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Teachable moment: Private swim club vs. day camp

By Samuel Reed III on Jul 21, 2009 12:58 PM

Like it or not, the Huntingdon Valley Swim Club debacle provided some in the mainstream media and blogosphere an alternative to the over-coverage of the King of Pop post-mortem.

When I first heard the news on the earlier broadcasts, I told myself that the media likes to blow things out of proportion - that's how they increase viewers and attract advertisers. As my big sister says, “There's always 3 sides to a story.”  I didn't want to pass judgment. I wanted to hear the facts to make sense of the case.

My position shifted when I saw the later TV news coverage, where a 12-year-old male expressed his reactions to his camp not being allowed to swim at the pool. This articulate young man started crying when he announced, “It was unjust in today's times that we should be dealing with this 'racism stuff.'" 'My heart went out to this young man and his family.

But later I paused and asked myself, was the media manipulating my feelings with its coverage of the boy crying?  

So I tempered my final judgment. I listened closely to John G Duesler, the embattled Valley Swim Club president, and Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania's Philadelphia Office on WHYY’s  Radio Times with great interest. I wanted to make sense of this exploding media fiasco.

I do not want to pass judgment on Duesler’s choice of language - “complexion” and “atmosphere” - nor would I want to be in the shoes of the Creative Steps Day Camp’s director, Althea Wright, who claimed in an Inquirer interview that the incident “is a moral situation… about racism… about culture…. This is about a breakdown in community.”

I really don’t need to weigh in on this issue. President Barack Obama in his recent speech at the 100th NAACP convention said it loud and clear: “Make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America.”  

But if I was to be a judge who had to rule over the case of the Creative Steps Day Care vs. Valley Swim Club, I'd require that both parties attend a media literacy camp similar to the “Powerful Voices for Kids Summer Institute” in which I recently participated.

From July 6-10, while this media disaster was percolating, I was taking part in the institute, led Renee Hobbs, PhD, a leading media literacy scholar from Temple University’s Media Education Lab. The institute brought together over 20 teachers and educational leaders from Philadelphia, the metro area, and around the country.

The Russell Byers Charter School was the host site for this university-school partnership. The event had students participate in a media literacy summer camp where they could develop their powerful voices through communication and critical thinking activities including digital photography, drama and storytelling, film and media analysis, persuasion and debate, and multimedia and video composition.

In addition to learning a lesson on how using a few wrong words can “spin” out of control, Duesler and the Valley Swim Club‘s Board of Directors could use some lessons on  how to be socially responsible communicators, and on how to deal with issues of race, class, media spin, and persuasion.

Nuala Cabral, a filmmaker and media studies graduate student at Temple University, could be one of the instructors for this proposed media literacy camp. Cabral, one of the instructors at the Powerful Voices of Kids Camp, used the swim club media coverage as a teachable moment.

Cabral and her 4th grade campers used the news story to explore some of the concepts the students had been learning, such as the purposes of media - to inform/persuade/entertain - and how media messages are conveyed via interviews/senders/receivers.

All the campers agreed that the Valley Club Swim Club vs. Creative Steps Day Camp was an important news event that they wanted to know more about. After analyzing the media coverage and discussing it with 5th grade campers, the 4th graders interviewed the 5th graders about the story using flip cameras. The campers’ interviews and media creations can be viewed on the Powerful Voices for Kids' Youtube channel.

The Creative Steps Day Care Camp could equally benefit from such media literacy lessons. The young campers could create their own media messages that confront stereotypes and demonstrate that they are more alike than different from the families and kids that are typical members at the Valley Swim club.

I know detractors on both sides may not like my “spin” on how to handle this incident. Ultimately, I know the kids at the Creative Steps Day Care Camp wanted to just have fun in a swimming pool. But I equally think that both kids and adults are thirsty for ideas to address this “racism stuff."

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Comments (23)

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2009 5:54 pm

The students at the camps...the camp kids at the swim club...claim a teacher at the Carnell Elementary School made rude remarks against them and reported this to Alethia Wright...the camp's director...OK...

Who is the teacher? It is easy to identify...let's get the name of the teacher and get her version...?

