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School Mascots: The Ultimate 'Place-Based Teachable Moment?'

"Exploring the history of a school nickname could become the ultimate, place-based teachable moment for a school district, and deciding collectively to make changes a golden opportunity for real community." — Nancy Flanagan, Teacher in a Strange Land blog, March 2, 2013.

Given the complaint filed recently with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights seeking a ban on American Indian mascots and imagery in K-12 schools that receive federal funds, Nancy Flanagan's latest post on Education Week Teacher's Teacher in a Strange Land blog seemed particularly apropos to point back to today.

Flanagan opens her post by asking if the drive to eliminate American Indian mascots "isn't the elevation of form over substance." She expresses more concern about the telling of the "Pilgrims-as-heroes" Thanksgiving story, saying that ignoring the "smallpox-infested blankets and mass slaughters" in history textbooks "is more offensive than the little cartoon guy with a hatchet painted on the gymnasium wall."

According to research cited in the Michigan department of civil rights' complaint, American Indian mascots and imagery do result in "actual harm" to current and future American Indian students. Then again, neglecting certain aspects of history could well have the same effect on students, as Flanagan would likely point out.

She says that there's no easy way to draw a line between which mascot names are and aren't offensive, citing the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" as one example. Instead, Flanagan argues, "it's more important that students understand why 'redskin' is an ethnic slur than winning lawsuits forcing schools to abandon traditional mascots."

Flanagan implores schools to use their mascots as a "place-based teachable moment" that the entire community can unite around.

"Maybe school mascots—if we have to have them—should change periodically to reflect the times. Not only changes in ethnographic sensitivity, but changes in the school's mission and student body. Better to have students choose their own cool, present-day avatars, than have nostalgic geezers who graduated 50 years ago defending their right to be a Chieftain in perpetuity. Maybe this self-naming should even be part of the regular curriculum, a new tradition."

Would you support a revolving door of school mascots? Or do you think there's something to be said about a school keeping the same mascot for decades? Chime in below with your thoughts.

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