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Saturday, February 11, 2006

The cowardly superintendent.

All it takes to set the knees of one school superintendent a-knocking is three letters of hearsay from squeamish members of one conservative church. Dr Mark Enderle canceled Fulton High School's production of The Crucible in order to forestall another round of letters like the ones that followed the school's production of Grease:

Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.

Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far, and glorified conduct that the community tries to discourage. One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized "immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play."

Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that "Grease" was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script. Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller.

"That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some," Dr. Enderle said.

He called "The Crucible" "a fine play," but said he dropped it to keep the school from being "mired in controversy" all spring.

Ooh, small-town controversy: we wouldn't want that. (Recipe: Take one school board reelection, add one superintendent's contract renewal, stir in 1 cup pissy church, and bake.) The article spends some time on the irony of cancelling a play that obliquely criticizes the McCarthy era, but I wish the writer had gone to the religious heart of the matter: Drama itself is threatening to certain kinds of religion. (Who banned theater in 17th-century England? Why, the English Puritans — during the very same period that the New England Puritans were killing "witches." Hmm.) Which brings us to the irony of Fulton High School's second choice when The Crucible got the ax: Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

For the moment, Dr. Enderle acknowledged, the controversy has shrunk the boundaries of what is acceptable for the community. He added that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was "not a totally vanilla play."

Dear Dr Enderle, this is the part of your job when you're supposed to get a spine. Education isn't about avoiding controversy altogether. It's about learning how to think critically and discussing our differences in public. I know, it's hard to get angry letters; as an editor, I get them myself. But think of this as a teachable moment: Shakespeare's plays were banned by Puritans, earnest religious folk who very seriously believed that vice should not be depicted. At all. You do in fact need to decide whether contemporary Puritans or any other religious group get a veto over the curriculum. And that's a controversy that can't be ducked.

Sure, we could limit the discussion of what's controversial to the teen behavior in Grease, but it's not as if there's a lot of panties or swearing in The Crucible. The drama teacher is right:

Ms. DeVore believes it was canceled because it portrays the Salem witch trials, "a time in history that makes Christians look bad."

"In a Bible Belt community," she added, "it makes people nervous."

("In small town, 'Grease' ignites a culture war," Diana Jean Schemo, New York Times 2.11.06, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 11 February 2006 at 11:01 AM

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February 11, 2006 11:21 AM | Permalink for this comment

As a former high school English and drama teacher who has taught both "The Crucible" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (and appeared in both, and been involved in directing both), I find this story incredibly sad and disturbing. I understand the kerfluffle about "Grease." I played Marty in the first high school production of the show EVER DONE (tiny claim to fame, thank you)in 1980, and parents asked the directors to do some censoring, which they did. They very slightly changed the ending to make it less "hey, become a tart and get yer guy!" And they cut some of the more blush-inducing lyrics from "Greased Lightning."
But "The Crucible" is a wonderful play for Christians to see, to better understand their own shadow side, to take responsibility for our history as Americans, and to consider the ways that unstable mental states can be mistaken for religious frenzy. I know, I know: these conservative folks don't want to think about all these things. And therein lies so much of the moral failure of conservative Christians today, that they willfully ignore or prevent conversations that make them accountable to their tradition, to their God and each other. These are the people who wonder why so much of our secular culture is Christian-bashing, and hostile to them. THAT'S why, kids. It's not because of your faith, it's because of your rampant disgust for and avoidance of critical reflection that isn't directed against some "other."

What a disgrace. And please, it's EASY to do "The Crucible" without even thinking about the McCarthy debacle. There's enough there in the play without even making that connection, if you're too damned much in denial to want to.

Shame on that superintendent. May he be possessed by demons of conscience that will lead him to get a backbone, and soon.


February 11, 2006 12:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

I kinda like that they objected to the kissing in "Grease" and missed the saran wrap totally.


Pat McLaughlin:

February 11, 2006 12:59 PM | Permalink for this comment

Amazing. Well, no... I guess it's not. This is, as Chris observes, the same sort of behavior that like-minded people have shown before.

What staggers me is this part:

Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far

Smoking? Yeah, I strongly discourge my kids from taking it up. But, um... we're talking about high school-aged kids. They've seen people smoking in real life. And this is Missouri, where... well... it's not as if anti-smoking laws are Californian in terms of their efforts to discourage.

Kissing? OMG. I mean, just... how delusional do you have to be to think that older teens aren't, um... you know... kissing. Or holding hands? MO has teen pregnancy rates--for blacks, whites and hispanics--all well above the national average. They're not in danger of getting "idears" from seeing a couple on stage kiss. The entertainment media, even on broadcast TV, is so far ahead of that; they've been seeing couples kiss for years--in their own homes.


