SCOTT C. SCHURZ JR., President, Editor and Publisher
JOHN A. NELSON, Executive Editor
FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2012 A9
LETTERS@AMNEWS.COM | WWW.AMNEWS.COM
activism — a
HICAGO — We are now a nation
of activists living in a “movement” society. If something upsets enough of us, we try to
get the situation rectiﬁed
through online or actual taketo-the-streets protests.
Is it any wonder that the
new Occupy-anything-youEsther Cepeda can-think-of ethos has made
its way into public school
Last week, Brooke Harris,
an English and journalism teacher at a
Pontiac, Mich., charter school, said she’d
been wrongly ﬁred for encouraging her
students to organize a fundraiser for
Trayvon Martin, the hoodie-wearing
Florida teen who was shot while making
his way home from a convenience store.
Harris told e Detroit Free Press that
her students wanted to donate to the Martin family the proceeds from a day when
students would pay to wear hoodies to
school, with the hoods covering their
heads, in order to show solidarity with the
She had gotten permission for the
fundraiser from her principal but the superintendent, Jacqueline Cassell, forbade
Harris from moving forward because students ﬂouting the no-head-coverings policy would disrupt the entire school. Cassell
told the Free Press that though she objected to the fundraiser, “I certainly would
not use this issue as a reason to terminate
But Harris claims this is exactly what
happened. “I was told I was a bad teacher,
that I was being unprofessional,” Harris
said, “that I’m being paid to teach, not to
be an activist.”
OK. Raise your hand if you believe
wholeheartedly that public school teachers
are employed by taxpayers to educate students in the academic subjects required for
high school graduation — and not to feed
students their personal political or socialissue opinions and encourage protests.
e problem is that it can be tough to
spot a diﬀerence between a teacher who
appropriately supports student eﬀorts to
exercise citizenship responsibilities taught
in civics classes from one who serves as the
impetus for an act of advocacy.
And it’s not like teacher preparation programs routinely train new educators on
how to teach critical thinking by addressing controversial current events and other
touchy topics relevant to academic subject
matter, with unbiased facts that present all
sides of an argument. Such guidance usually isn’t a staple of teacher orientation at
Given that, for the most part, teachers
mold young minds behind closed doors,
you have to wonder how any lesson can be
slanted when presented by an activist
teacher who feels it is part of his or her
mission as an educator to pass their politics on to students.
Yes, I said “activist” teachers. ey believe that part of their job involves teaching
students about the injustices of the world
and how to challenge them — which is
ﬁne, I suppose, if you happen to see eyeto-eye and heart-to-heart with a teacher’s
social and political beliefs.
Go ahead, residents of New York City,
Milwaukee, Chicago, San Francisco,
Boston and Atlanta, check out
www.teacheractivistgroups.org and learn
the missions of organizations such as
“Teachers 4 Social Justice,” “e Education
for Liberation Network,” and the “Collective of Radical Educators.” All perfectly
lovely organizations, I’m sure, if you don’t
mind a little anarchy with your algebra.
I called Kyle Olson, the founder of the
reform organization Education Action
Group, which routinely details examples of
teachers who preach pro-union, anti-establishment political beliefs in their classrooms, and the author of “Indoctrination:
How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools
to Subvert American Exceptionalism.” He
oﬀered an eﬀective, nonpartisan tip for
how all parents can navigate school situations that sometimes send kids home saying the darnedest things.
“Parents need to be engaged in the
learning process,” Olson said. “ey need
to ask their kids: ‘What happened at school
today?’ ‘What’s your homework?’ ‘What
videos did you watch today?’ If you’re concerned, you need to ﬁnd out more — nothing will change until parents complain.”
at works for teachers as well. Protesters are demanding Harris’ reinstatement
and have staged a rally for her. If she wasn’t
out of line and was wrongly terminated for
merely enabling her pupils to support a
cause that they believed in, her students’
families are correct to exercise their right
to complain online and on the streets to
anyone who will listen. Advocacy for your
children is a lesson more parents need to
put into practice.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The decline of scandal in this age
t's another sign of the blah times:
e sordid details of our public ﬁgures’ none too private scandals have
grown beyond boring. By
now, scandals have become
as repetitive, predictable and
standardized as the apologies
for them. Just one more thing
to be logged into the system
Paul Greenberg at the end of the of the day’s
routine. Like answering your
Oh, what ever happened to
mink coats and satin sheets? Back streets
and midnight rendezvous? Caviar and
champagne? Or perhaps a crisp PouillyFuissé served cold but never frosty, like
Eva Marie Saint to Cary Grant in “North by
But even to conjure such scenes these
days is to be hopelessly dated. Alfred
Hitchcock is deﬁnitely dead, leaving no
survivors, including glamor and suspense.
