27 February 2006

Further Grease-fire info

First, I must apologize to my faithful readers (both of you) for my lack of postings over the past week and a half. Most of my free time has been devoted to planning the celebrations for my spouse's 40th birthday party, a milestone I myself commemorated quite some time ago. This not being one of those blogs that assumes everyone wants to see pictures of said blogger's personal goings-on, I won't bore you with photos of the aforementioned party; however, those of you who know me and my spouse in our non-blog lives can feel free to email me requesting said pics.

Back to the business at hand. You'll recall my last post about the era of censorship descending upon the good citizens of Fulton, Missouri. I just remembered that this was the town where Winston Churchill popularized the term "Iron Curtain" - ironic, isn't it, now that we've defeated the Soviet Union with its state-controlled media and rampant censorship, the local school board gets to exercise its own version of state censorship.

Anyway, I digress. In that last post, I mentioned having informed Dr. Enderle, the superintendent, of my article, and invited his comments. I also sent an email to Ms. DeVore, the drama teacher under fire. Dr. Enderle hasn't responded (no surprise), but Ms. DeVore did send a comment to my blog with some updates on the situation. Since I know that not everyone bothers to backtrack and read comments on prior posts, I wanted to make sure her comments were broadcast herein in a more accessible manner:

Good evening,

I just wanted to send a note to say thank you for your kind words of inspiration regarding the NYT's article. As you can imagine, it has been crazy here in Fulton, MO. Everyday brings new stories, letters and emails.

Last week was a rather frustrating as the Fulton Sun; our local paper who started this coverage, posted a letter from Dr. Enderle stating that the show was never "banned" as well as mentioning that he came to talk to the students the day the article came out. This was distressing to the students because they and I felt that he had "used them" to make himself look better. Another slap in the face for them.

Unfortunately, they will not be able to let people know this because the Fulton Sun made a statement that it agreed with Dr. Enderle and would no longer post letters about this topic. Underneath the printed article was a passage from the bible Proverbs 18.2 (this is only in the printed ed., not the on-line ed).

[Blogger's editorial note: this verse reads "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind", or alternatively, "but that his heart may discover itself".]

I am not a vengeful person by nature and had agreed to let this fade away and to focus on looking for options for new employment for next year (still no word on my contract at this point). However, this second injustice to the students as well as his denial of the facts, makes it hard.

I am not writing this letter to stir up more anger or provoke anything, but to thank you, make the truth known, keep you updated on a situation in which you expressed a great interest.

Thank you again for your kind words.

Wendy DeVore

14 February 2006

Trouble right here in River City!

[Consider this as my Valentine's Day card to all my teacher friends, who give us all so much to cherish.]

OK, so it’s actually a story from Fulton, Missouri. It seems that the local Fulton High School drama teacher, Wendy DeVore, has gotten herself into some trouble recently. According to this NYT story, she put on a high school production of the musical Grease, which is apparently the second most frequently performed musical on school stages (behind Seussical, go figure). Ms. DeVore apparently went to some efforts to soften some of the sharper edges of Grease, excising some profanity and having the kids smoke cigarettes instead of weed.

Anyway, these efforts apparently weren’t good enough for the good people of River City, I mean Fulton, at least not good enough for three of them (who all happen to belong to one particular conservative church). They wrote letters to the school superintendent, Dr. Mark Enderle, complaining that the production featured scenes including kissing, drinking, smoking, and other “immoral behavior”. Dr. Enderle capitulated to the letter-writers and agreed that Grease was unsuitable for a high school in his district.

OK, so I can understand that the full version of Grease is pretty racy, although I have to admit that when I first saw the movie version in 1978, I completely missed the reference in the number Greased Lightning to the car’s being a…umm…vehicle for picking up chicks. But then again, I was a pretty conservative teenager; I also preferred Olivia Newton-John in her good-girl Sandy look, rather than her converted-greaser look at the end of the film, but that’s just me. Still, a PG-rated film that the school’s drama teacher edits further to make it less offensive seems like reasonable high school fare to me. And hey, if you don’t want your kid to take part in it, tell them not to audition – or maybe have your daughter accept the role of Sandy but not Rizzo. Oh, and if you don’t want to see it, don’t buy a ticket.

