Community Perspective: Our Kids Deserve Better

A contributed perspectives piece by Cara Walton

I would like to address a social media post by Matthew Cross. Now, “Why is a person from Harrisonburg worried about the school board in RCPS?” Well, to keep it brief, Matt Cross works to influence politics in Harrisonburg and it is important to be involved politically not just in your local elections but in the community. So, here I am. I would address these issues with Mr. Cross on his official government school board profile, but he blocked me…so.

Mr. Cross posted about the anniversary of 9/11 on his official page. He complained that the VDOE had a training video (in 2021) where the facilitator (a Muslim) asked teachers to use the term extremist instead of terrorist to avoid perpetuating Islamophobia, he said, “We’re 1 election away to returning to the insanity we were facing under Governor Ralph Northam. In this training video below, put on by the VDOE, the trainer calls for teachers not to reference the 9/11 attackers as terrorist, because it could be offensive… How about we call them DOGS! EVIL PEOPLE, who believe in an evil ideology, who hate America, Israel, and are oppressive to women! Such beliefs must never be tolerated, neither should we ever forget the evil these men carried out on September 11th, 2001, upon American citizens! America is exceptional, because we are the greatest Nation in the world, and our children should be taught the truth, about how great of a Republic they live and learn in! We shall never forget our fellow Americans, who lost their lives by the hands of these evil terrorist!” 

I remember 9/11. I remember someone running into my classroom to tell us about the first plane hitting the towers. I remember worrying about my brother and sister-in-law who lived in DC and my father, who was a federal government employee. I remember watching continuous news coverage at home and worrying about the future as my toddler played. I also remember the surge of Islamophobia that followed. I remember the vandalism of the Harrisonburg Mosque several years ago. And I know that the Islamophobia triggered by 9/11 still simmers to this day.

Asking people to use language which is less prone to link terrorists and Islam is not forgetting what happened, it’s taking a step back and looking at the context and the bigger picture. It reinforces the idea that those extremists do not represent the ideals of Islam itself. It asks us to use a more complete view of history and its consequences and to try to get rid of hurtful stereotypes. There are no longer any students in public school who have any memory of 9/11. They were all born after it happened and so, as educators, we have to provide as much context as we can to give them the most complete picture possible. 

Mr. Cross is advocating the perpetuation of ideas that can lead to Islamophobia. I wonder to myself if there are any Muslim students in RCPS who now feel less safe because they saw or heard about this post made by a man who has been entrusted with their well-being.

Cara Walton (She/Her/Hers) is a veteran teacher of Ancient History at HHS. She lives and works in Harrisonburg.

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