Choosing accountability


After watching some phenomenally talented students sing and dance their way through "Pippin" at the Riley Center for the Arts this past weekend, we got to thinking that it's been a remarkable year for Burr and Burton Academy — even by the school's high standards.

In academics, sports, music and the arts, and in community involvement, BBA has distinguished itself, as have the other schools in our area.

But if you really want to know what defines an institution or a group of people, look at how they handle adversity. That will tell you what you need to know.

Two weeks ago, our own Bob Stannard wrote a column about an airing of the documentary "Divided by Diversity" on Vermont Public Television.

To recap quickly: In 2010, five young African-American students from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City came to Mount St. Joseph High School in Rutland to study and play basketball.

They won a state title, but not before they met with rude words, crude behavior and an appalling lack of tolerance from the bleachers wherever they went. And that included an incident at BBA in 2012.

Last week, we heard from BBA headmaster Mark Tashjian, asking for space on our editorial page in which to respond to Stannard's column.

Here's what Tashjian did: He held himself and his school directly accountable.

Tashjian watched the documentary with filmmaker Duane Carleton. And then he let the entire community know through a column in this newspaper, and across the state on, that what happened five years ago was flatly unacceptable, that he was sorry it happened, and that he wished he'd known about it and apologized at the time. He declared that BBA will do better — and that it will start with the BBA student body watching Carleton's film.

In 2017, when of many our so-called leaders are confronted with a mistake or wrongdoing, it seems they will do anything but face the music.

The Washington crisis management playbook looks like this: Ignore it. Deny it happened. Explain it away. Let the lawyers handle it. Question the motivation and character of the accusers. Blame the messenger. Deflect blame onto someone else. Change the subject by saying something outrageous on social media. If all else fails, lie, repeatedly, until even you don't know the difference between truth and falsehood.

One need look no farther than the White House to see that strategy in action. It's a profoundly regrettable national embarrassment.

Thankfully, Tashjian ignored that poor example and instead did what he knew to be right. We salute him for that.

There are uncomfortable moments in our history — the times when we as a people and as individuals failed to practice what we preach. We're only human, after all, and only the saints among us manage to completely avoid the traps of tribalism.

But we don't get to become our best selves by forgetting when and where we fell short, as as if never happened. The only way to prevent the mistakes of the future, for ourselves and our country, is by learning and remembering the lessons of the past.


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