I fear the email sent to the seniors of the class of 2020 at Allegany-Limestone was a knee-jerk reaction to a message from the Chicago police detective that was unexpected.
The first issue I have is the statement, “The commencement speaker’s comments do not reflect or convey the opinions or views of the District or the Board.” I have no doubt that statement is true, which means the district and the board believe because you are from a small town you cannot achieve big things. Nice message.
Secondly, and again I quote from that ill-conceived email, “It was not the District’s intent for your commencement ceremony to include potentially divisive or political topics.” There were no divisive or political topics mentioned until the district and board declared them so in the email. Matthew Bouch did not mention George Floyd or Black Lives Matter. What he told the seniors was not to be swayed in their thinking by edited 30-second news clips and social media, but rather do your own research and make your own conclusions. Sounds like good advice to me.
Thirdly, and once again I quote that email, “Our process for selection failed in appropriate background checks, setting clear guidelines for appropriate message and approval of content.” That took 19 words. I can say the same thing with just one. Censorship.
Freedom of speech is the most valued of the freedoms we enjoy. It is so valued that it is the First Amendment to our precious Constitution. No one should take that privilege from us. We fought a revolution for that privilege and now it’s frown upon. The A-L officials should be ashamed.
The email also states, “Learning occurs best in a safe environment that respects the individual, values different perspectives and encourages effort.” Really? How much respect for Mr. Bouch is shown in the email. By their own admission the district’s officials don’t value his perspective. If they truly disagree with the message they are not encouraging any effort to seek out the truth but to just accept anything heard or read without any verification. I guess it’s a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Maybe a line, “but only those of which we agree,” needs to be added.
One of the roles of high school is to prepare the students for college and adulthood. If the district believes that its 17- and 18-year-old graduates need to be protected from thoughts and words that they do not agree with, then A-L failed these students miserably.
In the course of a single email, school officials taught these seniors that it is fine to censor or prevent unwelcome remarks. Don’t come to your own conclusions, become a lemming. Let someone else tell you what to believe, think, say and do.
What are the consequences of these lessons? Riots and protests on campuses over the appearance of guest speakers, oftentimes preventing the visitor to speak. The creation of “safe” spaces. Heaven forbid someone might hear an offending word, phrase or political view. Students receiving failing grades simply because their views differ from those of their professors. It goes on..
Here is an email message I would have much preferred to see:
Concerns about the content of the commencement speaker’s message have come to our attention. These concerns are duly noted. While we may disagree with some of his message, we respect his right to express his views. We only wish that he had chosen a more appropriate setting. He was your speaker, you chose him. It is up to you to decide how you receive his message. We hope we have instilled in you an open mind and the capacity to think for yourself and to set your own path forward.
There are so many problems with the education system in America right now that I could go on and on, but don’t have enough ink.
These are my views and opinions only, mine alone. Some may disagree and some may agree. I don’t care either way. All of us, despite what officials of the Allegany-Limestone district may believe, are entitled to our own opinions.
And too many of us have kept our mouths shut way too long.
(Warren Voegelin lives in Allegany.)