Who is the teacher at the Carnell Elementary School who made these rude remarks?

Submitted by Samuel (not verified) on July 21, 2009 6:11 pm

Thats is why this case offers such a good case for media literacy. What is the media "spin" or camp vs. swim club "spin". Like my sisters says, There's 3 sides to a story...

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2009 7:54 pm

I think that what it comes down to is the swim club should have never taken on 3 groups if it exceeded the safety limit, and if they did not have adequate lifeguards on staff. It is negligence plain and simple. What started off as a situation that could have easily been corrected by hiring lifeguards, or ASKING HOW MANY KIDS ARE COMING before you sign a contract!!??? It is simple, and instead of using logic and problem solving, they resorted to the "GET LOST" approach. Which now, has backfired and resulted in the current "media spin" that you see now. I do not feel sorry for the swim club. They got what they wanted, and that is to keep the complexion of the club the same.

Submitted by Susan Roth (not verified) on July 22, 2009 9:06 am

I like how Sam approached this issue.If more people were into solving issues instead making the news, I believe we could really have people stop and listen to each other. We have schools that need fixing, too many people without work, an enivoromental crisis. In between the lastest on Micheal Jackson ,and then the coverage of this story, once again the media gets our attention away from "real" issues. In the case of the Swim Club, All the children who were there were hurt by that incident because we saw the ugly side of human nature, now lets get to work on the good side! Susan Roth

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 22, 2009 1:00 pm

The incident with Prof. Gates is turning into another teachable moment. I look forward to seeing how he investigates the criminal justice system in future documentaries, too.

It's unfortunate it took another incident to get people talking, but it looks like there is a lot of discussion about race coming out of both of these situations. That's a tiny silver lining anyway.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 4:17 pm

I love Erika's post...

The notion of a discussion and a teachable moment is to tell us the "truths," according to Prof. Gates, et al...

Sorry, Gates is not beyond reproach...

You don't argue with a police officer...

You don't demand that the police officer give you his name and badge you are Thurston Howell, III, outraged that a member of the lower classes has taken the utter gall to inquire about why you are breaking into a house with backpacks on your backs...

Sorry...did you see the picture of Gates...screaming?

You don't scream at a police officer...

If you want some "blood," why don't you demand that the neighbor who called the arrested for giving a false report...

This case is bull...

Gates is an effete snob...who shouldn't have screamed at an officer of the law...

Total bull...

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 22, 2009 4:00 pm

Your post is bringing up some feelings similar to this essay from the Post.

I don't agree you don't argue with a police officer. Police officers can be wrong. They deserve respect, but not unthinking reverence. It might not be smart to argue with a police officer, but that doesn't mean it is wrong to do it.

Also, Gates is a human being! He was just back from a flight to China. Who wouldn't be stressed out and agitated if he had trouble getting into his home and then once there had police officers at his door? That alone is enough to make most people "tumultuous." And since when does being agitated in your own home get you arrested anyhow? 

Sorry, just not buying that he somehow caused this. Police officers encounter people in states of agitation way worse than Gates every day. They are trained to deal with people who are stressed out, and I would hope they have other means than just arresting the person. 

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 4:57 pm

Believe me...the police are not my favorite...look at the way our Philly police are behaving...beating up women in WAWAS...

Did you see Gates? Did you see him screaming?

He is a university educated man with a Ph'd...and he is screaming at a police officer like he is a biker from Hell's Angels...

I say...if you don't want police investigating burglaries...then Cambridge needs to get rid of its police force...

The people of Cambridge are rich enough that theft...and home robberies won't affect them...and they can learn to shoot at people entering their houses...

That is the solution...just give people a gun...and let them protect themselves and their privacy and property...we don't need police...

I still contend that Gates' behavior is uncalled for...and he brought about the wrath of the police officer by his ruthless and foolish behavior...

You simply don't argue with a police officer...

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 22, 2009 5:00 pm

I didn't see Gates screaming. I took his look to be like shock and disbelief.

