Caitlin Dean is a 15-year-old student at Bacon Academy (a public Connecticut high school) who donned a burqa one school day and reported racist remarks and taunts from her schoolmates.
Her case and the reaction to it tells us less about alleged Islamophobia than about two disturbing trends: The continuing seepage of the anti-Western cant common in universities into secondary schools; and the growing habit of baiting Americans in an age that glorifies victimhood — a habit that, when Middle East culture is involved, likely as not involves the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Caitlin's Feb. 1 sartorial selection wasn't the spontaneous action of a young person engaged in a social experiment. Rather, it was suggested to her by her Middle East studies teacher, Angie Parkinson, who, the Hartford Courant reports, wanted to "promote her class" by finding students to dress in traditional Arab clothing. On that level, at least, the stunt worked: Enrollment in the class will jump to 48 next year from only 12 this semester.
Parkinson's willingness to use young people for self-promotion is shameful enough; how many adults recall as wise those teachers who sought to ingratiate themselves among students through adopting attitudes and stances more common to (and forgivable among) adolescents than grown-ups?
Among the obligations adults have toward children is to avoid creating situations in which clear temptations to wrongdoing exist, and in knowing the kinds of situations to avoid. That's why it's illegal to give underage persons alcoholic beverages or sell them cigarettes.
By putting immature young people in a position to make hurtful statements, Parkinson allowed her professional well-being, and her political cause, to trump common decency just as much as did the kids who made the remarks.
But infantilization via politicization knows no bounds. Bacon Academy, like the universities it mimics, boasts chic student organizations that long ago displaced such quaint relics as the Key, Beta, or chess clubs. There's a Gay-Straight Alliance and a Diversity Club. Should your charges grow bored with mundane local issues, they can do their small part in saving the world in the Save Darfur group.
And just as American history is no longer required at most universities, so another student at Bacon who also wore "traditional Muslim clothing" wishes it would disappear even earlier in the curriculum. As quoted in the Courant, he "criticized school leaders for replacing world studies in middle school with more American history."
Such notions among kids aren't born ex nihilo; they originate either at home among affluent boomers, or at school, where the products of methodology-obsessed education colleges and the left-liberal National Education Association ensure that students are exposed to the very latest pseudo-intellectual fashions from campus.
Parkinson's ploy also reflects a disturbing trend toward staging events designed to incite negative reactions that, in turn, become fodder for America's victimization mills. No case better illustrates this phenomenon than that of the so-called "Flying Imams."
On Nov. 20, six imams were removed from a Phoenix-bound US Airways flight in Minneapolis after passengers became disturbed at the imam's on-board actions, which included moving about the cabin, praying loudly in Arabic (including shouting Allahu Akbar!), and asking for seat belt extensions, which can be used as weapons and which none of the men needed. This example of what Debra Burlingame called "grievance theater" also worked, since removing the imams from the plane set the stage for round two: the lawsuit.
On March 13, Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, which has seen five of its former employees and board members linked to terrorism-related charges and activities, announced a suit by the imams against US Airways. More menacingly, the suit also threatens alarmed passengers who reported the imams' activities. The suit was filed by Omar T. Mohammedi, president of the New York chapter of CAIR.
These tactics converge back in Connecticut, where CAIR intends to milk the Bacon Academy incident for all it's worth. Rabia Chaudry, an attorney who is spokeswoman for CAIR's Connecticut chapter, told the Courant, "I think what the teacher has done is exactly what schools should be doing."
CAIR also hopes, in Chaudry's words, "to send representatives to meet with students in Colchester and other communities, to hold town meetings to talk about their feelings about Muslims, the war and terrorism."
The confluence of an irresponsible education establishment that breeds politicized classrooms and a professional victimization organization that threatens to silence critics of radical Islamists weakens our ability as a society to confront and defeat those who would weaken our liberties. It's time to bring down the curtain on grievance theater.
Winfield Myers is director of Campus Watch.