Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 14, 2009
It was good of you to adjust your policies after the regrettable brouhaha when RE-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall banned the Obama speech last week. There’s an even more controversial ban that I’d like to propose, but first a word on Haptonstall.
Being besieged by 30 parents who complained that their children would be “held captive” for a presidential speech must be unnerving. Confronted by these extremists, Haptonstall decided to play it safe. History, however, teaches that there is no safety when fear inhibits the free flow of ideas. A superintendent is supposed to rise above petty grievances and protect the educational opportunities of all students.
Fear is a strong emotion, and it’s used as a weapon that dominates most partisan policy debates today. The shrill fringe that coerced Haptonstall echoed their heroes on talk radio whose juvenile brand of bullying is killing democracy and birthing a nation of cynics.
What did our students miss as a result of minority censorship? They missed hearing the president say that he “expects great things from each of you.” That he wants students to “show up” at school. That it’s challenging to become successful and requires hard work. That America needs the best efforts from its students if the U.S. is to compete globally.
Reportedly, Haptonstall did not study the scripted speech beforehand. If that’s true, then she ought to apologize for not doing her homework. That way, students can learn by example what it means to be an accountable adult. An open letter would suffice.
The most glaring omission of all is a lack of trust in the value of the president’s message when there was no hint of anything seditious or inappropriate. There are plenty of kids in the school district who could have used positive reinforcement from a commendable role model – yes, even a black president who’s a Democrat.
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This flap has tarnished Haptonstall’s reputation. It’s also diminished the integrity of the school district. How are we parents to defend compulsory education when most children already think they’re being “held hostage” by administrative decree? This incident makes it harder to convince kids that education is supposed to be liberating, not constrictive.
Since we’re having open dialogue on banning things from school, my nominee is on-campus military recruitment. This coercive threat occurs regularly on school grounds where students are routinely exposed to it, many unwillingly, and without recourse.
Recruitment at school may be construed as patriotic, but to this parent it reflects a nation held hostage by its military institutions. How ironic that a school may encourage military recruitment but ban an educational message from the president. Try explaining this inconsistency to your high school junior as they struggle through a tough academic year.
If recruiters must ambush kids, let them do it off school property, or give them a booth during college fairs, where they may compete fairly with higher education. But please, don’t let them strut the hallways openly soliciting students. What does it say about the principles of public education when militarists have unrestricted access to our kids without parental permission or adult supervision?
Our family must place our trust in the RE-1 school district to provide an adequate education for our son, but that faith is shaken when a militant minority determines, even in one instance, what that educational content ought to be. We are equally concerned that recruiters are enabled with the most aggressive enlistment techniques since the draft, luring susceptible students into uniform to defend the next U.S. foreign policy fiasco.
If you really want to do well for our kids, the RE-1 board should ban recruiters from the hallways of our high school. The board should also direct the superintendent to step up bravely to her responsibilities and honor education as an opening, not a closing, of the young minds in her charge.
Paul Andersen, parent of a high school junior
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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