This story was first reported by WHYY.
Pennsylvania’s Central Bucks School District recently passed a controversial policy that bans teachers from engaging in or promoting “advocacy activities” and displaying symbols like Pride flags or “any banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates any partisan, political, or social policy issue” in their classrooms.
As a result, a school principal in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, had a poster removed that contained a brilliant, hard-hitting quote.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Wiesel is known most for authoring “Night” (1960), a riveting and heart-wrenching book based on his experiences in Nazi German concentration camps from 1944 to 1945. He subsequently won the Nobel Prize for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism.
But, it was initially believed Wiesel’s quote violated the district’s “advocacy” policy so the poster was removed two days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” said Matt Pecic, the school librarian, via WHYY. “It’s a horrible feeling. And you feel like you have to do something that you don’t agree with.”
Obviously, the interpretation of that policy went too far. Schools shouldn’t promote partisan politics or shove political or cultural views down students’ throats. However, there are certain concepts, such as basic civil and human rights, that should universal in their promotion.
Ironically, by choosing to stay neutral, the school did EXACTLY what Wiesel preached against in his quote.
Yes, neutrality always favors oppression and no one understood that better than Wiesel, a man who lived through Nazi persecution and survived the Holocaust. Hence, he was advocating basic human rights – something that should always be taught and promoted in schools.
After some discussion, the poster was put back up within 48 hours of its removal. In a statement, the district defended the reversal noting that Wiesel’s famous publication “Night” was part of its curriculum. The district also apologized to the Jewish community and anyone else who might have been hurt by its very flawed initial decision.