Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roll of Stamps Provides Lesson in 21st Century Tolerance and Understanding

For those who have never sat in the principal’s chair, you miss out on so many opportunities to deal with very strange situations, or should I say unexpected situations. This situation was yet again another opportunity for me to reflect again on my practice as a 21st century educator.

About two weeks ago, I mailed letters out to the parents whose children are prospective students for our school. I packed the information into an envelope, plastered a stamp on it, and took the letters downstairs to be mailed. Several days later I received a phone call from a mother to whom I had sent one of the letters.

“Is that some kind of joke?” she asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Ma’m, what do you mean?” I asked totally lost.

“You put a confederate flag stamp on the letter you sent me. I was really offended by that,” she stated.

I was really lost at this point. I could not imagine what she was talking about. I might live in the south, but I have always tried to be sensitive to what kinds of things others might find offensive. In truth, I do not even own a single item that has the confederate battle flag on it. This is the 21st century. The Civil War is over. I was totally flabbergasted. How did a confederate flag stamp get on the letter I sent out to this particular parent? I continued to tell the parent that I could not imagine how that happened, then I opened the drawer to my desk and it dawned on me. The stamps I had used were state flag stamps, and I remembered that some southern state, did not know which one, still had the confederate battle flag on it.

I quickly flipped through the roll of stamps while continuing to apologize profusely for something I was not quite yet sure how it happened. Then I saw it: the Mississippi state flag. Sure enough, there is a confederate battle flag on it. Your can see it for yourself. Lest someone think I am posting confederate flags on my blog, here’s a link to it so you can see for yourself.  (Mississippi State Flag) 

I then proceeded to explain to the parent how I inadvertently placed the stamp on the envelope, and that I did not think anything about it because they were state flags. I honestly did not pay attention. I just put the stamp on the envelope. I assured her I meant nothing by it, and I certainly needed to be more careful in the future.

After I hung up the phone, I went through that roll of stamps and threw out every Mississippi state flag stamp there was.

Most people would find parts of this situation superficial and laughable, but I think it illustrates very clearly the line we walk as 21st century administrators. Our contemporary society is polarized like never before, and our public is watching our moves very carefully. As a 21st century administrator the need for tolerance and understanding is even more vital because increasingly we find ourselves juggling all the sensitivities of the many parents and students we serve. As the our schools and communities get even more plugged in to the wider global community, the need for that respect and tolerance becomes even more important. We must be respectful and tolerant in all we do. That might even mean we have to waste a few stamps in the process in order to become 21st century models of tolerance for both our students and our communities.

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