Y'all told our kids the Atlanta shooting was a racially motivated hate crime
But it wasn't. So now what?
I was listening to The Fifth Column podcast—one of my absolute faves—and as they discussed the knee-jerk narratives that have captured so much of our media ecosystem, the Atlanta spa shooting came up as an example. The guys (Kmele Foster, Matt Welch and Michael Moynihan) briefly discussed a recent Axios piece that quotes the Cherokee County district attorney to the judge: “this was not any kind of hate crime.”
FBI director Chris Wray asserted the same thing in March, though less definitively as the investigation was still ongoing. But it didn’t matter. A narrative about racism, white supremacy and Asian hate had taken hold and most in the media were not about to let it go no matter what the investigation revealed. The #StopAsianHate hashtag was unstoppable. (We have seen a distressing spike in violence against Asian Americans; it just doesn’t neatly align with what we’ve been told.)
But we have a larger problem to discuss than hashtags. What are we supposed to do now that students across the United States were told, in school, that the Atlanta shooting was a racially motivated event? What becomes of the missives sent home by principals and superintendents declaring the Atlanta attack a racial motivated hate crime? What responsibility do our educational institutions have to retract their claims and set the story right with the students who spent days—weeks even—being told that they needed to process a racially motivated attack and begin the healing process?
These questions need answers because we now know, definitively, that countless schools served as super-spreaders of misinformation and used it to push an unfounded narrative into the psyche of students and to justify racially segregated spaces for students and staff.
This is an ongoing problem. As ideological capture becomes the norm in so many American schools, preferred narratives take hold quickly and become priorities that morph into assemblies, advisory presentations, high priced guest speakers and diversity consultants and recommended resource lists for parents. Because so many educators are ill-informed on the facts of high profile events while simultaneously working to center “social justice,” students are almost never getting the full story at school. We can certainly have a debate over whether or not the spa shooting in Atlanta should have even been a central topic of conversation in schools that are nowhere near Atlanta, but it is malpractice for school leaders and teachers to ignore the FBI director’s early and ultimately correct claim that there was no evidence of racial motivation. The district attorney has now made a definitive statement to a superior court chief judge saying the same thing—does anyone care?
The spa shooting is one of many moments in time in which a preferred narrative quickly becomes institutional dogma —whether schools are talking about law enforcement, gun control, “the patriarchy”, voting laws, gender identity or COVID-19, they almost never lay all the facts on the table for students to digest and grapple with. And when school officials or teachers get something totally wrong, which happens a lot, we have yet to see any indication that they retract prior statements and apologize for their role in spreading misinformation. Instead we hear, “yeah but,” and “well, actually” as if their moral high ground on which they believe they stand justifies egregious errors of fact.
Perhaps they would use the term, “noble lie,” to defend their actions. For readers who don’t know of this concept, Plato introduced the concept; it is a myth or untruth, knowingly propagated by an elite to maintain social harmony or to advance an agenda.
I suspect I am not an outlier when I say that if schools are going to wade into fast moving current events and fraught questions that challenge us in their complexity, they need to know what they’re talking about. If school boards, school leaders and teachers can’t commit to that reasonable and basic standard of accuracy and honesty (and a commitment to publicly correcting the record when they get it wrong), they might need to admit they have become propaganda outlets willing to miseducate and lie to the students and families they claim to serve.