6th-Grade Project Claims State Flag Is 'Violent' Against Native Americans; SPLC Awards $10K

On Thursday, the Amherst, Mass., school system announced that it had been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for sixth-grade activism projects. In particular, the SPLC rewarded class projects protesting the state flag for being "violent" to Native Americans, supporting reforestation, and advocating for the Green New Deal.

The $10,000 grant will build on an earlier grant for the previous school year, which enabled Fort River Elementary School to expand "the scope of student work, moving beyond writing and advocacy into a third phase when students worked with Organizers in Residence to organize for change on various issues."

In other words, the school is turning sixth-grade boys and girls into little activists — oh joy!

Students worked on three projects: "Change the imagery on the state flag they considered violent and denigrating to Native Americans; Prevent deforestation in Massachusetts, and increase local planting through the Trillion Tree Initiative; and Support the Green New Deal."

Three of the sixth-grade students wrote a letter to the editor of The Boston Globe explaining their project. "Our class is working to change the Massachusetts state flag to a design that is inclusive of Native Americans and less violent, and we welcome the recent efforts of the Cambridge City Council," they wrote, referring to the Cambridge City Council proposition to remove the state flag from the city council chamber.

"The current flag features an arm holding a sword over the head of a Native American, along with other disturbing details. Legislation under consideration in the State House would move toward establishing a new state flag," the students explained.

"Massachusetts is a peaceful state, and the Commonwealth’s current flag is not allowing us to put our best foot forward. The 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower is coming in 2020, and we want this flag change to reflect our history by honoring Native Americans," they wrote.

The coat of arms of Massachusetts.

The state flag includes the state seal, which features a blue shield with an Algonquian Native American with bow and arrow, with the arrow pointed downward, signifying peace. The motto, "Ense Petit Placidam sub Libertate Quietem," comes from the Book of Mottoes by Algernon Sidney and translates to "With a sword, she seeks quiet peace under liberty." Above the shield stands a military crest: a bent arm with a broadsword aloft.

Native American tribes object that the sword above the shield is threatening the Native American, but it seems more likely the sword is meant to pair with the shield, for one complete military metaphor. Military coats of arms often include a sword above the shield — and that does not symbolize a sword threatening the family's crest on the shield. My ancestral coat of arms — taken from heraldry site araltas.com — also features a sword above the shield. Critics of this seal and flag have no understanding of heraldry.

The O'Neil clan coat of arms.

An organization opposing the current flag attacks it as one of two "official state symbols of white supremacy," along with the state flag and seal of Mississippi, which includes the Confederate battle flag.

The SPLC has launched a long-term campaign against all confederate symbols on public property, including names of elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools — not to mention military bases.

The SPLC's support for this kind of project seems quite fitting, given its intersectional activism against "hateful" public symbols. Yet this seems to be the first time the SPLC sent money to incentivize activism for the Green New Deal.

The $10K SPLC grant will allow the Amherst school system to expand the Civic Literacy and Organizing unit to the sixth grade in all of the Amherst and Pelham elementary schools, as well as to eighth grade at Amherst Regional School.

"The experience of working together to organize a campaign changes the ways in which students feel about themselves in relation to their community, and the broader world. Afterwards, they report higher levels of engagement with current events, greater feeling that their voices matter, and greater confidence in their abilities to make a difference," Timothy Austin, the Fort River sixth-grade teacher who applied for the grants, said in a statement.

"We are so appreciative of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s support for this vital civic engagement experience for our students," Superintendent Michael Morris said. "Last year’s sixth grade class at Fort River did incredible advocacy work on their chosen issues, and we look forward to expanding that opportunity to other students throughout the district."

If students wanted to launch a project against the Green New Deal or in support of historic symbols, would they be welcomed in the program? It seems unlikely the SPLC would fork over $10K for any conservative cause.

Public schools should not be turning kids into activists, especially when such programs have a left-wing slant. Then again, the SPLC is responsible for worse. It has encouraged first-grade teachers to mess up their students psychologically by teaching microaggressions.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.