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