Thursday, August 19, 2004

"Dear Water Boy, We Hate You, Signed, Everybody" 

Apparently while I was away a small education dustup occurred over a letter signed by the "Class of 2004" of Stillwater Area High School to their local state Senator Michele Bachmann, who had sent a letter of congratulations to the class on their graduation. The letter, read on Joe Soucheray's radio program, rejected the Republican legislator's congratulations.
We as students feel that your ideas about education are too exclusive for the great diversity of thought found in this country and our schools today. Your belief that "students learn history that is consistent with and supportive of basic fundamental American principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution," is simply too narrow of an outline for our social studies education. In fact we find your standards overall to have an usual focus on conservative values and leaders and a general ignorance of the darker, less honorable periods in our history to be considered fair and balanced. After all, we can not celebrate our accomplishments and ignore our failures. When you state that it is essential that "our children are taught American values like sovereignty, patriotism and free market enterprise," we would say that that is a close minded approach to education which we as students reject. America is about diversity of people and opinion; it is about freedom to have healthy discussion about the positive and negative aspects of our nation. To teach clearly conservative values disguised under the names "patriotism" and "free market enterprise" to young people with moldable minds is simply slanted and unfair. Our education should not be influenced by the right wing "question nothing" fervor of the times. And when you say that "parents have the right and responsibility of training their child in the way they should go," we respond that we should have the right to be exposed to a wealth of ideas about America in order to form our own opinions.
We could have ourselves a fine debate about the merits of the letter, as Joe has and are Scholar the Owl at Minnesota Education Reform News and MinnBEST (and M has to get some award for worst editing job by a blogcopier; hello Fraters!), but I want to call attention to another point.

I am doubting the veracity of this letter as representing the "Class of 2004". Soucheray is good at sniffing out this sort of thing and I have no idea if he factchecked this or not, as it was read when I was out of the country. If he did, someone put that in the comments and I'll amend this post. But I have not seen this anywhere else, and given some people want to make hay from it, I think it needs to be raised.

The letter by the students is dated July 7. Senator Bachmann's letter is dated solely as June 2004. According to Stillwater AHS's own site, graduation was on June 5 with the last assembly of the seniors the day before. Unless she postdated her note and wrote it in May, I would think it unlikely that the students had any more than three days to have a) read the letter; b) written a response; and c) distributed it to the Class of 2004. How could they? This is not a small high school but the fifth largest in the state. How would they have collected signatures from -- let's be democratic -- one-half plus one senior of the students? At the graduation? At the senior party? Then why does the letter bear the date July 7? Afterward? How? By mail? And given how the letter shows up at Soucheray's desk (probably direct from Bachmann's) and her visibility in Minnesota, why would this letter only show up on Soucheray's show? Having one kid already through high school, I think it's likely that if a group of students really did this they would want some media coverage.

If I'm wrong on this, the students who put this together are invited to tell me how they accomplished what must have been the Herculean feat of getting 350-400 signatures at least to give legitimacy to sign as "The Class of 2004."

I don't want to suggest that somebody, say a teacher's group, put them up to this or faked it because if they did the media coverage would have been far wider. I think it's most likely a few students, hiding behind the cover of "Class of 2004", perpetrated a bit of a hoax. That's too bad, because if they had signed it with their names as 2004 SAHS graduates, as individuals rather than as part of a class, I'd applaud them for taking the time to write their concerns to Senator Bachmann. The fact that I disagree with them doesn't diminish that sentiment one bit.