“Thank you for coming in, Mrs. Sampson,” the principal said, smiling thinly.
She motioned for the anxious mother to sit in the chair across from her desk.
The bookcases behind Mrs. Sampson’s seat were filled to capacity, mostly with well-annotated history books that the principal kept from her years of teaching.
Holding her designer handbag in front of her like a shield, Mrs. Sampson’s lacquered nails made indents on the leather. She sat on the chair’s edge, legs crossed, settled in.
“I don’t understand what this is about.”
Wordlessly, the principal closed the door, circled back to her desk, and took out a small stack of papers. Taking her time to find her reading glasses, the principal let the silence deflate Mrs. Sampson’s posturing.
“My husband wants to be involved if things—escalate.” She pulled out her cell phone to show that she wasn’t making an idle threat.
“I don’t anticipate any escalation,” the principal replied, squaring her shoulders.
“Thank you for that, but every time I come down here, there’s a problem with my son that’s not really a problem—” Mrs. Sampson stopped short when she saw the principal raise her right hand with the palm facing outward. It seemed like an ancient gesture, powerful and symbolic.
“Yesterday, your son was sent to the office for some concerning images he’d drawn in language arts class. He talked with the assistant principal, but your son would not explain himself.”
The principal flipped to the assorted pages in front of her.
Angry scrawls in black and blue ink left his mother unmoved.
“Those are doodles! Is this why he’s in trouble?” Mrs. Sampson cried. She took one of her son’s notebooks in her hands to examine the symbols more closely. “It’s not like he’s drawing machine guns or penises. This is scribble scrabble. What does it matter?” She dismissively tossed the notebook back on the principal’s desk.
“It matters a great deal. This school has a zero-tolerance policy for racial discrimination or intimidation.”
“They are pictures!”
“We take pride in our diverse student body, and we want all of our students to feel comfortable.”
“Are you calling my son a racist?”
“I’m not calling your son anything.”
“You act as if my son drew swastikas!”
“He might as well have drawn swastikas,” the principal replied evenly, “but your son is too smart to do that.”
Mrs. Sampson didn’t know what to do with the principal’s backhanded compliment.
Of course, her son was smart.
She stared back at the principal. “What exactly are you accusing my son of?”
“I think your son is involved with right-wing extremism.”
“Not a chance. We’re not like that.”
“Look at these symbols more closely, Mrs. Sampson. Yes, these look like harmless sketches. But there’s a historical context.” Ipsa historia repetit, the principal thought, looking at her bookshelves. History repeats itself.
“A historical context.” Mrs. Sampson rolled her eyes.
“I’ll fast forward to the 1940s: Heinrich Himmler, second in power to Hitler, wanted to imbue the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany with the strength and power of ancient Germanic tribes.”
“Uh huh,” Mrs. Sampson nodded. She looked at her watch.
“Himmler was fascinated with the occult,” continued the principal.
“My son does not worship the devil,” Mrs. Sampson hotly interjected.
“Himmler believed in the superiority of the Germanic race and created an entire mythology around it.”
“Like Zeus and Hercules?”
“Something like that. Are you familiar with the Futhark alphabet?”
“Suffice it to say that your son’s drawings are letters from an ancient Germanic alphabet. The letters are called runes.”
“Runes. Rhymes with moons.” The principal paused and drank her tepid tea. “Himmler felt using these runes would help Germans return to their rightful place as the master race. See this rune?”
“It looks like a fish,” Mrs. Sampson said skeptically. “Is it the Christian fish?”
“This is not the ichthys. It’s the odal rune meaning heritage—very popular with white supremacist groups. It symbolizes the Nazi doctrine of ‘blood and soil.’ It’s the belief that the motherland belongs to those with pure bloodlines.”
“I’ve heard of that before. On the news…” Mrs. Sampson said softly.
“2017. Charlottesville, Virginia. ‘Blood and soil’ was one of the more popular chants used by radicalized young men—young men not much older than your son.”
“You’re saying that my son drawing an O in his notebook means all of that! My son is not a Nazi.” Feeling out of her depths, she reached for her cell phone again. Maybe it was time for her husband to step in?
The principal took out another one of her son’s notebooks and flipped to a page in the back.
“This is the sun-rune. You’ve probably seen it on the German uniforms in World War II movies. The SS, the Schutzstaffel, wore this on collar patches and cuff bands to empower them. You can see your son has drawn these throughout his Spanish notebook.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend anyone. It’s probably just for shock value,” she added.
“It might be,” the principal conceded, looking thoughtfully at her.
“Or maybe he was just drawing lightning bolts?” Mrs. Sampson offered.
“Or maybe your son drew the symbol for a paramilitary organization that systematically murdered six million people,” the principal countered. “Either way, I think you and your husband should talk with him. I could show you several other examples if you wish. But Mrs. Sampson,” the principal paused. Her eyes look worried. “This is a time to be vigilant. Racists are recruiting.”
Another half hour passed before Mrs. Sampson could leave the principal’s office with her hands full of paper, all scribbled with Germanic runes.
On the way to her car, she tried to shake off the feeling of parental failure.
Her son was a good kid, she reassured herself.
The principal had commented on how smart he was.
But maybe her son was too smart?
Pulling her cell phone out of her purse, she dialed her husband.
He answered on the first ring.
“Do you need me to come down there?”
“No,” Mrs. Sampson replied quietly. “But I’m going to need you to talk to our son.”