Nixing Free Speech in HS Once Again

For another example, see this post from a few days ago.

Play About Iraq War Divides a School
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
The New York Times

WILTON, Conn. (March 24) – Student productions at Wilton High School range from splashy musicals like last year’s “West Side Story,” performed in the state-of-the-art, $10 million auditorium, to weightier works like Arthur Miller’s “Crucible,” on stage last fall in the school’s smaller theater.

For the spring semester, students in the advanced theater class took on a bigger challenge: creating an original play about the war in Iraq . They compiled reflections of soldiers and others involved, including a heartbreaking letter from a 2005 Wilton High graduate killed in Iraq last September at age 19, and quickly found their largely sheltered lives somewhat transformed.

“In Wilton, most kids only care about Britney Spears shaving her head or Tyra Banks gaining weight,” said Devon Fontaine, 16, a cast member. “What we wanted was to show kids what was going on overseas.”

But even as 15 student actors were polishing the script and perfecting their accents for a planned April performance, the school principal last week canceled the play, titled “Voices in Conflict,” citing questions of political balance and context.

The principal, Timothy H. Canty, who has tangled with students before over free speech, said in an interview he was worried the play might hurt Wilton families “who had lost loved ones or who had individuals serving as we speak,” and that there was not enough classroom and rehearsal time to ensure it would provide “a legitimate instructional experience for our students.”

“It would be easy to look at this case on first glance and decide this is a question of censorship or academic freedom,” said Mr. Canty, who attended Wilton High himself in the 1970s and has been its principal for three years. “In some minds, I can see how they would react this way. But quite frankly, it’s a false argument.”

At least 10 students involved in the production, however, said that the principal had told them the material was too inflammatory, and that only someone who had actually served in the war could understand the experience. They said that Gabby Alessi-Friedlander, a Wilton junior whose brother is serving in Iraq, had complained about the play, and that the principal barred the class from performing it even after they changed the script to respond to concerns about balance.

“He told us the student body is unprepared to hear about the war from students, and we aren’t prepared to answer questions from the audience and it wasn’t our place to tell them what soldiers were thinking,” said Sarah Anderson, a 17-year-old senior who planned to play the role of a military policewoman.

Bonnie Dickinson, who has been teaching theater at the school for 13 years, said, “If I had just done ‘Grease,’ this would not be happening.”

Frustration over the inelegant finale has quickly spread across campus and through Wilton, and has led to protest online through Facebook and other Web sites.

“To me, it was outrageous,” said Jim Anderson, Sarah’s father. “Here these kids are really trying to make a meaningful effort to educate, to illuminate their fellow students, and the administration, of all people, is shutting them down.”

First Amendment lawyers said Mr. Canty had some leeway to limit speech that might be disruptive and to consider the educational merit of what goes on during the school day, when the play was scheduled to be performed. But thornier legal questions arise over students’ contention that they were also thwarted from trying to stage the play at night before a limited audience, and discouraged from doing so even off-campus.

Read the rest here.

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1 Response to Nixing Free Speech in HS Once Again

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ah, my home town… Now personified by the baseball-capped, flat-bellied waffentraeger for the uber-capitalists who live a few zip-codes up the food chain. Hats off to these kids for ripping the scab of Foxian PC that covers this polite burg like a well appointed Burberry throw.

    Anything that puts a stick in the spokes of this war wagon is good.

    Remember kids: Get Cheney first.

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