of what happened might have been avoided.

Yes, I’m referencing the now-infamous Covington Catholic High School students chant and stare-down with Native elder Nathan Phillips that went viral Saturday and created a tidal wave of remarkably emotional reaction from all walks – media included.

After watching the short version of the video and the avalanche of retweets and comments, the statement from CCHS officials finally came across my feed:

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students toward Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general January 18, aft the March for Life, in Wash, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips.”

It continued beyond my 140-character limit so I quoted that piece and posted a link to the rest. (The link was to The Cincinnati Enquirer, not a place I’d generally get news, but one of the first to show the school’s reaction.)

Fascinatingly, since 2:09PM Saturday, my tweet has garnered more than 1.6 million impressions and almost 70K total engagements - with 300+ comments. (Imagine all of the keystrokes that could have been avoided if only there had been one responsible adult with those kids.) The level of troll/polarization in those comments showed a sharp division: you are either with these boys or you hate them.

The middle is, “this should never have happened.” Full stop.

In today’s “my way or the highway” world, looking for common ground is often frowned upon, if not attacked. The attacks are unsettling, to say the least.

Just in case you were lucky enough to be off the grid, this is the story of a large group of almost-adult high schoolers, some clad in Make America Great Again garb, on a field trip to a pro-life rally in Washington. While at their “bus pick up point” to return to Kentucky, things got messy. Raw video showed a small group of men identified as Hebrew Israelites spewing gross taunts and hateful rhetoric at the teens. (This is where the adult would have come in handy.) It was awful; certainly, a teacher or chaperone on this school field trip would step in.

But no one did.

The kids from the all-boys Catholic school got all testosterone-y and began to react and chant.  (Again, no adult supervision.)

Unfortunately, in our soundbite-driven world, the twitterverse was served up the most explosive clip: MAGA boys vs The Native Elder.  As a standalone, it was awful, yet not the bigger picture.

Deep breath here. My point is NOT to pick sides. The middle ground in this is my want for an ADULT to step up on this school trip.

After realizing these kids were left to go full frat house, my thoughts moved to: “if that was my kid, he’d be up to his eyeballs in trouble.”

Several questions tumbled through my mind: When did schools start taking kids to political rallies? When did we stop teaching kids to respect their elders? When did a peaceful protest become a place to hurl insults at kids because you disagree with a logo that they wear? Why didn’t someone step in before it got so nuts?

I cannot tell you how relieved this mom is that the Vancouver public school my kid attends does field trips to landmarks, ice rinks and museums, where kids are continuously supervised and there is a stated expectation they behave as school ambassadors. Oh, and, kids are not allowed to wear a ball-cap in school, at all… ever. Hats off. Respect.

Is my kid an angel all the time? Hell no. Who is responsible if he acts inappropriately when at school, or on field trips? I am.

Part of my reaction to the first short video was: I want to hear from this kid’s parents. When the mom’s statement came in, it was disappointing. Suffice to say: this lad might have some significant role model issues.

The parent in me needed to get the lesson to my son, so I showed him the short video - he reacted. Then we watched the pointed portion of the longer video – different reaction. After some pondering, my question was: “What do you think you would have done?”

His answer: “Not that.”

That’s a good starting point. We talked about deescalating situations when things get a bit crazy, when there is peer pressure or external nastiness.

My middle is pretty simple on this — there are big lessons to be learned from this series of events. For kids, parents – and, yes, the media. From the initial outrage on both conventional and social media toward the MAGA-wearing school boys to the larger picture of how easily a story can be skewed all the way to how very far from human decency things have tumbled.

At the root, we cannot expect kids to model good behaviour without setting some sort of standard of good behaviour, or provide consequences that resonate.

We need to be adults.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.