I recently read The Trinity Journal’s article called “Assembly rant wasn’t the intent, superintendent, school counselor say,” about school counselor Jim Pindell’s assembly speech at Trinity High School.

I believe that Mr. Pindell’s remarks were at best sloppy, but more accurately, xenophobic, disenfranchising, and potentially dangerous.

Mr. Pindell intended to speak about drug problems in the community. That is an important topic that should be addressed with the students of Trinity High. However, Mr. Pindell quickly pivoted into policy conversations that were not about drug problems in the community.

He began speaking about the border — implying that the drugs were coming from Mexico — and then jumped to questions about defunding the police — perhaps implying that if the police never faced defunding, problems about drugs moving into the country from Mexico would not be an issue. Of course, those two issues (how to handle border policy and how to handle policing budgets) are not the same. Most police forces in this nation are not defending the border. One could argue that police forces should not be defunded if they have to deal with the ramifications of a drug trade, but Mr. Pindell did not carefully engage that debate. He moved on to another subject.  

He went on to discuss China, problems with theft of intellectual property, and the social implications of Tik Tok (a Chinese company). He asserted that we are in a “war,” and he did not want to be forced to learn Mandarin — implying that if China wins this so-called “war,” the Chinese would — what — kidnap Mr. Pindell and force him to learn Chinese against his will?

At this point, Mr. Pindell ended up extremely far away from his original topic, which was about the drug issues facing the youth of Trinity County.

But it should be noted that some of Mr. Pindell’s statements weren’t completely wrong. Certain drugs do come from Mexico. We do need to think about how the police operate in our communities and how we want to resource them to best further the interests of safety and justice for our residents. Many scholars believe that China is the world’s leader in intellectual property theft. There are security concerns with Tik Tok. So for some people, maybe this “rant” seems like a justified expression of frustration with the current system.  

But Mr. Pindell did not take up these issues in a nuanced or careful way. It’s not right to take four or five serious policy questions, each with mounds of scholarship behind them, to jumble them all together, to label them a war between “us” and “them,” and then to say “I don’t want to learn Mandarin.” I write this with near certainty that Mr. Pindell intended to inspire the students, but his rhetoric was xenophobic, and it shouldn’t be leading our schools.

Schools have the sacred responsibility to teach careful thinking. This type of speech is not thoughtful. It does not educate; it does not teach our youth how to tackle serious problems facing their community, the nation, or the planet. It suggests to youth that if you see a problem in your community — like rampant vaping, or drug use, or feelings of hopelessness — you can point the finger at Mexico or China or some “other” person than you. You can create a villain in order to feel better about your own circumstances.

If we want to talk about drugs in the community, we should talk about drugs in the community. We should talk honestly about why people use them. There are many reasons, from wanting something fun to do, to desiring to make independent choices in a world that tells you how to live, to needing a way to mentally escape difficult situations, to trying to fight feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness, and many more. If we want to know why the youth in Trinity County are using drugs, we should ask them. And we should give them hope for a better future, which does exist. If students can confront difficult life circumstances and identify positive life goals, they can achieve them.

It might be tempting for some people to dismiss Mr. Pindell’s speech as “crazy.” But I don’t think calling Mr. Pindell crazy is the right move. Calling someone a name is a shortcut. It takes the responsibility off of the rest of us to describe why the speech was wrong. I think Mr. Pindell was given a platform to discuss a big problem, and he did so in a very unsophisticated way. This doesn’t help our youth see themselves as community or global citizens, which they are, and it doesn’t give them tools for coping with drug abuse, which they need.  

Trinity High should take this opportunity to discuss what happened at the assembly, why it was wrong, and the importance of thinking carefully about how we address big problems in our communities and broader society. Frankly, I think the high schoolers should lead these discussions. Many high schoolers want forward-thinking policies, which is why they whipped out their phones to record Mr. Pindell’s remarks. They knew intuitively that the speech resounded in discrimination while failing to address the substantive drug concern.

As an alumna of Trinity High, who once sat in those chairs, I would love to see the school harness this moment, embrace the hard work of scholarship, and empower its youth to address the problems they face with tenacity, courage, and careful thinking. If the students of Trinity High take that approach to education (and life), they can achieve anything.

Bethany Hill graduated from Trinity High School in 2004. She attended UCLA for her undergraduate degree and Yale Law School for her law degree.  She now works as a lawyer for Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy in the Bay Area.

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