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Beyond Knowledge: St. Bede’s Missing Rainbow Flag

Matt Allio, Head of School

A few weeks ago, the rainbow flag that is prominently displayed at St. Bede’s Church, part of our Upper Campus, went missing. At article appeared in the Menlo Park Almanac where it was noted that the flag had been replaced twice by Reverend Gia – only to go missing again. 

The nature of the mystery struck me as one to discuss with our older, Grade Four and Grade Five students. As adults, we have a frame of reference for understanding the symbolism of the flag itself – a symbol of LGBTQ activism, a beacon of inclusion and peace, perhaps even a bit about its origin with Harvey Milk. Our students’ understanding varies, but I wanted to frame my discussion with them using a rubric centered around activism.

I’ve written about education as a path to activism before, including at graduation address last spring. Broadly, I believe education has three steps: 

  1. Gathering the knowledge: Responsibly understanding as much as we can, questioning the status quo, and resisting the urge to draw conclusions without knowing the facts.
  2. Doing the work. Recognizing that “knowing” this is only the first step in our learning, and that while it’s meaningful to adeptly debate the finer points of social progress, we must not stop there – we must seek to do more.
  3. Organizing others. This is the most important attribute of an education based on making progress in society. We can act individually to make progress in our community and society, but we must appreciate that organizing others is critical, as the work for progress will be done by many.

When I met with students, my goal was to hear from them – and not to share any of my own views.

Gathering the Knowledge

I projected the Almanac article for the students and we focussed on what Reverend Gia had told the reporter about the missing flag. Following the review of the article, I presented some establishing facts about the flag:

  • The flag is commonly known as the equality flag, Gay Pride or LGBTQ Pride Flag;
  • LGBTQ represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer;
  • The flag was first shown in 1978 and has been changed many times;
  • The percentage of American adults identifying as LGBTQ is 4.5%, which  includes 5.1% of women and 3.9% of men. I emphasized this was self-identification and limited to adults;
  • Given a population of approximately 327 million Americans, the number adults identifying would be about 14.7 million.

Doing the Work

I asked the students to consider their knowledge of the flag, some of the statistics and metrics I had presented, and probed.

  • What do you think about the article, given what you now know? 
  • Does this issue matter to you? How does it make you feel?
  • Is there anything that can be done? Is there anything we can do to help?

As you can imagine, responses varied –  from ambivalence, to more probing, to outrage, calls to action, and all things in between – which is entirely understandable given the diverse range of experiences of our students. Some questioned whether the act was “hateful” or simply mischief, and some dug deeply. One student commented, “Maybe the person was scarred from something in their past, and that caused them to act out.” 

Organizing Others

Naturally, in the short span of our discussion, our students couldn’t formally organize others. But I did want each of them to question how they might.

  • Is there anything that can be done?
  • Is there anything that we can do to help?

Education in the Fullest Sense

The “mystery” of the missing Rainbow Flag has not been solved. I believe this singular example can serve to illuminate our responsibilities as educators – and partners with parents in the education of the children – to truly view education in the fullest sense. To make education a pathway to deeper analytical thought, to foster a sense of informed action, and for students, ultimately, to view their education as an activist, or changemaker, would. 

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