But the good Dr. Enderle didn’t stop there. Apparently concerned about future controversial subject matter, he went ahead and cancelled the school’s planned spring production, which just happens to be the second most frequently produced drama on school stages (number one is A Midsummer Night’s Dream). What’s the controversial play that the good people of Fulton needed to be protected from? Why, it’s none other than Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. According to an internal memo, Dr. Enderle cancelled this play after reading this description: "17th century Salem woman accuses an ex-lover's wife of witchery in an adaptation of the Arthur Miller play."

For those of you not familiar with Arthur Miller’s play, he wrote this in response to the “witch hunts” of his time, namely the Congressional hearings of the 1950s headed by Joe McCarthy seeking to weed out supposed Communist sympathizers. The play doesn’t focus on the affair, but rather on the hysteria and fear in the town of Salem during the witch trials.

Does the Fulton School District have no sense of irony? Their response to a handful of parents raising cries of outrage about a relatively benign musical is to cancel a play that’s critical of witch-hunt fear and hysteria? What’s next, banning Fahrenheit 451 (a classic book by Ray Bradbury about a future filled with book burnings) from the school libraries?

Where will these religious extremists strike next? Along with the efforts to ban the teaching of evolution, are we now in for a new plague of literary censorship? How can a school district that bans The Crucible possibly allow Romeo and Juliet, with its teenage romance and double suicide? What about the patricide and incest of Oedipus? And let’s not forget those who want to teach the Bible as literature in the schools – what about those polygamous patriarchs, or the supposedly virtuous King David who sends his lover’s husband into battle to be killed so he can have her to himself?

If you’re offended by this stuff as much as I am, get involved in your local school district. If you’re a parent, take part in those PTA meetings. If you’re politically inclined, check out some school board meetings. Oh, and if you want to give an earful to the Fulton, Missouri school district in support of Ms. DeVore, why not do what I did and email Dr. Enderle at Mark_Enderle@fulton.k12.mo.us. (Note: I have notified Dr. Enderle of this blog article and invited him to comment.)

There are real problems in our schools today – gang violence, teenage pregnancies, misguided federal programs that force teachers to “teach to the test” instead of teaching critical analytical skills (and burdening the local districts with unfunded federal mandates), and efforts to roll back decades of scientific educational advances. The arts and music and literature are already under enough pressure from budgetary and time constraints; let’s not let them fall victim to the axes wielded by the witch-hunters as well.

07 February 2006

Authentic Voices

I had an interesting conversation/session yesterday with a practitioner of both massage therapy and Reiki/energy work. If you’re already rolling your skeptical, anti-New-Age eyes, you probably won’t much care for the rest of this post either, but stick it out anyway, OK? Her basic “diagnosis” of me was that I had an overly protected heart, and that my center of power, my authentic voice, was somewhat blocked or repressed. She admitted, of course, that this is true of many people in our society, but she encouraged me to try to open up, loosen up, let that authentic voice flow forth freely, and to let myself be vulnerable and not so protected.

So let’s assume this is probably an accurate description of many of us. Our society hasn’t encouraged authentic voices, prophetic voices, voices of the heart, because it’s too preoccupied with productivity and power and protection (and frankly, fear). I’m reminded of a recent broadcast of the excellent radio program Speaking of Faith (note the permalink on my page). The host, Krista Tippett, was interviewing Pankaj Mishra, the author of An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World. Mr. Mishra described the Indian emperor Ashoka, who reigned shortly after the Buddha’s death. Quoting below:

