Rutland High School is a school like any other across the country. Students arrive at school expecting to learn from their teachers. They expect to be given the knowledge to aid their thinking and nurture their own conclusions.
What students do not expect is to be told how to think by their school. This idea is reflective of the school as a whole. The mission statement of Rutland City Public Schools is to “cultivate a passionate, diverse, resilient community of critical thinkers.” But how can students learn to find their passion when they are told what to be passionate about? How can students engage in diverse thought when one single thought is thrust forward? How can students think critically when they are told what to think?
Flying the flag of any political group, movement or organization on school grounds violates the very hallmark of what is considered a good education: an education free from bias and prejudice toward one perspective or another. An education should encourage learners to form their own thoughts and perspectives, not provide the thought and perspective. In order to foster healthy debate and by extension, critical thinking, a school should not show or indicate support to the right or left, conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans, one political group over another and one thought in favor of its opposition.
Flying the flag of any political movement, regardless of partisanship or agenda, is not only harmful to the goal of education in RCPS, but will also alienate students and faculty and inhibit their constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech and individual thought. Students or faculty who disagree with any aspect of any flag the school potentially flies that represents a political view, thought or partisanship will feel as if they cannot have their voice heard in an environment that professes a particular idea over another. Those who may have previously used their voices will find their voices silenced knowing they are not welcomed or desired, contradicting the very ideas that make our democracy strong.
To keep learning and growing as a community, we must be open-minded to listening and debating individual thoughts and ideas. A single flag representing one opinion diminishes learning opportunities for any political mindset. Besides suppressing free speech and debate, flying the flag of any political persuasion will force students and faculty to question the value and worth of any opinions or ideas that do not align with the flag hanging above them. It is not only unfair but also unjust to give students a learning environment where they cannot think and speak free from the burden of politics being forced upon them.
Simply put, political flags do not represent the unity of all Americans the same way the American flag does. Utilizing a taxpayer-funded flagpole for a particular political agenda is an excellent way to sow the seeds of disunity and discord, neither of which are conducive to a healthy learning environment. By raising a political flag on public property, our collective voice is being taken away and presented as support for that group, organization or cause.
School must strive to be a place where students can remain free from the pressure of being told how to think and what causes or agendas to support. While good schools should expose students to new ideas, it is not their place to pressure students to arrive at a particular conclusion. Students must be allowed to form their own conclusions and opinions.
Every effort must be made to keep Rutland High School a bastion of unbiased education where students feel comfortable expressing diverse political opinions and engaging in balanced debate. An education free from political bias gives students, employees and taxpayers in Rutland the education, self-determination, freedom of expression and freedom of choice that they deserve.
Trevor MacKay and Maya Sobel are members of Rutland High School’s Class of 2020.