Thursday, March 11, 2004

South County Parents Angered Over Radical Zinn's High School Lecture

I wrote last week about my indignation regarding Howard Zinn's visit to South County High School. In short, Zinn is a far-left, anti-Bush polemicist who, in my judgement, should not have been allowed to speak to high school students without someone of an opposite viewpoint present to offer alternative points to Zinn's characterizations of the history of the United States as well as politics in general. I also wondered if any parents would be upset by the visit. Well, it took a week, but it seems that Zinn's visit has caused a ruckus in South County.

From the piece by Katie Mulvaney:

Politicians yesterday weighed in on the furor surrounding an anti-war protester's lecture at South Kingstown High School.

The town and state Republican parties promised to find a conservative speaker to counterbalance the words of Dr. Howard Zinn. Activist, author and historian, Zinn addressed about 300 high school students last Tuesday.

"I'm just recommending [that] a Republican speak," said Patricia Morgan, chairwoman of the Rhode Island Republican Party. "Right now, I'm trying to find a good speaker."

Joslin Leasca, secretary of the South Kingstown Republicans, contacted Morgan yesterday morning after receiving about 20 e-mails from parents concerned by Zinn's message.

"They need to see the opposite ... they're still learners," she said. Dr. Zinn and an opponent should have shared the stage, cultivating a respectful, healthy debate, she said.


Two parents objected to Zinn's lecture at the School Committee meeting Tuesday night.

Town Republicans did not oppose Zinn, but rather that his talk went unchallenged, Leasca said. She also wondered who gave the final OK.

"Whose making decisions to feed high school children a particular point of view?" she said. What's next, she asked, the KKK, anti-abortionists, atheists?

And why, she said, were some students excluded from Zinn's lecture?

According to administrators, teachers and students involved in bringing Zinn to the school, senior Molly Little asked Zinn to come to the school first last fall, and again in January. He agreed and told her that as a policy he did not charge a speaking fee when he addressed public schools, Little said.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors in honors classes as well as students whose studies touched on international relations and global issues were invited to attend. Space was limited because the auditorium seats only about 650, administrators said.

"Kids were given an option to attend, or not attend," said Principal Kevin Sheehan.

Yes, let's blame a student for inviting Zinn. What courage! Dan Yorke of Providence's WPRO AM 630 had Bob Tingle on his radio show during the 5 0'clock hour. Tingle's daughter attends South County High and was at this lecture. Unfortunately for the South County School administrators, Tingle is also a well known South County conservative (he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000) and he made sure that the school board found out about his concerns. Tingle also told Yorke that Principal Sheehan justified Zinn's appearance by alluding to the fact that Rush Limbaugh is on the radio all of the time. Huh? Sheehan did admit to Tingle that the ultimate responsibility for Zinn's appearance did lie with him. But, then we have this:

Sheehan balked at the suggestion that parental permission slips should have been required. "I can't get parent permission for every discussion in a classroom," he said. "It's unfair to even ask that."

At least two students challenged Zinn's views, Sheehan said. He added that it would be a shame to remove politics from school.

"Our country has been founded on politics. To take that out of schools is a mistake," Sheehan said.

"We don't have the right to impress students with our personal agenda. It's our job to provide students with opportunities. That's what we do," he said.

It doesn't appear as if anyone wants Sheehan to take politics out of school, rather, a desire for an airing of opinions across the political spectrum is being voiced. As to Sheehan's assertion that no one has the right to "impress students with out personal agenda," well, isn't that exactly what just happened? Is Sheehan saying that even parents don't have a right to "impress" their own "agenda" upon their own children? Or that parents shouldn't be informed when political speakers, especially those as radical as Mr. Zinn, are to be lecturing their kids? It seems so, if only because it would be inconvenient.

Now, Supt. Rober Hicks did say that the school intendended to have a speaker with views different than Zinn's address the students.

But back to Sheehan:

Sheehan said he had no regrets and disagreed with the portrayal of students as blank slates.

"If that's going to brainwash them, then we haven't done or job as educators and as parents," he said.

Sheehan is apparently working overtime here to confuse the issue. No one has been accused of brainwashing the students. Again, equal time is all that is being requested. Tingle told Yorke that, until parents had protested, there had apparently been no plan to offer a counterpoint to Zinn. How does this square with Sheehan's earlier claim of not trying to impress an agenda on students? Quite simply, educators like Sheehan have a different world view than many parents, and, as such couldn't foresee that there would be a problem in offering up a radical historian such as Howard Zinn to the student's without informing the parents. They know what's best for the students, the parents don't. Isn't that right in line with the liberal worldview? They know what's best for the rest of us, so we should just shut up and let them do it?

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