A teacher in Utah asked one of her fourth graders to remove ashes from his forehead, giving him a wipe so he could wipe off the ashes; which millions of Catholics receive on their foreheads in honor of Ash Wednesday to celebrate the beginning of lent. This sounds like a story cable and network news would be interested in covering. But they didn’t.
Only Fox News bothered to mention the story. The fourth grader, William McLeod, and his grandmother appeared on The Story With Martha MacCallum Thursday night. McLeod told MacCallum that his teacher told him “that’s not appropriate in this school” and told him to wipe off the ashes even after he explained the significance of them to her multiple times.
McLeod later said that he accepted her apology and said he felt bad for her because she might not have known about Ash Wednesday (Utah is a heavily Mormon state). Perhaps the media would have demonstrated a lot more interest in this story if it was about another faith. This story just didn’t fit the media narrative of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
In the past, the media have not hesitated to pounce on teachers for perceived cultural insensitivity or ignorance. In 2007, the panelists of The View and others excoriated a British teacher who faced persecution from Sudan for naming a class teddy bear Muhammad. Co-host Sherri Shepherd called the teacher’s move “sacrilegious” while co-host Whoopi Goldberg used the story as an excuse to attack Europeans and Americans because they are “not as anxious to learn the customs” of other countries.
The following week, The View panel pondered what might happen if a teacher in the United States decided to name a teddy bear Jesus. Believe it or not, Joe Scarborough acted as a voice of reason in the whole debate; asking why the ladies of The View were “so quick to defend extremism like this.”
Nearly a decade later, the media went apoplectic when a 14-year-old named Ahmed Mohammed was arrested for bringing a supposedly homemade clock to school that resembled a bomb. Mohammed, also known as “Clock Boy,” became a “celebrity hailed by liberals” and unsuccesfully pursued a discrimination lawsuit; arguing that he was only treated harshly because of his Muslim faith.
The story out of Utah has many similarities to these older stories and yet the media had no interest in reporting on it. Their silence likely arises from the fact that it contradicts the long-standing narrative of Catholics as bigots; which loomed large in the media coverage of the Covington Catholic High School kids.
As for McLeod, his school district worked with an ordained deacon who reapplied the ashes to his forehead after the fact and his teacher has been placed on administrative leave. As MacCallum said, hopefully this incident served as a “good lesson all around.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Thursday’s edition of The Story is below. Click “expand” to read more.
The Story With Martha MacCallum
MARTHA MACCALLUM: William McLeod is a fourth grader in Utah and like hundreds of millions of Catholics, he received ashes in the shape of a cross on his forehead for Ash Wednesday. But the nine-year-old says that when he got to school, his teacher said “what is on your head? Wipe that off.” And she gave him a wipe to wipe it off. And tonight, that teacher is on administrative leave. William joins me now with his grandmother Karen. Good to have both of you with us. Thank you so much for being here. So, William, you are not alone. I was…last night on the show, I think we have a picture. I also had my ashes on and I guarantee you that there were some people out there who didn’t understand what that smudge was on my forehead so what did your friends say when you walked into school with your ashes, William?
WILLIAM MCLEOD: So they said like what are those? And I was like I’m Catholic and it’s, it’s Ash Wednesday…
MCLEOD: …and they put ashes on your head. It’s the first day of lent and they are like well where do they get the ashes…from like a burning (inaudible). I was like no, it’s like from the last palm Sunday.
MACCALLUM: That’s right. And what did your teacher, what did she say and what did she do, William?
MCLEOD: So, so when she saw it, she was like what is that? And she said, and she said that’s not…and I told her what it was. And she was like that’s not appropriate in this school, go wipe it off and she pulled me to the corner.
MACCALLUM: Oh, no.
MCLEOD: And yeah, she gave me a deinfection wipe and made me wipe it off and I, I tried to tell her two times and she told me two times to wipe it off in front of my friends in the corner and I wiped it off; she said more until it was like gone.
MACCALLUM: Oh, no.
MCLEOD: That felt me like…
MACCALLUM: Were you upset?
MCLEOD: Yeah. When I went in the…so when I went in the office I was crying because I felt like, like I was in trouble.
MACCALLUM: Yeah. That’s heart-breaking. Karen, what was your response?
KAREN FISHER: I was plenty angry. I got the call from the principal.
MACCALLUM: So the principal called you and said, what did he say?
FISHER: The first thing she said is William’s not in trouble.
FISHER: And she said but this is a situation and she told me that he…she saw him with no ashes on his forehead and had thought maybe he had gotten rid of them. But he…then I found out he was told to wipe them off after trying to explain them to her twice.
MACCALLUM: And what did you, what did you say to the teacher about all of that?
FISHER: The teacher had called me later and I told her I wasn’t happy and she asked me what can I do? And I said nothing. I have never been in this situation. You know, I have raised four boys here and this has never happened. So I didn’t know what to do; whether I should call my priest or, or what.
MACCALLUM: Well, she wrote a note now. She said William, I’m so sorry about what happened today. I hope we can move forward from this. Mrs…Mrs. P. So, William, do you accept her apology?
MCLEOD: Yeah, I kind of feel bad.
MACCALLUM: You feel bad for her. Do you think she genuinely didn’t know what they were?
MACCALLUM: But you did explain it and it is, the whole thing is, is really disturbing. I don’t blame you. So what did you…William, what are you going to give up for lent?
MACCALLUM: Fortnite. Is that going to be hard for you?
MCLEOD: Not really.
MACCALLUM: No? Do you like to play Fortnite?
MACCALLUM: I gave up Instagram so that’s kind of like giving up Fortnite, I guess, if you’re your age. Karen, you must be very proud of him.
FISHER: I am. He’s a good boy. I am proud of him.
MACCALLUM: All right. We wish you both well and we hope that it was ultimately a good lesson all around. So thank you very much, William. All the best to you. I hope you get a lot of candy on Easter Sunday and Karen, thank you very much for bringing William in tonight.
FISHER: Thank you.
MACCALLUM: We appreciate it.