Bipolar America

Dateline: February 22, 2006. Yesterday, I was perusing my local newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, here in Denver, when I came across two articles juxtapose from one another; perhaps due to a mischievous editor’s eye. Nonetheless, these two articles illustrated the state of education and the state of the American condition, or at the least, the state of education within my local community. One had to do with a junior, in a Littleton high school, a suburb of Denver metropolitan area, and the other, an elementary school in Bennett, Colorado—approximately 35 miles outside of Denver.

The latter story had to do with a teacher “on leave” due to showing the “highlights” of the video opera “Faust” to her 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade classes. Let’s begin here: Tresa Waggoner, 33, showed her students the allegorical drama, of sin, temptation, and of excessive pride. She did this in order to prepare her students from a visit from Opera Colorado, but as fate had it, she received a call from a parent who chastised her, saying “'I basically do not understand why do you not let the kids sing Christmas songs at their winter concert, but you would teach them about the devil. Are you not a Christian?'” She, a first year music teacher, naturally informed her principal, Mark Reinsbach and gave him the video, which she had found on the shelf in her music room, it was titled Who’s Afraid of Opera. He later instructed her to write apology letters to the parents.

As a result, she is now on “permanently paid administrative leave,” and according to the by-line reporter, Tillie Fong, a substitute teacher has been hired to finish teaching the semester at the elementary school, and for the fall 2006, a new teacher has been hired. So, in effect, the Tresa Waggoner has been boxed in. This is known as being caught between a rock and a hard place. Clichéd—yes, but aptly situated. The district is afraid to “terminate” her because of a potential lawsuit, which there had been mention of a possibility if she was, but they also decide to curry the favor of the hypersensitive parents, just because the “devil” was mentioned (ooh) in an operatic instruction of music appreciation. Admittedly, I myself am not a connoisseur of the music, but I do have an admiration of great classical music. Good music is good music. The universality of music is the tie that brings communities together, whether they are small town Americana, or a ritual tribal dance, or a classical opera using a metaphor for love, hate, temptation, and life. Music speaks to our narrative heart. But in this case, for this teacher, the impact of classical exposure for her students seemed to rear the ugly head of ignorance and fear, which resulted in the co-option of the better angels of understanding. The conservative nannyists have stepped in to save the children from the “lesbian, devil worshipper.” E-gads! And, now she has been sent to her own version of purgatory; her options for searching for other employment are shunted until there’s resolution with Bennett school district.

The late social critic of education, Neil Postman, felt that the state of public schools lacked the perspective of the instructive narrative. To teach through narrative, metaphor, and allegory made for a better rounded student; and also, the element to a critical thinking person. However, apparent this may not be a desired result for Bennett, Colorado schools.

As a person, Tresa Waggoner, who has made a couple Christian music albums, sang in her church more than her half life, and taught choir at the middle and high schools, and yet she was and is not Christian enough. So, now she sits awaiting her fate. But it is okay the non-judgmental, accepting, and loving Christians will come to her aid, won’t they?

On the other hand, there is the case where the ACLU (American Civil Liberty Union), defended successfully, under the threat of a lawsuit, of course, the rights of a 16 year old, a junior, at Littleton High School. The school and the district decided to suspend the young man, Brian Lopez, for making “mocking comments” of the school, the district resources, and acquaintances, on his Myspace.com website, on his personal computer. They were even tried to expel the student for “violating” the Student Code of Conduct (pdf page 4), according Tillie Fong, who filed the initial reporting of the student’s suspension. It basically states that, the students are required to follow school policies on and off school grounds are not discriminate, harass, or intimidate others, or disruptive of the “educational process of the school.” If the student has a committed a criminal act, suspension and expulsion can be allotted, obviously. But what is interesting, the school and district deems themselves guardian over all student behavior, and this includes student using their personal computer.

Apparently, Brian Lopez sin was lampooning, again, on his personal computer, his school and students in a “crude and inappropriate fashion.” The site, unfortunately, has been taken down, but according to reports, and observations that this was satirical “prank.” If not for the hypersensitivity of a parent (sounds familiar doesn’t it?) Brian would not have been suspended. In fact, both stories reflect the hypersensitivity of one parent (or minority number of parents), one from left, and other from the right. Some have made the case that these mirror the conservative perspective, but I disagree, if one is willing to see the dialogue of the school policy of zero tolerance. In the school system earnest to protect all, it has sacrificed the educational process of the student’s individual narrative.

In preparing for this story, I realized that America was and is in crisis. The inability of Americans to recognize cautionary tales such as the opera Faustus or the inability to respect the principalities of freedom of speech has my faith wondering if we are reverting to a time irreparable polarization. The hypersensitive schools are being plied by both the right and the left of the political extremes. And, although we live in a time of crisis, the “war on terror” has relegated us to an overwrought paranoia that is crippling this country’s sense of community and trust. As friend stated, “There use to be a time, when we respected each other ideological perspective, and did not question one’s loyalty, or for that matter the motive…now the parties, individuals are so split, polarized, that it is difficult to have a dissenting opinion without be called a traitor, unpatriotic, or worse yet a liberal.” In other words, if you do have a different ideology, your motives are suspected.

Such suspicion has created a bipolar America, where the political extremes find themselves meeting at the same place——authoritarianism; a place where freedom of expression, ideals, and beliefs are demoralized, demonized, and demeaned. The Littleton student learned that, if you are critical, or criticize (there is a difference), even satirically, the price one might have to pay is their own liberty. And as for the teacher, she learned that sometimes directing young souls is troublesome when trying to open a child’s mind to discovery, especially when their parent’s mind is narrow and closed.

Nevertheless, the nannyist’s closed minds from each side are tearing down our children, dissembling their ability to find themselves, and destroying their capability in finding their own personal narratives. In so doing, the future is being sabotaged by the political correct police extremes by limiting the opportunities, choices, and discovery of our kids in which our next generation of artists, poets, leaders, and heroes will come. And so it goes, the next generation will face the uncertainty of the story, let us hope they are able to complete tale.

After all, it’s just another day in paradise, even if they succeed or …..

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