Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Free Speech is a Dangerous Weapon..

Wow! How did it get to be Wednesday already?

It's actually been a very busy week. The parent who was unhappy about our use of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night" persisted in her objections despite a lengthy conversation Monday evening. She was very cordial, but was quite insistent that the book's "obscene" and "vulgar" language was inappropriate for high school freshmen.

What was interesting was that she really didn't have anything that she wanted from us for her daughter. She didn't want her daughter to read the book, but now that the daughter had started the book she wanted to let her finish. So instead she's filing a complaint with the intention of preventing us from teaching the book in the future.

We had developed a really strong teaching rationale, which I'll post separately. Suffice it to say that we are very enthusiastic about teaching this book, and feel very strongly that it is a good choice. In addition, we have 180 students reading it right now, and the teacher's involved are reporting it to be extremely successful. There were three parents in the meeting, but the other two parents were not as firm in their objection to the book.

I suppose I'll report back more on this later. Ironically, the complaint should come through around the first day of this year's American Library Association's Banned Book Week. :-)

Interesting development in my Speech class today. I have this course that is called Speech in Performance, which is an advanced course fulfilling a Junior year communication requirement. I have an unusually strong group this fall. The class has 24 very intelligent, creative kids. My rhythm with this group is to create a very open, trusting environment. Thursday is "Free Speech Thursday", where the students are asked to bring a 100-200 word speech that can literally be anything they want (everything from reading the Microsoft Office User's Manual to orginal free verse poetry). We start the course with an Original Oratory of three to five minutes, and set it up by examining some theoretical foundations of persuasion and basic delivery techniques. Anyway...this group has been really adventurous and creative from day one. They have a lot to say and aren't afraid to say it. Much of their work has been bitingly satirical, and I'm not inclined to censor their efforts in this area.

So, we started presenting the oratories on Tuesday, and right off the bat a student presents a speech likening his first trip to the doctor for a physical to rape. It was supposed to be humorous, but risked offending people on any number of fronts. Then, today, a student doing a speech in support of organizations helping people with HIV had a humorous introduction that pushed boundaries as well.

It was the first time that I had ever felt like the openness of the classroom stood at risk of real abuse. So, we had a long conversation about whether we needed rules, and really evaluated the responsibilities that come with free speech. Just because you can say it doesn't mean you should say it. In many ways it was a really fabulous learning moment. But real free speech is a scary thing in the hands of enthusiastic and creative adolescents. Should be an interesting term.

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