Editorial: Use poster flap, reaction as teachable moment

Carroll County Public Schools administrators, who are now being vilified in the national spotlight, were put in an unenviable situation when teachers at Wes

Carroll County Public Schools administrators, who are now being vilified in the national spotlight, were put in an unenviable situation when teachers at Westminster High School put up a series of posters by street artist Shepard Fairey, entitled "We The People" depicting Muslim, Latina and African-American women wearing the American flag.

On the surface, the posters are a positive message about the diversity of the American culture, something that we agree should be celebrated. Dig just a little deeper, however, and the posters carry a political undertone.


Fairey, who also created the famous Barack Obama "Hope" poster used in 2008 campaign, created these images to be distributed specifically during Donald Trump's inauguration last month. On the Kickstarter page to raise money for the poster campaign, the stated objective was "to 'flood' Washington with symbols of hope on Jan. 20." Fairey had been critical of Trump in the lead-up to his election as well, telling CNN he thought Trump was "dangerous … a demagogue who's a bigot and is sexist."

A lot of people would probably agree with those assessments. November vote counts in Carroll, however, suggest those who agree with Fairey are vastly outnumbered here by Trump supporters. We have to think that played at least some part in Carroll County Public Schools administrators' decision to have the posters taken down.

Ironically, we don't think many in our community would accuse CCPS, its administration or a majority of its elected officials of being pro-Trump. We're also not sold, even with Fairey's comments to CNN prior to the election, that the images on the posters are "anti-Trump" as the individual so much as they are in protest of some of his policies and rhetoric.

However, had educators been allowed to keep the posters up, there is no question that members of the community who view these images as definitively "anti-Trump" would have reacted harshly.

In this case, school system officials made the right call in having the posters taken down, in accordance with school policy, which is clear that teachers are not to take a political stance in the classroom. Of course, politics can be discussed in a classroom setting, as long as both sides are presented equally, but the goal is not to influence students one way or the other, rather to encourage conversation. The only misstep that we can find in this situation is administration waffling by allowing teachers to put the posters back up once they were initially removed, rather than telling them to hold off until the political nature of the posters could be completely vetted.

Students are now taking power into their own hands by creating T-shirts with the same images that some plan to wear to school next month to promote the message of diversity. Others, we suspect, may wear clothing supporting a different message and, perhaps, items that are supportive of President Trump. We encourage both.

In fact, we challenge educators to go a step further and use this as a teachable moment, perhaps organizing debates among students to discuss their differences of opinion on some of the most divisive topics in the news today and potentially find some common ground.