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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wilton High School free speech scandal gaining attention

Since the release of the New York Times article regarding the recent nonsense at Wilton High School, the story of Principal Timothy H. Canty's unwise decision to cancel the student's original production about the war in Iraq hs picked up attention on blogs across the state and counrty.

The latest blog to comment on Principal Canty's insanity is the popular Firedoglake.
There's a very good account in this article of all the ways the kids tried to amend the play's content to make it acceptable to the Lieberman voters who killed the production (I'm sure you're all shocked to learn Lieberman won Wilton handily last November). Well worth a read.

Seems some people in Wilton are okay about their kids being old enough to be on the speed dial lists of any local military recruiters, but the same kids can't write and stage a play made up of reflections drawn wholly from the writings of young men and women fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. They want these kids to STFU. I'm totally with the kids on this one.

I bring all this up for a couple of reasons. First, I want the adults in Wilton who shut down this play to recognize they've just given these kids a much wider audience, as this story takes off in MySpace, Facebook, the New York Times, My Left Nutmeg and now Firedoglake. Oops. The local word now is some community activists may be helping the kids stage the play outside of the school.

Second, I figure, sooner or later, some of these kids might find this blog post and check out this site. To them, I want to say, welcome! Glad you're here. We're not here to shut you up. Quite the opposite.

Stop by our comment section and introduce yourselves. We talk a lot about politics here and stand up for the voices of the very troops you quote in your play, but we also have a lot of fun and use bad words like fuck.

We've been speaking truth to power around here for a while, and we've gotten pretty good at it. Still, I'm sure there's a lot we can learn from you, so we'd love to hear from you.

That goes not just for people at Wilton High, but to any teenagers, young adults or college students who are curious about what's going on in this country and who maybe want to do a little something to make things different, even if it just means being informed. Hell, some of you know as much or more than we do.

I don't expect many of you Wilton High kids will make it here tonight, since I'm sure you're all out having fun doing things your parents approve of. But anyway, this thread is for the next generation: come say hello, call us names, ask us what we're about, it doesn't matter. We're not the crabby adult types who think the world is going to hell and you're leading the way.
Feeling the heat, Wilton School Superintendent Dr. Gary Richards issued this statement.
he Wilton Public Schools administration would like to respond to the issues raised in The New York Times article entitled "Play About Iraq War Divides a Connecticut School" that appeared in the "Metro Section" on Saturday, March 24, 2007. The article describes the controversy in the WHS Advanced Theater Arts class about a play called "Voices in Conflict" compiled by students for performance during this spring semester. The play contains monologues about the Iraq war by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens. The article describes the work of the Theater Arts class to develop the play, Principal Tim Canty's decision and rationale for stopping the performance of the play at this time, and the resulting critical reactions by some students and parents.

This is a sensitive situation for a school community because of the complex issues and strong feelings involved. We also see it as an opportunity to extend the educational dialogue. With that goal in mind, we will summarize how we got to this point, our concerns about the performance of the play as written and our plans for next steps.

All school programs need to serve a legitimate educational purpose. The Iraq war, of course, is an important, serious, complex, and critical topic for a high school to address. In recent years, we have addressed the war in many ways including debates by experts, panel discussions, Social Studies courses and units, class discussions, etc. When the Theater Arts teacher first broached the idea of a play honoring soldiers in Iraq, we supported exploring it with the understanding that there would be on-going communication between the teacher and administration. However, after seeing subsequent drafts, we have serious concerns. The play has contained direct excerpts from a book, documentary films, letters to newspapers, and web-sites. These sources are modified and "cut and pasted" together in a way that does not give them attribution nor cite the viewpoint of the particular author or filmmaker. The script contains language that, while realistic, is graphic and violent. In addition, the format includes the student performers directly acting the part of the soldiers, rather than appearing as readers of their journals, letters, interviews, etc. In our view, this approach turns powerful material into a dramatic format that borders on being sensational and inappropriate.
Yeah, right...whatever. You be the judge by reading the original and edited script from a site the students created here.

Currently, people are brainstorming on ways to support the students. Make sure you go to the student's site and sign their guestbook as a show of support for their cause.