A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

David Holthaus: Beyond Civility, Covington Catholic incident in D.C. presents more than a teaching moment

For nearly a hundred years, Covington Catholic High School has nurtured its reputation as a place where young men can be taught in the ways of the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, that reputation is in danger of being destroyed because of an afternoon of student antics during a school field trip, offensive misbehavior that was captured in multiple videos and widely shared via social media.

And now the entire nation is watching. The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC, NPR and even the BBC have reported the story. A hundred years of history and tradition are in danger of being overshadowed by the glare of viral videos.

But the leadership of Covington Catholic, and of its owner, the Diocese of Covington, have an opportunity to reclaim their reputations and put into practice the teachings they’ve espoused all these years.

We should get beyond the debate over who did what, when, and who started it. There’s no progress to be made by examining and re-examining the videos like JFK conspiracy theorists watching and rewatching the Zapruder film looking for the man on the grassy knoll. Most of these examinations only serve preconceived political notions anyway. They do nothing to help us figure out the lessons that can be learned from this sad affair.

We do know there’s more than enough evidence to show that a group of Cov Cath boys on a school field trip to our nation’s capital disrupted and disrespected a peaceful demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial and behaved in a way directly at odds with the school’s stated mission. The whole incident has raised legitimate questions about how the school carries out that mission of preparing young men for the real world.

Covington Catholic officials should take the lead in championing a new mission, one that is relevant to our tense, divisive times. How powerful would it be if the school created a comprehensive, long-term plan of action to prepare its students and lead the community toward a better understanding of our diverse nation?

They could create a new curriculum around understanding and respecting the diversity of our communities. This could be much more than a single course, perhaps a four-year required, graduated course of study, just like the curricula of science or language arts.

They could step up the community service students are required to do. How about requiring, or at least giving students the opportunity, to spend a week embedded in service projects in inner cities or on Native American reservations?

They could create an ongoing, annual series of lectures and discussions, required for students and open to the public, led by local and national thought leaders. These events could encourage students and the larger community to connect our core American values of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and equality of opportunity to the world around us and the events of today.

The world is watching how Covington Catholic and the Diocese of Covington responds. Let’s hope their response goes beyond punishment for the students and any staff or faculty who were involved.

They have an opportunity to create a lasting impact and to find new ways to, as their mission states, “equip young men with a set of spiritual and moral values to become strong Christian leaders and models of Catholic faith.”

This is more than a teaching moment. It should be a teaching mission.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist who has covered public affairs, business and written commentary in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky for more than 20 years. He’s also on the advisory council of Beyond Civility, a group that works to improve civic dialogue.

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Here are some sample videos — check internet for others.

An early video — confrontation with Nathan Phillips.

Another video of the incident with the Native Americans.

Another video re the student crowd

The long (nearly 2 hours) video that shows confrontation with Black activists.

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  1. Alex says:

    Aren’t you going to update this, knowing what we now know about the incident? This article is an embarrassment.

  2. David says:

    Not sure what the above comment is referring to. “What we now know”

  3. Seth says:

    You are so misinformed it is nearly impossible to believe that someone could be this ignorant. Instead of continuing the mob justice you so demand against these minors, go watch the ACTUAL footage of the event. These minors were followed by adults who were yelling homophobic and racist names at them. The students did not respond in kind. Then another adult leaves the main pathway and walks into the center of the group and confronts a minor, with the people around them yelling racial hatred at these students.

    The fact that you want to convict minors based on their skin color alone shows your ignorance and racist tendencies. Do the right thing and set politics aside for once in your life and go learn the truth. You owe these kids an apology for what you’ve written here.

  4. RJR says:

    Dear Covington School- please sue this rag. This article is dated 24 hours AFTER the truth came out and yet this “news organization” continues to perpetuate the lies. That would make a GREAT teachable moment. Here is how NOT to act. When you make a mistake, admit it, don’t continue to bury your head in the sand and pretend you’re right, just because you so badly want to be. Wow.

  5. Leo Horishny says:

    I still find the fact that a “religious” school’s students were wearing MAGA articles at a school function, #1, and worse, while they were marching at an anti-women’s march. Not remotely the message I remember being taught when I had religious education as a child. Deplorable.

  6. Leo Horishny says:

    And, before you all get all, “we know” what happened, you’d better hold your horses. Already your “story” as to what happened is changing back to, SURPRISE! Rowdy, rude boys, harassing passersby, before their MAGA gear attracted obnoxious protesters.

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