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Schools sent wrong message by not showing speech

September 12, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

The instant people began to open their mouths and say that Washington County Public Schools should not show President Obama's recent classroom videocast on the grounds that it was some kind of new world-order brainwashing, the school system should have vowed to broadcast the speech, no matter what. Here was the salient lesson: Censorship, in most any form, is wrong.

Instead, schools officials hid behind the lamest possible excuse: Gosh, we'd love to show the president, but it came on such short notice and we really can't afford the time.

Can't afford the time? Then cancel a fire drill or something. Plenty of other school districts across the nation found the time.

Schools officials were made to look even worse when a number of conservative opponents, after reading the text, decided the speech wasn't so subversive after all. The talk was an ode to personal responsibility, a doctrine that conservatives, correctly, have been preaching for years.

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So there were school system officials dangling in the wind, having been made to look foolish not once, but twice. Most other school systems had the gumption to spare a few minutes of the school day, no matter how much heat was brought by a few yakkers who would criticize Obama for curing cancer on the grounds that a few socialists might live to see old age.

While the rest of the nation's school kids were getting a lesson in hard work and determination, our kids were learning this: Take the easy way out. It doesn't matter how righteous your cause, if some people are going to give you a hard time, don't do it.

And what an opportunity missed. How often do kids get the idea that a sitting president, or any public officeholder for that matter, wants to talk directly to them? Usually, politicians (save for a few obligatory photo ops) have nothing to say to kids who have yet to reach voting age.

And this was not some candy-coated fluff. Families and schools can lay the foundation for success, the president said, but success is not handed out on silver platters. It takes hard, individual work. These days, that message is more likely to cost a politician votes than win them.

The one saving grace is that the best way to get a kid to watch something is to tell him he can't. The fringe might have effectively censored the speech live, but everyone younger than 18 likely watched the tape with rapt attention to hear what the president had to say that was so vile.

In the end, however, this wasn't about the content of Obama's speech, this is about a relative handful of Kool-Aid swillers trying to tell the rest of America what to do. This is the exact moment that the school board -- all school boards -- should have put down their collective foot and said "enough."

Enough to paranoia. Enough to blind rage. Enough to ignorance. If we can't count on educators to do this, who will?

Instead, school system officials said, "Why yes, this speech might indeed include collectivist propaganda. And come to think of it, we do have doubts about the authenticity of the president's birth certificate and we really don't like the sounds of those health care death panels."

Of all institutions, the board of education should know that when you fail to confront ignorance and intolerance, you perpetuate it by default. And when you demonstrate to students that the president of the United States does not have the right to free speech, it tells them that their own prospects for speaking their minds are pretty dim. Keep your mouth shut, someone might get annoyed.

The real irony is that all the loudest talkers are the first to jump up and suppress someone else's speech when there's an outside chance they might disagree with its content. What if they had been stopped at the doors at the public health care meetings and been told, sorry, we don't want your anti-health care propaganda to be heard because some children might be listening?

Those who seek the truth welcome debate. They want to be challenged. Because only by hearing all sides can the truth be learned. Curiously enough, the very censorship that's being advocated by these fringe elements is exactly the type of behavior you would expect to see in the socialistic societies they claim to abhor.

The American way -- and that this even needs to be stated is rather startling on its own -- is to let the president speak and then debate the value of his words, as many school systems did. But not ours. No doubt school officials grow weary of dealing with bomb throwers on all sides who believe the school system can do nothing right. This might have seemed like one more battle the board didn't need.

Hopefully though, the board was listening when Obama said, "if you quit ... you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country." And your county.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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