Mr. Mishra: He was a great believer in conquest and expansion. And he conquered this Eastern Indian state of Kalinga. And after this conquest, which was very extremely successful but also very, very violent, he saw the enormous damage he had caused and the deaths of thousands and thousands of people, and he was suddenly struck by this great remorse and, you know, what he had done, and from that point, he kind of gave up violent conquest and violent wars and came sort of gradually to introduce Buddhist ideas into statecraft…he made nonviolence a kind of state policy whenever it was possible. Whenever it was viable, of course, he still had punishments for criminals, and he still had an army. But he tried as much as possible to combine Buddhist ideas of social welfare, compassion, and to be, you know, as a ruler, the model of righteousness…For instance, in the inscriptions that he had inscribed on stone and iron pillars and erected all across India, he'd say things like it's very difficult to do good because, you know, good and evil are unmixed things, and you have to worry about the consequences of doing good. All of these very complex ideas that he's thinking, which he shared with his subjects. Of course, now he would be accused of flip-flopping, not having clear ideas or having a decisiveness personality. But the very fact that he could see how the world was such a complex place and there wasn't such a clear-cut good and evil out there, that's, I find, something quite admirable about him.

Ms. Tippett: All right. So I think the problem is that an American, a modern American, might look at this history you tell and might still compare someone like Alexander and Ashoka, or 21st-century America and India, and say it's clear which version of reality, which ethos is on the winning side. Right? They would say simply this ethos of acquisition and building and progress and power is what, in fact, works in this world we inhabit. Now, how would you respond to that?

Mr. Mishra: Well, I'd very quickly challenge the notion that it works. Where is the evidence that it works? I mean, the 21st century has not started off very well. What I do see is a whole lot of confusion, a whole lot of bewilderment and a whole lot of hatred, a whole lot of violence out there…I'm completely unpersuaded by the notion that the systems we have are working. The fact of power obscures the failures, but the fact that you have to use violence all the time, you know, really points to the failure of all these systems in many ways.

A fascinating exchange, and I apologize for the lengthy quotation (I know, it’s a blogger’s easy way out of providing original content). A shorter quotation from a favorite philosopher of mine, J. Buffett, is also on point:

"Are we destined to be ruled by a bunch of old white men
Who compare the world to football and are programmed to defend?"

So I’m left to wonder – what if my massage therapist/Reiki practitioner is right? What if most of us, including me, really are blocked from speaking our authentic voices? Here’s a little experiment – I’m giving your authentic voice permission to come out right here and now. If your authentic voice were going to say something, what would it be? Leave me a comment and tell me what your authentic voice says – and after all, you can post anonymously if you’re a bit worried about that vulnerability stuff. I will exercise my prerogative to block any comments that simply flame or pooh-pooh someone else’s voice, but I’ll try not to censor much beyond that. Here’s your chance. Have at it. Peace.

03 February 2006

SOTU, part dos

This will be a short one, but I couldn’t let this news go by unmentioned. Remember that little speech Tuesday night wherein President Bush called on America to reduce its oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent? You heard that number (assuming you stayed awake through SOTU), right?

Well, you apparently heard wrong, at least according to Samuel Bodman. Who’s he? (Disclaimer: I didn’t know either.) He’s the Secretary of Energy, you know, that Cabinet department that’s supposed to be doing things like, say, coming up with a comprehensive energy policy. Remember energy policies? We used to have one of those in the Carter administration…

Anyway, Secretary Bodman said that President Bush's words should not be taken literally. According to a NYT article:

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Bodman said the goal of replacing 75 percent of Middle East oil imports to the United States with ethanol and other energy sources by 2025, a headline from the State of the Union address, was "purely an example" of what might be done.

“Purely an example”? Uh huh. One wonders, an example of what? Perhaps an example of yet more empty rhetoric, or Orwellian doublespeak, from an Administration that thinks the American public won’t notice, or can’t be bothered to notice.

So, Mr. President, perhaps you owe the American people a “SOTU part dos”. I propose that President Bush make another prime-time, nationally televised speech, in which he explains to us all just exactly which of the things he said on Tuesday night are meant to be taken at face value, and which, on the other hand, are “purely examples” of ideas that really shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. Because after all, we wouldn’t want to start using the term “flip-flopper”, would we? That’s just so last campaign cycle.