Bill and Frank Felber
With the recent appointment of a committee, the Manhattan-Ogden Board of Education embarks on the second year of what has become at minimum a two year effort — the length of a full congressional term — to resolve the question of the Manhattan High School mascot.
The board has asked this committee to explore four issues, three of which are functionally irrelevant if the central issue is resolved constructively. This is the central issue: how best to develop a teaching program and plan that educates students, faculty and community members about Native American history, religion and culture.
Manhattan High School exists as a place of education. The role of the tribal institutions in both the shaping of America as well as its current composition has been often overlooked. But that lamentable status does not diminish the importance of understanding the role of the Indian in the development of the broad tableau that is America today.
That being so, it is more than advisable — it represents a chance to become a national leader — that the school district considers ways and means of implementing this central issue within its curriculum and daily educational life. It should embrace this opportunity to make Manhattan High School a model for the communal illumination of the role of the Indian in the area’s history, culture and future.
It can, as resources allow, do this through any regular combination of the following: classes, discussion groups, seminars, cultural displays and exhibits. Any of these steps would provide a template for education regarding a significantly under-illuminated portion of the American experience.
The aggressive pursuit of this single agenda point also has the entirely laudable impact of resolving all three of the other, more contentious touch points funneled toward the committee. Easily the most contentious point — debate about the school mascot going forward — would instantaneously be rendered moot because it would be counterproductive to implement such an education program while simultaneously treating the Indian itself as a term of derision. Indeed, the more substantive an education/ enlightenment program is developed, the more reason exists to maintain the Indian mascot. It impossible to persuasively do the first while jettisoning the second.
The same is true of the two remaining committee goals. With respect to honoring Frank Prentup, we would ask what greater honor might be bestowed than development of a program familiarizing us with his culture? With respect to developing alternative symbols, why would a school committed to educating its community on the role of the Indian in America and Kansas life even wish an alternative symbol?
This laudable step can be accomplished at minimal expense — and certainly at far less expense than the cost of changing the mascot. The vitality of the cost question was underscored by recent press reports of proposals that would reduce state aid to the district by $1.5 million. Tight budget times are virtually a given in the school district; the one thing a school board member never says is, “This looks like a pretty easy budget year.” Most of the actions that could be envisioned to accomplish step one — discussion groups, cultural displays, seminars — may be doable at little cost by exploring cooperative links with representatives of area tribes.
The school board may appoint a committee to discuss the full issue for as long as it chooses. But, as Dorothy eventually discovered in Oz, the solution is already well within the board’s reach. The board’s full commitment to tapping the district’s potential to become a center of learning about the Kansas and American Indian —and to promote that goal in a way that makes the mascot a living, breathing communal point of pride — may not answer the demands of the most strident activists who want to check off a marker on their group agenda or validate the principles of their dissertation research. But it would be the right thing to do, and we believe it would represent a reasonable, constructive rallying point for the fair-minded individuals who constitute a vast majority within the school district.
Bill Felber is a retired executive editor of The Manhattan Mercury . Frank Felber is a 2016 graduate of Manhattan High School and a freshman in political science at Kansas State University .
“Indeed, the more substantive an education/ enlightenment program is developed, the more reason exists to maintain the Indian mascot.”