...county figures show that of the 10,000 young people in Cape Girardeau County and Scott City, Missouri, 1,061 have a serious alcohol problem...

The problem isn't showing ostensibly adult characters drinking. Particularly considering that the characters aren't depicted as glamorous, happy and successful.

Shame on the principal (and on that church). He's let the buckle of the Bible Belt pinch. I just hope it continues to pinch his conscience.

Super Ju:

February 12, 2006 05:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Have they read A Midsummer Night's Dream?!?

A half-Donkey named "Bottom" has pagan unmarried sex with the queen of the Faeries...Daughters disobeys thier fathers and run off into the woods after thier lovers in the dead of night...a cross-dressing man plays Thisbe....and more dirty jokes than Grease or The Crucible could ever hope to have.

But kissing? Of course not! "I kiss the Wall's hole and not your lips at all..."


February 13, 2006 12:06 AM | Permalink for this comment

Sock puppet!


February 13, 2006 05:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

Look Your friends of the new york times didn't ask all of us our opions. We are not lying down as you said. If we did we'd be a bunch of disconbobulated kids who didnt know how they felt. We had almost everything done. In fact we were ready to go. We are obeying as you say it because we love our drama department and we dont feel like losing it. Joe Potter a professor of William woods has said we can audittion at for those plays. Before you say things of lack of intelligence get to know us first. In fact without Ms. Devore we wouldn't have been able to do some of the things we have done. Its one play not a million. We even did arsenic and old lace last year. So plz before you speak, listen to all. Thanks


February 14, 2006 07:15 AM | Permalink for this comment

Anna, although the Times article said that the students have accepted the situation they've been put in, I didn't get the impression that the students were "lying down" -- and I don't think anyone else here thinks that.

I absolutely respect the situation you're in. The target of my frustration is the adults' failure to respect a drama teacher's professionalism and knowledge of her curriculum; the superintendent failed to stand up for her. He's the one lying down in the face of some local pressure. You are right to stand with Ms Devore -- and to do your best in the next play.


February 18, 2006 12:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

I played bass in the pit of the Fulton High School production of Grease last fall and have many friends in the theatre department. I also know the superintendent of the school district, as he is the father of one of my friends, and I have had has him as a coach. The way he is depicted in the article on this site is misleading and does not present all the information. "The Crucible" was not banned; it was cancelled with the possibility of it being done in the future. This seems a minor distinction, but is the difference between censorship and trying to avoid controversy that would trickle down to the students in the theatre department. Dr. Enderle is not the man who shirks responsibility to protect himself, as portrayed, but wanted to sidestep the uproar that would ensue because of a small group’s innate fear of immorality. The decision to cancel the play, and I assume the decision to do so without a public debate, was to let the matter quiet down. Dr. Enderle's intent was to avoid the very controversy that has been inflamed by articles like this one, which use limited information to draw conclusions that point the finger in the wrong direction. To read Dr. Enderle's letter to the Fulton Sun about the controversy visit
I agree that the decision to cancel the play may have been an incorrect one; however, this article is at best a misinterpretation of incomplete facts, and at worst, a slandering of a man’s character based on an paranoid fear of any form of censorship.


February 20, 2006 09:07 AM | Permalink for this comment

Melanie collects a few other comments from people watching local developments.


March 18, 2006 10:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

After reading about all this fuss and insanity and then reading that midsummers had not even sold out, I decided to go. On the way I reminisced about the shlock I had even helped present decades ago at my own high school and reminded myself that I should not expect broadway in Fulton of all places.

It wasn’t broadway, this is a high school, and only a 6$ ticket, but ya know it was pretty good, About the worst thing I could say about it is that some of the kids need to work on projection and/or how not to step on your laugh yet not seem to stutter. Everything else was well done. And I left with an interesting idea, that Grease was so well done by this crew, that they projected the personas of their parts so well, that the Christian nutcases thought that what they were seeing was what HS students were actually like now, instead of seeing the truth that these were only kids presenting a script written about the 50’s.

Still the fuss has exposed Enderle as just a pawn of the thought control extremists, and how Fulton High School is being treated as if it was some private religious academy instead of a PUBLIC HS, but that’s what is getting all the press elsewhere. “The kids did good” with the difficult Shakespeare even, and I bet they “did good” with grease and the others too. Being this was the first place I’ve found where that topic was even remotly breached I thought I’d add my two cents on what should be a central part of this, the drama crew. If this issue was important enough for the NYT to make a fuss about, you would think they would at least review the “replacement” play too.

And the concept that every HS play needs to be suitable for small children is silly, midsummers is not, yet I was surrounded by small children, it reminded me of child abuse trying to make a small kid sit still thru Shakespeare, they need to take steves advice and get a baby sitter every now and then.

