Swastika found in Atlanta fifth-grade classroom: When hate goes to school

A white nationalist carries a Nazi flag during a protest in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (AJC File)

A parent at Mary Lin, one of the Atlanta’s highest-performing schools, posted a note on Facebook about a Jewish teacher discovering a drawing of a swastika in her classroom last week. Her comments generated social media discussion of how this vile symbol of hate made its way to a fifth grade classroom and what is the appropriate response of parents and APS.

Unfortunately, children — even 10-year-olds — have been seeing a lot of swastikas lately because of the violent neo Nazi rally in Charlottesville. As the reporter for a Vice news documentary who embedded with the white nationalists noted, the focus of the march was not protecting Confederate history or memorials, as some defenders insist.

“Once they started marching, they didn’t talk about Robert E. Lee being a brilliant military tactician. They chanted about Jews. Like, they wanted to be menacing. It’s not an accident,” said Ellie Reeve on th CBS news show, “Face the Nation.”

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen was aware of the incident. In talking to her about it Tuesday night for about 45 minutes, she praised the teacher’s response, saying she turned it into a teachable moment.

“The teacher did a great job; she didn’t overreact or ignore it. Perhaps, it was a reset for a student. Just because you go to a nice school in a nice neighborhood doesn’t mean everyone in the neighborhood fully embraces diversity like you and I might. You just don’t know,” said Carstarphen.

It is likely, said the superintendent, the child saw a swastika on TV or in the newspaper since the images have been common in the last few weeks. “They are watching TV and seeing stacks of newspapers, and seeing these images, and not fully understanding what they mean. I don’t think it was malicious; kids in fifth grade don’t fully understand some of these things. Great teachers can take something like this and make it a teachable moment.”

Here is the Facebook post that initiated so much discussion:

Yesterday my daughter’s 5th grade teacher (who is amazing and happens to be Jewish) came into her class to find that someone had drawn a swastika on one of her planters.

I can’t stop thinking about this.

We live in Atlanta and love our public school and our community. Her teacher turned it into a teaching moment as great teachers do, but I am heartbroken. My daughter decided to pick flowers from our struggling little garden to take to her teacher today. I know individual acts of kindness are good and that love is bigger than hate, but I am searching for a way to make a positive impact that is meaningful. Desperate for a solution that is a big enough answer for the many problems at hand.

Raising a child to be kind and loving is certainly a big response, but I’m restless. In the last few months we’ve had a lot of big conversations at our house: the birds and the bees, girls before boys, my daughter being asked out on a date by another 10-year-old girl, but I really didn’t see the swastika on the planter coming. We talk openly about world events with my daughter but a swastika used as a symbol of fear and hate as no place in a 5th grade classroom.

The incident at Mary Lin provides a learning experience for students, who, coincidentally, are now in the midst of “No Place for Hate” week at their school.  The elementary school student who drew the swastika likely did so out of ignorance, not hate.

Either way, it merits correction.

I have faith that 10-year-olds will be open to what the school tries to teach them about the potency of symbols and the danger of following blindly. Legendary AJC journalist Celestine Sibley wrote a famous column that there is no better human being than a 10-year-old boy; I would extend her observations to 10-year-olds in general. They are curious, open and not yet jaded.

Hate is a learned behavior. It can be unlearned as well.

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

135 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

When I went back into the classroom, I taught 5th grade.  This was in 1997.  I was guiding the students into understanding that people come in all sizes and shapes, all colors and strengths, all developments on their own pace.  I asked children to do a number of things: Ask their parents how they were named.  Bring in a baby picture, and tell how big you were when you were born.  Ask when you got your first tooth.  What was your first word?  When did you start walking?  How did you crawl?  As part of that I stressed that people get married at different ages, people have their families at different ages.


One boy, a very troubled kid, was among the many who raised their hands with a story to tell.  His:  My mama got praignet when she was 14 but my granny made her kill the baby.


Full stop.  My mind is racing.  What is he talking about?  And what do I say to acknowledge his contribution?


One student, a mature little girl, could see my confusion.  She leaned over and said, "Dr. ____, he's talking about abortion."


Can you imagine hearing, all your life, that your granny made your "mama kill the baby?"

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Dan Griffin
Dan Griffin

Conservatism is not something children should be seeing.

Erin Holtje
Erin Holtje

They found them last year too. Either there's a problem or some kids know what to do for attention and drama.

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Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

The vast majority of these so-called "hate crimes" turn out to be hoaxes - usually perpetrated by the individual or group who claim to be victimized.

Years ago, if a teacher found an offensive picture, they probably would have tossed it in the trash and forgot about it.  Today, they whine on social media and the so-called "news" media takes the bait and runs with it.

