Integrity Matters
July 28, 2004

Education official's comments strike chord

Question: (E-128)

Dear Jim:

I was appalled at our state education secretary's remarks to a 6-year-old girl in Santa Barbara this month! Richard Riordan told the young child that her name meant "stupid dirty girl" when she told him her name meant "Egyptian goddess." Although he has apologized, his comment was unacceptable. Is this the type of individual we want as the education secretary for California? What kind of message is our governor sending by not asking Riordan to resign?


Children are special because they are young, innocent and capable of absorbing so very much that adults and the world have to teach them. They are precious because they are the stewards of the very culture we bestow upon them. At the moment when any role model behaves inappropriately -- or cruelly, as in the instance you cite -- then action must be taken.

Like you, I have seen the videotape of the Riordan's sarcastic response to this young child. She cried. He laughed. How utterly unacceptable was his behavior.

Such callousness, thoughtlessness and impropriety have no place in positions of leadership and most certainly not in roles that are designed to nurture education and build bridges of understanding and trust.

Secretary Riordan, for the embarrassment he has caused a child, his office, the state he serves and the governor who appointed him, should tender his resignation -- immediately.

Has Riordan served California well as mayor of Los Angeles? I am not reviewing his public service record here. What can be known is that when citizens, even highly visible, rich and powerful ones, behave in ways that are out of bounds -- culturally, racially, sexually, religiously and in other social ways -- they sometimes lose their positions of authority and power.

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