The Washington Times was the first to cover on the growing number of teachers who invite members of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church into their classrooms.
Educators say that this kind of class activity allows students “to witness the extreme views such groups espouse and know how to avoid them.”
As for the Worthington Kilbourne High School in Columbus, Ohio, this teaching strategy is a tradition. It began in the 1970’s when their senior classes have to study “U.S. Political thought and Radicalism.” Other topics that students explore are immigration, environmentalism and abortion. Since then, for a few weeks in a semester the students get to interact with hate groups such as the Topeka, Kansas Westboro Baptist Church, a church known for their anti-gay principles and protests for the deaths of American soldiers who died in combat.
School officials explain that such interactions do not intend to endorse or convert students into the groups’ way of thinking. The sole purpose, they say, is to allow young students to identify what an extreme perspective is and learn how to avoid them.
“The kids see through their messages,” said David Strausbaugh, a teacher at Worthington Kilbourne High School. “They know. There’s nobody — nobody — who leaves and says, ‘Boy, we’ve got to join these people.’ That’s why we can bring them in, because we know the kids are going to see them for who they are.”
Apparently, Worthington is not alone. Portland State University in Oregon has a sociology class led by Randy Blazak who invites neo-Nazis to speak before his class about the role function of extremism in society.
“It’s a good idea to know what’s out there,” Mr. Blazak said. “They’re not monsters. They’re human beings, wrestling with their own issues.”
At the Central Michigan University, Professor Timothy Boudreau allows members from Westboro to speak to his journalism class because, he said, it teaches students a powerful lesson about freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment was designed to protect unpopular speech, speech exercised by people we would rather silence or muzzle,” Mr. Boudreau tells his students.
“I don’t endorse them, I don’t agree with them,” he said. “I do, however, support their right to speak and their right to be hateful and their right to offend. Like it or not, that’s their right as Americans.”
Meanwhile, other schools do not allow face-to-face interaction with these hate groups to avoid controversy. They however, permit phone conversation or Skype interaction. Andrea White, a teacher from Badger High School, said that Westboro representatives get to speak to her class via phone and has not ever visited her classroom.
If this kind of teaching method does allow students to snuff out bigotry, then the teachers are on to something. One thing is certain, though, they have to practice care as there could be a black student in their class that can get traumatized when a man wearing a white rob shows up in the class.