It’s a teachable moment. But what’s the lesson when ugly chants during a high school basketball game trigger thoughts of a Donald Trump campaign rally?

At least no one’s making excuses for students from Catholic Memorial School who taunted rivals from Newton North High School with choruses of “You killed Jesus!”

Catholic Memorial administrators quickly reprimanded those who participated in the rude chants, apologized to the Anti-Defamation League, and pledged to update their curriculum to include lessons on Judaism. The archdiocese of Boston called the chants “unacceptable” and Catholic Memorial students were also asked not to attend Monday night’s semifinal basketball game at TD Garden.


Newton administrators said they, in turn, would address the chants of “sausagefest” that their students directed at fans of the all-boys Catholic Memorial. Noting that some perceive the phrase to be a homophobic slur, interim principal Mark Aronson said, “Regardless of intent, it’s impact that matters.”

In this local case of insult gone wild, adults acted like adults and exerted moral leadership, as they should. They didn’t write it off as sports-incited passion. They took the incident seriously, responded to it swiftly, and called it a learning opportunity that would not be wasted.

Yet, given the tenor of these crazy political times, can these students be blamed for getting a mixed message about what constitutes appropriate language and conduct when it comes to religion or other differences between us?

The Trump effect has been directly tied to other high school incidents. In February, a mostly white group of students at a Des Moines high school began chanting “Trump” after they lost to a school with many Hispanic students. At an Indiana high school, students carried a giant cut-out of Trump’s head and chanted “build that wall.”

I’m not saying Trump instigated the “You killed Jesus” jeers. But the demeaning language Trump has been hurling at rivals in the name of presidential campaigning certainly sets a much-noted low bar of civility. And Trump has pointedly declined to denounce any of the poisonous rhetoric spewed by his supporters — which included a shout of “Go to Auschwitz,” directed at protesters, from one backer at a recent Kansas City rally.


The Republican presidential front-runner mocks critics of his profanity and insults as purveyors of political correctness. And he continues to make religion and ethnicity a dividing line between Americans. “Islam hates us,” he declares, as he pledges to keep Muslims and other undesirable immigrants out of this country.

That’s the message from the leading Republican contender for the White House. Of course, Trump’s not responsible for every word uttered by every backer. His supporters are adults, and he is not their principal. He can’t give them detention, but he can show disapproval. He chooses not to.

Meanwhile, the culture created by his words and rhetoric are what teachers and administrators are up against today, as they try to be role models for young people in a world gone ugly.

Ironically, the chants during the basketball game came a day after Cardinal Sean O’Malley called upon Catholics and Jews to “build a civilization of love.” In a talk delivered at Temple Emanuel in Newton, O’Malley marked the 50th anniversary of a proclamation from Pope Paul VI that repudiated anti-Semitism and declared that Jews do not bear collective responsibility for the death of Christ.


In the era of Trump, that lesson is more important than ever — and much harder to teach.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.