Open, honest, free discussion was stifled
Thank you for your coverage of the Dec. 18 Dolores School Board meeting. Just wanted revisit the salient points of my comments to the Board. As I stated in my opening remarks, I was not there to address the Confederate Flag ban, but rather to discuss my concerns over the school administration's proposed response to the alleged hate crime incident as described in the letter sent home to parents on Dec. 13.
I covered three points in my comments 1) The appropriateness of the proposed response in relation to the incident; 2) The "tolerance" training program proposed by the school; and 3) the role of the parents in this decision making process.
With regard to the appropriateness of the response, the Dec. 13 letter informed parents that the incident involved one staff member and one student and then referred to a Department of Justice manual on hate crime. A quick analysis of both the DHS incident as a percentage of the staff/student population as well as FBI Hate Crime figures for 2011 reveal that the DHS incident involved less than 1?2 of 1 percent of the DHS staff/student population, while nationally there were approximately 7700 victims of hate crimes out of a population of roughly 315 million. While these incidents are certainly not insignificant to those involved, the stats tell me that there is neither a hate crime epidemic in the United States, nor at Dolores High School. Which begs the question, why the sudden and excessive response? Wouldn't it be better to handle this among those involved, than to drag 100 percent of DHS students into the mix? Seems to me that valuable student time and school resources could be put to better use.
Concerning the banning of symbols and the proposed "tolerance" training; the mental gymnastics required to reconcile the banning of constitutionally protected free expression while championing the importance of "tolerance" are considerable.
My personal experience, and hence my concern with tolerance training, sensitivity training, consideration of others, or whatever you wish to call it, is that it has nothing do with tolerance, but rather seeks to cultivate an orthodoxy of thought that is neither tolerant nor considerate of values and beliefs that differ from orthodoxy. The end result is an insidious intolerance for any viewpoint that does not conform. Like the negative connotation of a"banned" symbol or idea, very few students will challenge the approved group thought. In a society that champions individual freedom, the free and open exchange and debate of ideas, and civil discourse there is no place for the intolerance borne of tolerance training. While I have no particular affinity for any of the banned symbols, I do strongly believe that the very act of banning something assigns it a negative connotation and removes it as an item for an open and honest discussion. Regardless of what they may believe or feel, only the strongest of students will express a contrary opinion for fear of being labeled. So whether it was intended or not; open, honest and free discussion is stifled. Is this really the example we want to set, and the lesson we want to teach our students? If you are offended, insulted, or have your feelings hurt, by an opinion, idea, thought or belief - just ban it. No need for conflict resolution when you can just get rid of things you disagree with. Now that the precedent has been set by banning these symbols what is next? My fear is that we are on a slippery slope. How long will it be before someone else is offended by something spoken, written, drawn, painted, discussed, etc., which they consider hateful?
Pandora's box has been opened. A study of history demonstrates that banning a symbol or an activity has very little effect on behavior. One only needs to look at our prison system, which is full of people who committed "banned" acts. My final concern has to do with the role of parents. In their Dec. 13 letter, the school administration presented me with a fait accompli, foreclosed on my opportunity to have any meaningful input on a course of action that may adversely impact my children, and essentially usurped my parental authority. Parents are the primary and most important moral educators of their children; A fact that was reaffirmed by the Colorado General Assembly in the preamble to the legislation that established
Colorado's Character Education Program. Based on the letter sent home to parents, I'm not sure the school administration agrees.
William S. Nelligan