Thursday, March 13, 2008

Superintendent of Schools gives truth behind Angels of America situation . . . and is attacked on a personal level

One of the main things that causes me and others to want to beat our heads against a brick wall is the insistence of the anti-gay industry to engage in lies even after the truth has been revealed, explained, told, etc.

It has to do with plain stubborness and a desire to be right even when you are wrong.

Consider the nonsense published on the Americans for Truth (in name only) page by one Laurie Higgins, a person in the middle of the Deerfield High School controversy.

A little recap first: Laurie, Peter LaBarbera, Matt Barber and other members of the anti-gay industry have been telling lies about a reading assignment in Deerfield High School.

They claim that the school is "exposing" students to "racist pornography" by having them read the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-award-winning play Angels in America. The claim is even punctuated by portions of the play cherry-picked to induce shock and rage.

Of course Ms. Higgins and others sounding the alarm minimize other details about the moral panic they have caused.

Such as the book is offered as an "option" in a senior AP Literature Class. And that parents had to sign permission slips in order for their children to be able to read the book

But I guess to them, facts are irrelevant when you are trying to stamp out "godlessness."

Anyway, the Superintendent of Schools, George Fornero, has responded to the allegations in an excellent letter.

Higgins has taken it upon herself to tear apart this letter, including making snide comments about Fornero's sexuality.

But in doing so, she reveals the recklessness of herself and her cause.

Let's look at some choice bits along with my take on what they mean:

Fornero: Students studying the play are second semester seniors in Advanced Placement English.

Higgins: (Translation: “We save the most offensive tripe for the most intelligent.”)

My take: Well that was a mature way to start a conversation Ms. Higgins.

Fornero: The College Board oversees all Advanced Placement testing; the class syllabus, including all readings was approved through the Board’s audit process.

Higgins: (Translation: “Of all the readings offered through the College Board, we’re including the most offensive.”)

My take: Why should Ms. Higgins rely on facts when hyperbole seems to work so much better.

Fornero: Parents received information about Angels in America that specifically addressed the mature content and potential for offense.

Higgins: (Translation: “We’re using the inaccurate euphemism ‘mature’ for the more accurate term “obscene.” Reality: The use of obscene language represents the very antithesis of maturity. It is intemperate, puerile language. In addition, the information given parents did not adequately convey exactly how obscene and perverted the material is.)

My take: please note that Higgins sidestepped the fact that parents were told about the book. I doubt that she has any idea as to what was sent out to parents explaining the book. And I really don't think she cares.

Fornero: Parents were asked to make an informed decision about the text their child would read. Two viable choices were presented: Angels in America and Albert Camus’ The Plague. They were also given the option of having their students read both texts. Letter to parents requested that they provide permission for their student to read the selected text(s).

Higgins: (Reality: Many parents have neither the time nor interest in reading read the entirety of Angels in America; This teacher is much beloved by students, and teens are rebellious, therefore, even parents who don’t want their children to read Angels may feel the force of social pressure, compelling them to allow their children to read the provocative, controversial text. The school has potentially set parents up for conflicts with their own children.”)

My take: Are there any facts behind Ms. Higgins's claim? Where is the proof behind her charges? She is speculating that parents did not sit down with their children to discuss whether or not they could read this book. As seen by the post yesterday (if it turns out to be accurate), there was at least one case where the parent and the child did talk about the book and its subject matter. And I am sure that there were others.

Fornero: Excerpts taken out of context from the play by NSSA are being used to diminish the work’s social and political themes.

Higgins: (Reality: There is no context that can justify or render acceptable the teaching of the most extreme violations of decency and truth that occur in this play. Put another way, can the administration or school board imagine any text in which the sexual vulgarity, obscenity, profanity or sacrilege is so extreme or offensive that its very presence would render a text unsuitable for teaching, no matter what positive elements may also be present? Or will positive literary elements always trump issues of obscenity, profanity, and sacrilege? Are administrators saying they will never, under any circumstances take into account the nature and extent of obscenity, profanity, and sacrilege?)

My take: So if I cherry picked portions of the Bible that talked about castrations, mutilations, rapes, and genocide, would Ms. Higgins be on my side? I really doubt it.

Fornero: According to Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Waller, the reading and discussion of the material is not a violation of the obscenity laws, or any other laws, of the State of Illinois.

Higgins: (Reality: The fact that it may not technically violate obscenity laws does not mean it is not obscene. I guarantee that if I start using Kushner’s language in the writing center where I work, or if students start using it in their classrooms, faculty members and administrators will curtail it due to its obscene nature. And if I or students refuse to cease and desist, we will be disciplined.)

My take: When this controversy started, the organization speaking out against the book (NSSA) said that the State Attorney General's office did say it violated obscenity laws. When Waller said this was not true, the group quickly changed its tone. Not quick enough for other anti-gay industry sites to stop claiming that the book violated obscenity laws, however.

So in one corner, we have an excellent, very thorough letter explaining the entire situation. And in the other, we have bad refutations that reveal the shrill nature of not only the person responding but the parties who have started this entire nonsense.

The sad thing is that new lies are being told. Town Hall columnist Mike Adams claimed that 14-year-olds are being required to read Angels in America:

Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois, recently assigned the pornographic book “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes” to students as young as 14 as a required reading. Somehow they didn’t expect parents to be offended by its graphic sexuality and overt racism. But, of course, they were. And that is why I am proud to report that the school has decided to make the reading “optional” over-riding the gay teacher’s original intentions.

And this lie is being repeated on other sites

Deerfield High School did nothing wrong, so I doubt that there will be any dismissals. However, I cringe to think that somewhere down the road, Matt Barber, Peter LaBarbera, or other members of the anti-gay industry will be able to refer to the situation and lie about it unchallenged.

It underscores that these groups and the folks behind them aren't interested in truth or values. Only power and control.

If this isn't the case then why did they rely on hyperbole, distortions, and misdirections to make their case.

Not very Christian, is it?

One more thing. If Ms. Higgins reads this post, I would suggest to her that she read yesterday's post from a student attending the AP Literature class.

She could learn a little something about maturity.