Tyler Lee
Tyler Lee

Before the Nazis used this symbol it was a sign for peace

Baily Beebout
Baily Beebout

For heaven sakes, people have been drawing Swastikas on textbooks and desk since I was in elementary school. Children will do it for attention or just to be naughty or whatever. I doubt any fifth graders even know what the Nazi or neo-Nazi agenda was. If you catch a child drawing it, talk to them and explain how it is not right. Don't start a big mess over it.

Gary Smith
Gary Smith

I can't believe my eyes are seeing this horrible and I guess no one in charge wants to do anything.you people are apathetic sick people

Jim Lanham
Jim Lanham

So? Would a gang symbol on a desk garner media attention?

Kevin Nuggit Muffley
Kevin Nuggit Muffley

I wish more kids had the courage this one has. Freedom of speech is important and I fully support that symbol

ChristopherInATL
ChristopherInATL

I bet you do. I say, grab your burning crosses and white power tank tops...When you go down, I want to know it's for good this time.

ChristopherInATL
ChristopherInATL

You know what I support? Minorities using their majority status to give you a taste of your own medicine.

Brandon Smith
Brandon Smith

AJC you do nothing but fan the flames of racism

ChristopherInATL
ChristopherInATL

By...reporting the news? Lol. Naw...Trump and his supporters have fanned those flames.

Suzanne Quinn
Suzanne Quinn

And guess where is was learned. By watching the adults on the news doing their so called protest. It is time for a law to stop these protest in towns and streets. Rent a private building somewhere.

Grace Nelson
Grace Nelson

Well, just look at all the wonderful role models they have all around them.....lol

Judith Hulse
Judith Hulse

Things have taken a seriously bad turn when children are taught to hate. All children are born innocent. Adults should realize the bad example that they are setting. Hate for those who are different is just wrong and children should not have to grow up in that environment. It is all too sad.

Margie Lester
Margie Lester

Swastika has not always been a hate symbol. In the early 1900s it use to be a peace symbol it was use on people letters and if you want to wish some one a peaceful journey and other things. Hitler was looking for a sign to use for his group and that is when they decide to use the peace sign that was use all around the world. I often wonder why did he steal this sign was it because he did not want people to know what he really stood for and using a peace sign people would trust him seen the sign was widely as a peace symbol.

Clifton Mills
Clifton Mills

I'm pretty sure if that swastika owner knew their history and understood what these protesting were about. They would show off their peace sign instead of a swastika!

Jamal Wallace
Jamal Wallace

Hate has been in schools... it starts with those white washed history books teaching these children lies and fairytales.... isn't that how systematic oppression works?

ChristopherInATL
ChristopherInATL

Exactly. And when the lies are exposed it angers those who benefit from oppressing others. Can't wait for full minority majority. If I were a straight, white "Christian" oppressor, I would be worried too.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Spoke at length with Dr. Carstarphen and added a comment from her;


Superintendent Meria Carstarphen was aware of the incident. In talking to her about it Tuesday night for about 45 minutes, she praised the teacher’s response, saying she turned it into a teachable moment.

“The teacher did a great job; she didn’t overreact or ignore it. Perhaps, it was a reset for a student. Just because you go to a nice school in a nice neighborhood doesn't mean everyone in the neighborhood fully embraces diversity like you and I might. You just don't know," said Carstarphen.

It is likely, said the superintendent, the child saw a swastika on TV or in the newspaper since the images have been common in the last few weeks. “They are watching TV and seeing stacks of newspapers, and seeing these images, and not fully understanding what they mean. I don’t think it was malicious; kids in fifth grade don’t fully understand some of these things. Great teachers can take something like this and make it a teachable moment.”

Chad Vaughan
Chad Vaughan

I'm pretty sure these people caring swastika flag's aren't doing it because of the reasons that the liberals want to imply. I'm pretty sure they haven't killed thousands of Jews and are not going to. Yes you could say that they are "white supremacist" and also if you do you will also have to say that "black power", "Black Panthers", and "black live matter" are black supremacist groups. Unless you're a hypocrite or an idiot. These people are standing up for the race because they're under attack. It's true in this country many white people have been shamed into promoting the fight for "restitutions". However if the fight is really all about restitutions (money) then you can't say it's about "hate" (from I 150 years ago) thats just the line you're using to get your money. Keep it real!

An Intelligent Georgian
An Intelligent Georgian

Nonsense.  

The white race is not under attack and never has been in America.

Don't use that as your excuse.

taylor48
taylor48

They were shouting "Jews will not replace us."  What other meaning do you have for that?

