The upcoming private screening of “The Hunger Games” has got me thinking about Gabrielle Leko again. Here's why.

In case you missed it, Leko is the La Cañada High School math chair who is alleged to have called a ninth-grade student “Jew boy,” made fun of a kid's stutter, made an ethnic remark to an Armenian kid, and spelled out a swear word to her students. Former school board member Cindy Wilcox, in her capacity as a private citizen, filed a complaint with the school district on June 15th. In October, seeing no movement on her complaint, Wilcox went to the media.

The local reactions were strong and heartfelt.

Mandy Redfern, president of the La Cañada Teachers Assn., questioned Wilcox's decision to make the complaint public.

One letter writer chastised Wilcox on the grounds that her complaint was “utterly malicious and without basis” (“Cindy Wilcox should leave La Cañada,” Valley Sun, 10/26/2011).

Without public response by Leko, several current calculus students defended her, saying that if the ethnic comments were made, they were made in a joking manner. Which is why “The Hunger Games” reminds me of the Leko debacle.

Teachers are role models for the dominant culture. Some students, but not all, look to the teacher for the dominant cultural mores.

The students who defended Leko's hurtful words as “banter” have adopted her comments as normative. They believe that it is a cultural norm to use ethnic slurs, as long as the intent is to kid around.

Kateniss Everdeen, the young heroine of “The Hunger Games,” would never have sided with the teacher. For one thing, the Kateniss character is independent. She sticks up for the underdogs, and does so at the risk of her own life.

In Britain, with a different cultural norm, our Leko situation was covered differently. The ethnic slurs were given equal billing with the profanity. (See “Foul-mouthed teacher fired after calling student ‘Jew boy' and mocking another's speech impediment,” Daily Mail Online, 2/9/2012). Not so in the local media, where we debated political correctness and the need to say “ethnic slur” instead of “Jew boy.”

Different countries. Different sensitivities.

Which brings us back to Kateniss Everdeen. She was no friend of any authority figure. She routinely broke the rules in order to feed her family. Her story is the story of self-individuation.

Shouldn't we expect the same from any red-blooded American kid? To be a little bit of a rebel? To possess an overdeveloped instinct for fairness? To have the moral courage to defend a classmate?

“The Hunger Games” is popular because Kateniss Everdeen has all of those qualities. In the end, she proved that the real world is not a zero sum game. She proved that there can be more than one winner.

Come support our schools at the film's screening on March 26. For more information, or call the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation at (818) 952-4268.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.
com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.