The show did go on, and it was good too. There are people that rightly should feel proud about this.

Cate Dodson:

March 18, 2006 02:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just a little follow-up to let you know a local group, The First Amendment Players, will read The Crucible at a local church in Fulton this week! We've invited the community for an open discussion about recent events!

Fulton Teacher:

March 24, 2006 12:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

As a teacher in Fulton, I have become more and more dismayed by the coverage I have read concerning Dr. Mark Enderle's decision to replace the Crucible as FHS's Spring production. At first, I was troubled by the news I heard about the decision and the story in the NY times. Then, I decided that since I have known Dr. Enderle for over 15 years, and have never had reason to suspect him of suppressing First Amendment rights, that the matter merited further investigation. I have personally attended at least three meetings at which Dr. Enderle has aplogized for his decision and have heard him state, that given the opportunity, he would change his decision. I have repeatedly heard him state that the Crucible was not banned, only postponed. In my opinion, Dr. Enderle's intent was never to censor or ban any theatrical productions. He was merely trying to protect our students from any further distractions while they prepared the spring play.


March 26, 2006 01:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ahh, what ungrateful creatures we must seem, those of us who presume to criticize the Great Oz.

“(Editors note: The Fulton Sun is in agreement with Mark Enderle - after the controversy stirred by the New York Times article, this issue has received enough attention. We will not print any more letters to the editor on this subject.)”

“The superintendent is a good man, but he made a mistake, a knee-jerk reaction, and the effect is disastrous,” said David Collins, an English professor at Westminster College

“I have personally attended at least three meetings at which Dr. Enderle has aplogized for his decision and have heard him state, that given the opportunity, he would change his decision.” (Above.)

I have heard rumors that what the fulton teacher said above is true, but only rumors via posts and blogs on the web, what has been much more visible to this member of the public is what seems to be some sort of coverup by the people in power. “mind your own business”, “He meant well”, “Move on”, “the issue is closed”, These are not statements that give one the warm fuzzy feeling that all is well and above board. I don’t doubt the Dr is a good guy to hang with, or a good neighbor even, but in my opinion he keeps making stupid mistakes in public, mistakes that make me question what actually did happen behind closed doors, and I don’t think I am alone.

“In response to teachers' concerns, challenger Dennis Depping said further dialogue should occur in an open atmosphere.”

“I don't think this issue has been blown out of proportion,” said Fulton High School junior Emmy Potter, who read the part of Mercy Lewis. “There needs to be more discussion, and Fulton is that stage for this international discussion.”

“Dear Dr Enderle, this is the part of your job when you're supposed to get a spine. Education isn't about avoiding controversy altogether. It's about learning how to think critically and discussing our differences in public.” (our host)

Now that the need to protect the thespians from scrutiny while they produce the spring show is over perhaps now is a better time for the Dr to initiate an open and public dialog on what happened. Or is the object to teach the students and public that their place is to just blindly follow orders even from the men trying to hide behind the curtain.

“Proverbs 18.2” (part of the print edition of the sun of 2/17, but not online)

"Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” (New Living Translation);

So then why would someone choose to remain quiet as an apparent attempt to keep others from being able to understand? What is it that they don’t think we can understand and needs to be kept quiet? Or is it that they just consider most of “us” to be fools with no desire to understand?

Or alternately “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.” (The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition)

While I too have often been a fool making my own share of stupid mistakes in public, I also take pleasure in understanding; I find that understanding helps to prevent future knee-jerk reactions on my part. Maybe the Dr understands now, and he can help the rest of us understand by opening up about this. I’m not interested in his head, or even his job, he must be pretty good at what he does to have done it so long, but I think more of an explanation is due, as well as hearing from students and teachers what this event and resulting fuss has meant to them. To deny them a proper public forum will send these discussions underground into gossip and rumor, embracing them in the sunlight is more likely to put them to rest. Part of this flap is even about a blog entry by Ms. DeVore, that many people may not even have seen, could this be it? ? Wow, three whole comments yet it seems to be a factor in her resignation, kinda like 3 comments being enough to get a play canceled. Gossip and rumor, this is what happens when attempts are made to suppress personal opinions, they leak out anyway. She should been given a chance to say that in public, and the Dr should have had his chance to explain as well, along with concerned parents, both the religious and not so religious variety. The longer the dissent is avoided the more this becomes just about personal opinions instead of being about understanding like it should be. Which social process should the students be learning? At least they got "The show must go on" part down.

Our host took a good natured jab at the Dr, others have not been as polite, and he has been most directly to the real issue, that the Dr, as an educator, should already know the value of discussion, and the follies of just trying to stifle discussion.

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