Of scandal and its decline I sing. First
the whole, once lush ﬁeld was abandoned
to the Stanley Kowalskis, who at least had
an animal magnetism in Tennessee
Williams’ overheated sensibility.
Now scandal has become the province
of pols and football coaches and the drab
like. Deﬁnitely a step down despite the
seven-ﬁgure contracts involved. Or maybe
because of them. Money can corrupt even
Call it the corporatization of scandal,
which pretty much takes any fun out of it.
Once, just once, I’d like to see some
scamp caught in the act issue a diﬀerent
kind of statement: “I did it, I’m glad, and I
won’t insult your intelligence by pretending otherwise. And I’ll probably keep on
doing it. You know me. Now how about a
bourbon and branch, easy on the
It wouldn’t be an apology, but it might
be something better: a model of sincerity.
And stand out in this Age of the Kind-Of
e only real scandal remaining in such
an age is what the apologizers have done
to the language, reducing what might once
have been racy dialogue and double entendre to a standardized form. A kind of
1040-A for the formally penitent, complete
with a sheet of instructions and a checklist.
at way, no one is left out of the apologies — family and friends, my-dear-wifeand-children, employer and employed,
“all those I’ve let down,” ﬂag-and-countryand-team, probably in that ascending
order, plus the family dog. Just ﬁll in the
e whole mechanized, now computerized and emailed process takes any remaining romance out of scandal, and
devalues even the sordid by reducing it to
boilerplate. (Fill in remorse here).
Call it the Clinton Form or Gingrich Excuse or Petrino Play or by any number of
other proper names that have become
common nouns, very common.
When it comes to scandals, supply has
all but driven out demand. And the apologies for them have become mere formalities, like mass-produced thank-you notes.
It is not an improvement. Seldom has English prose been so ... prosaic.
It is as if the miscreant caught in ﬂagrante had composed his admission-andapology with the help of spell check and a
Power Point, TED and their unending
successors just ain’t the same as what
used to be the art of the apology, which
enhanced the dignity of both those who
oﬀered it and those who graciously accepted it.
All that is gone, gone. Replaced by the
fatal construction, “I'm sorry but. ... “ Of
course it is the but that speaks louder than
e decline of scandal is one thing, but
when it becomes the decline and fall of
language, all is lost.
Let’s remember what is most important
here: the treasure of the English tongue,
which by now has been reduced to a pauper’s leavings by this routinization of mea
e slovenliness of the usual aﬀair is
one thing. When it slops over into the language, something important is being lost.
Maybe the most important thing.
e most striking aspect today of what
was once the art of the American scandal
is the complete, comprehensive and by
now predictable lack of any originality
whatsoever in the apology for it.
Yet, no one seems to bemoan scandal’s
collateral damage to the language, only
the loss of some faux dignity that the principals had always faked anyway.
It is the rare individual who can keep
his priorities in order when scandal raises
its ugly rear.
One such was a legendary copy editor
and ladies’ man at one of the Little Rock
dailies who, as luck would have it, was
tracked down at his Hot Springs hideaway
by his long-suspicious wife. Confronting
him, she demanded to know: “Who are
you sleeping with now?”
Our exemplary editor, who knew what
was truly scandalous, responded with indignation. “Whom am I sleeping with
now,” he corrected her in no uncertain
terms. “Whom am I sleeping with now!”
e man had his priorities in order. is
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning
editorial page editor of the Arkansas DemocratGazette. His email address is
VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
Danville is finally making progress
I am sitting here a la librarie at 11 a.m. I would
respectfully like to express a feeling of glee.
Just recently there was a picture in your paper
of the building that used to be beside the library
here on Broadway. at building, I don’t know
what the name of it was (I don’t care), but that
building had the word “SHAME” painted on it.
I can only imagine that whoever painted that
word was a fuddy-duddy who is/are descendant(s) of the fuddy-duddys who have kept
Danville, yea Kentucky, in the past. I grew up in
Boyle County, and that lot next to here is already
I have heard a story about Kentucky in all my
47 years, and the story goes: Kentucky was 10
years behind in the Great Depression. It took
Danville 10 years after the Great Depression
started before anybody around here knew about
I can only imagine that the ancestors to the
fuddy-duddy(s) who illegally painted on the
wall of the building next door here are who kept
the state in this state.
But my feeling of glee is expressed by the fact
that there are those who are coming in from out
of state, or at least the area, who are apparently
saying “Get thee behind me fuddy-duddy.”
Danville is ﬁnally making some progress in
coming out of the 20th century.
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