Monday, July 9, 2012

Today's lesson at a public high school: Abortion = The Holocaust

Still playing catch-up, but making progress.

OK, Gentle Reader. You may have noticed that the most recent posts about becoming Curmie contenders for politicizing public schools (as opposed to simply being stupid) have concentrated on criticizing liberals (well, criticizing specific liberals): the teacher in Virginia who enlisted his 8th-grade class to do opposition research for Obama, the North Carolina teacher who went ballistic in an incoherent pro-Obama rant, the Montana principal who disinvited an Oscar-winning Hollywood producer from giving a completely apolitical speech when he found out the prospective speaker was a conservative.

It’s probably true that there are more liberals than conservatives in the teaching profession (I talked about the reasons for this in a blog post nearly seven years ago), so the law of averages suggests that there are also more over-politicized teachers on the left than on the right. But right-wing zealots are out there in the teaching profession. Boy, howdy, are they.

In Wagoner [Oklahoma] High School this spring, a movie called “180” was shown in two classes and distributed to students. What’s “180”? Well, it purports to be able to completely reverse your thinking (get it? 180?) about abortion in a matter of seconds. (Exactly why it needs to be over half an hour long if that’s the case is, of course, a matter for some conjecture.) And it opens with… well, Hitler, of course. Duh. [Screen capture at right.]

Yes, Gentle Reader, abortion and the Holocaust are interchangeable. Well, not according to the Anti-Defamation League, who described the film as:
… a perverse attempt to make a case against abortion in America through the cynical abuse of the memory of those killed in the Holocaust. Not only does the film try to assert a moral equivalency between the Holocaust and abortion, but it also brings Jews and Jewish history into the discussion and then calls on its viewers to repent and accept Jesus as their savior. It is, quite frankly, one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years.
Marty Angus is the step-father of a girl who saw the film in class. Here’s his take:
She said that she had seen a DVD in school that basically said that if you have an abortion then you are no better than the Nazis and you will go to hell. She said well, we went to our lockers on break and there was a note that said come pick up your free DVD…. I thought it was graphic and a clear violation between church and state and it was just awful to be shown to a high school student.
I’m not sure about all of Mr. Angus’s analysis, but one thing is certain: there’s no way this film ought to have been shown or distributed in a public high school. Well, let me re-phrase that: there’s no way it should have been shown in a public high school except contextualized as a piece of religio-political propaganda. It should not have been distributed there, period.

School officials were apparently apologetic—the film was supposed to be distributed only to students who had parental consent—but the DVDs were accidentally distributed by a student worker (yeah, I believe that—no, really, my eyebrow does that naturally) before consent was received. OK: so even if I believed that, why the hell are they being distributed on school property at all?

And what kind of idiot shows this film in a high school class as if it were a documentary? There are two possibilities, I suppose. One is that a couple of teachers hadn’t bothered to prepare lessons for the day. “Ooooh, look, a movie! That will kill a half hour!” Trust me, I understand. I even did this once. Exactly once. It was my first year teaching, and my work-load for the semester was 14 hours of classes and two productions. For those of you who aren’t academics, that’s an insane load. Friends wonder how I can manage my current load of 12 or 13 hours, with course reduction if I do a single production. Anyway, I was swamped (especially since literally every day in every class required a new prep), and I just didn’t have time to preview a tape I’d recently bought. It was by the great acting teacher Sonia Moore, whose credentials were certainly impeccable. But when she intoned in her thick Russian accent that it was imperative for actors to lose regional dialects, well, that day’s class was shot to hell… and I never again showed a movie or played a tape in class if I hadn’t checked it out first. But at least I had legitimate reason to believe that what I played in class would be useful (as, indeed, it was, except for that one rather notable exception). And it certainly wasn’t inappropriate, just a little… erm… counter-productive.

The other option, unfortunately, is far more likely: a couple of teachers knew exactly what the film was about and its approach. They didn’t show it anyway; they showed it intentionally. If Superintendent Marte Thompson and Principal Mike Christy are really serious in their apologies, they need to investigate. Thoroughly. And, conservative small-town Oklahoma or not, they need to do what’s necessary to prevent this from ever happening again. If that means firing the teachers involved, so be it.

The problem here isn’t the message (although, Gentle Reader, I suspect you know how I feel about that). It’s the venue. If people want to disseminate this stuff, that’s their right. They can show it in church, at GOP headquarters, in private schools. They can pass the DVDs around in public parks, on the street (depending on the town, this might require a permit), or in stores if the owners allow it. But not without context in a public school. Showing this film as a form of proselytizing cannot be allowed.

But this is Oklahoma, after all. I’m not holding my breath that we won’t have another round of this little dance first thing in the fall. In the meantime, the good folks of Wagoner can bask in the glory of Curmie Award contention.

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