Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Brief Return to My Criticisms of School Administrators

I know I promised lighter fare for the summer, but my hometown paper today carried a provocative story originally published on June 22 in the L.A. Times. Titled “With Iraq play, students act on beliefs,” it details the experiences of a group of students at Wilton High School in Wilton, Connecticut who had been working for two months on a play called “Voices in Conflict.” The play, actually a series of dramatic monologues, was the result of the drama teacher’s idea for the students to research the war in Iraq through documentaries, books, and articles that represented both sides of the conflict.

You can probably guess what happened. The principal, Timothy Canty, received a few complaints about the content of the pending play, and made the decision that it could not be performed. Oh, and by the way, the drama teacher was put under ‘administrative review’, which essentially means that her job was threatened. There is ultimately a happy ending to the story, one that has nothing to do with the school administration. In fact, the play was recently performed off-Broadway. To read the full story, please follow this link: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-iraqplay22jun22,1,4871859.story?page=1&cset=true&ctrack=1

Reading about this administrative overreaction reminded me once more of how feckless and political school principals can be. Here was a group of young people, using their critical thinking skills to synthesize and dramatize what they had learned, surely an example of the goals of education, only to have their efforts arbitrarily dismissed.

This story also jogged my memory about an incident that happened several years ago in the board for which I worked. The Grade 10 English Department at a local high school taught the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the American classic by Harper Lee that exposes the ugliness of racism and teaches the oh so important message of tolerance. Apparently two students complained about the use of the n word. The principal immediately, and I suspect without even bothering to read the book and the contextual use of the controversial word, declared that it could no longer be taught at his school.

But the story doesn’t quite end there. The media learned about the situation and the local news channel covered it. In the last part of the piece, the principal declared that the book hadn’t been banned, as it was still available in the school library. He was then shown in the halls, encouraging students to read the book.

So, in addition to my previous complaints about administrative ambition, politicization, and cravenness, I will add one more: hypocrisy.

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