Tracy Herrera Lee
Tracy Herrera Lee

What about the hate that's coming from the left and from black people ???? Report on that sometime

Trey Warnock
Trey Warnock

Shoot, every men's public bathroom I've ever been in has a swastika or some kind of racist garbage scratched into the side of the stall.

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

 Doubt the child has a full understanding, and, possibly, the swastika was drawn by an adult (parent, janitor, etc.).  Don't forget, Charlie Manson, tattooed a swastika on his forehead because he thought it would scare the black gang bangers away while he was in prison.  (Poor Charlie - not so smart - no education - and the moron will die in prison with a swastika tattooed on his forehead.)  The Trump supporters are enjoying a temporary reprieve from societal rules and manners as they weave in and out of traffic, shout profanities in public, and throw their trash in our yards and parks.  That will be over shortly.

bu22
bu22

@Ralph-43  Sounds like you just perfectly described the left.  It seems to be mandatory for Democratic Party leaders and "peaceful" protestors to use profanity.

David Radzieta
David Radzieta

Good time to go. If you want history you need statues of slaves being beaten, raped, and murdered Or statues of MLK that was the greatest American that lived and helped 25 million blacks suffering in America. Or statues of the union soldiers and Abraham Lincoln that freed ten million Americans. Tear down and melt and destroy every one of those statues honoring the white dream of slave ownership.

Amy Parks
Amy Parks

My kids are trained to take your racist kids down lol try mine if you want to..haha

James Denton
James Denton

People need to find A Bible we are all gods children

Don J Smith
Don J Smith

Can't wait to see the idiots saying this is Freedom of Speech, or that it is just an opposing view to MLK Jr...

Kehinde Akomolede-thompson
Kehinde Akomolede-thompson

The funny part of this is their fore fathers were chased out of Germany because of this, i guess hate is in the blood !!!!

Monica Blackmon
Monica Blackmon

This is why it is imperative that parents have an open dialogue with their kids about current affairs!

WonderingAboutAmerica
WonderingAboutAmerica

More fake news. A plant from the fascists of Antifa or the racist terrorists of BLM. Nothing to see here, move along.

An Intelligent Georgian
An Intelligent Georgian

Oh, please.  

Do you really think that EVERYTHING that you would prefer to be not true is fake?

Corey Lovins
Corey Lovins

Even if that were true it does not discredit their factual findings which have uncovered a dangerous new reality for those of us who live by logic and reason.

Ellis De
Ellis De

that black guy they beat up deserved it.

Melissa Ann
Melissa Ann

You are worried about a handful of inbreeds that couldn't muster more than 200 in an organized effort that took months to put together? They have not uncovered anything! These racist scum have been holding rallies like this for 50 years or more, they are irrelevant, a laughing stock. It was the media that made them appear relevant, it was Antifa that caused the violence....but you are not worried about Antifa that is out burning buildings, attacking INNOCENT people, attacking elderly women for HOLDING AN AMERICAN FLAG, attacking the police and even stabbing a police horse (guess he was a nazi eh) They are fascist out attacking people on a regular basis. They have labeled ALL Trump supporters as Nazis and feel violence is justified against them... But yeah, a few racist that like to walk around like idiots with tiki torches are the real problem eh.... SMDH WTF is wrong with people today?

April Rice-Smith
April Rice-Smith

A noose was hanging on a tree yesterday asy Campbell Middle school. SMH at the ignorance!

Melissa Ann
Melissa Ann

April Rice-Smith ... Every single time something like that happens, it has always been someone from which ever group it is suppose to be a threat against. So I will wait for the facts before I believe it is a real issue.

Corey Lovins
Corey Lovins

Melissa Ann: You are quite misinformed. If you did your research you would know that the Friday night (Aug 11th) of the torch rally the far-right group attacked first when they trapped a small group of peaceful counter protesters then launched a savage attack against them using fists, kicks, their torches and pepper spray. One UVA employee who was part of the group which was attacked ended up having a stroke the next week due to a blow to his jugler vein. Another woman who is disabled and in a wheelchair had oil from the torches poured on her as the attackers tried to light her on fire. Fortunately they did not succeed. The mob violence which occurred that night was a cause for self-defense so it is no wonder Antifa and others took action the next day. Victim blaming while burying your head in the sand isn't a good look.

Nate Smith
Nate Smith

Atlanta antifa , as a veteran it's my sworn duty to beat you into a coma , you have been warned , hide , run we are coming for you .

Corey Lovins
Corey Lovins

Nate Smith: I don't speak for Antifa, we stand apart just as you obviously stand apart from the concept of civility. I do however support some of what they stand for including the exposing of white supremacist among us.