Basically, arguing with a police officer may be unwise, but I just don't think that's reason to arrest someone. I also think it is a sad reality that the margin for error in doing "unwise" things varies widely depending on a number of factors, race being one of them.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 5:13 pm

Erika...what do you think of the Daily News story of the Philly woman who was beaten up by a police officer...her name is Agnes Lawless...

Check out that article...the incidences of police beating people up in across the board and out of hand...

Philly is famous world over for its brutal police officers...

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on July 22, 2009 5:11 pm

Erika this thread of discourse about the police is making me think more about my reaction to the Guardian Civic league's  case againt the domelights website.

Is more speech less speech? 

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 22, 2009 5:00 pm

We have been discussing this, too. There is a post on Young Philly Politics about this issue. It's a tough situation. I am definitely more on the permissive side, but it's totally true that if the space is so permissive people feel threatened then it isn't really open after all!

I think you have to do the best you can and be aware of both fostering a safe space and not stifilng conversation. Can be a very difficult balance. I'm encouraged to see so much great, constructive discussion on our site.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 4:23 pm

I would hope that my neighbor would call the police if it appeared that my house was being broken into; and then, I'd confirm my identity as the owner of the house. As usual, Gates was displaying his eliticism. He is, as well, an opportunitist. Where is his outrage on the swim club debacle, or other issues involving people who are not as privileged as he?

And as far as Creative Steps, maybe the African-American owned Nile Swim Club would have been a better choice; they sure could have used the money.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 22, 2009 5:00 pm

Gates is The Root's Editor-In-Chief. I'd say that in developing that site as a platform for reporting and discussion he is doing a lot to address a whole range of issues. And that doesn't even involve his decades of academic and documentary work.

The article also notes that Gates did confirm his identity and the issue still somehow did not end there. Even if I was really agitated, I would hope that after I confirmed I was the owner, the police would leave and not ask me to come outside of my house, which implies doubt in the veracity of my ID documents.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 5:14 pm

Erika...I agree...whenever people are bothered by the police...they just should say they are Harvard professors and/or are the owners of the house...and the cops should leave them alone...

The people of Cambridge are wealthy enough...they don't need cops...they can hire their own security...

I say privatize police...then we can avoid all this baloney...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 5:46 pm

Better choice? Why shouldn't adding diversity be the better choice? It's a darn shame that in 2009 that's even a question.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2009 6:12 pm

I sure hope that the camp director of the Creative Steps camp...wins her multiple law-suits so she can pay off her $100,000 plus tax delinquency to the federal government...and those pesky tax-liens...

I'm sure she runs a great camp...anyone else who owed that much dough...including tax-liens...would have their camp shut down...but her camp must be good enough for the keep it operating...

What a great stroke of have the media and the general much behind you...

Never mind that Dr. John Duesler...a liberal minded fellow...with a family...must be in anquish...since the media has tarred and feathered him as a Bull Connor like figure...

I guess this is a case of libs...eating their to speak...

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 22, 2009 10:05 pm

Of course, had the police not bothered to check out the report of a burglary at Gates' house he'd accuse them of being racist and not caring whether his home was robbed because he was black. They lose either way.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2009 3:19 pm


I am sorry...but Gates demanded to know the officer's badge number and name...

Enuff...try that down in Delaware County...when a cop stops you...

Demand to know his badge number and name...

Gates is photographed with his face...worked up into a lather...

Is he Thurston Howell, III: "Say, officer...I demand to see your badge number and you better give me your name or the Yalies at the Yale Club will learn what scoundrels you men are in Cambridge..."

I demand to see your badge...

I was taught...when a cop says give me your say..."Yes, it is"

Obama got him self in a real mess...defending his buddy "Skip...;" don't scream at a man who carries a gun...

This case is a crock...

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 24, 2009 1:51 am

It only took Obama 20 years and an election run to figure out that his own minister was a flamin' racist. He needs at least a few more years to see Gates for what he is too.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 26, 2009 10:41 pm

I am amazed for the call from the writer for a "teachable moment..."

A teachable moment from a district that can't teach...

Yes...really...the district doesn't teach...50 percent of its wards don't graduate...

Submitted by Bredgette (not verified) on November 9, 2012 6:34 am
I wanted to hear the facts to make sense of the case.
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