Boulder High School scandal comes to a head, Part 2

June 30, 2007

In this part I’ll cover what the School Board members said at the June 12 School Board meeting on this controversy. This is my own transcription, based on the recording of this Board meeting released recently on BVSDWatch.org. I covered the public participation section of the meeting where parents and students weighed in on the controversy in Part 1.

Again, these are not complete quotes. They talked about other business besides the CWA panel issue. I’ve only included their remarks on the CWA panel, and related issues. Also, like in the first part I have edited out students’ and parents’ names who have been involved or spoken out on this issue, if they haven’t been in the media, in the interest of their privacy. I’ve tried to make sure these quotes are correct, but if they are not, I welcome corrections. Just post them in the comments section of this post, and I’ll correct the post. Also, I have tried to get names correct, but sometimes I had to use my best guess of spelling. If you want to post corrections anonymously just put “Anonymous” in the “Name:” field of your comment.

Teresa Steele:

The Board and administration have felt beseiged upon over the last few weeks from very few individuals in both national and local media. These individuals have continued to cover the Conference on World Affairs panel discussion at Boulder High. Unfortunately what they have continued to repeat is only the most inflammatory comments made by the panelists, which has fueled a fire of hate towards individual Board members and administration, including threatening bodily harm. When the board learned of the panel discussion 6 weeks ago the Board directed the Superintendent to investigate. We only conduct business in public, so it was two weeks later before we received a public report. At that meeting Dr. Garcia reported to the board his findings and actions taken against those who were involved and did not follow Board Policy INB, teaching about controversial issues. I can tell you that steps have been taken to make sure Policy INB is followed in the future. I will save comments regarding this policy for later in the meeting. Outside of BVSD we may not have communicated well, but corrective actions were taken. I do not believe that people understand that actions have been taken, and both the Board and administration took the complaint from a Boulder High family seriously. If one only listened to KOA radio, or Fox News, they certainly would not have been told the truth. As a matter of fact their snippets and even parts of the transcript are available on Fox News, but not in its entirety, because apparently they don’t want people to read the entire truth. The superintendent reported and assured the Board that in the future, every parent will be notified about panel discussions beforehand, and given the opportunity to opt out. Steps will be taken to make sure a balanced panel is in place. A letter of apology was e-mailed out to parents. Yes, a mistake was made. Yes, appropriate actions have been taken.

In reality, in Boulder County, our at-risk survey, conducted of our students, indicates that our teenagers are engaging in sexual activity. Not all, but some. Some are engaging in high-risk behaviors with alcohol and drugs. These students need honest information. I think the students that have spoken here tonight have shown they have the ability to make good decisions for themselves. Please give them the credit that they deserve . . . [A] parent that spoke here tonight made a request, very simple: communicate better with  parents and give them the choice to opt out. That’s where the mistake was made, and that will be corrected. This current witch hunt must come to an end. Dave Kopel from the Independence Institute stated “In the ensuing fallout, the Boulder Valley School District immediately stated that the failure to re-announce the opt-out rule was an error. Moreover the panel violated BVSD policy that a broad range of views be presented on controversial subjects. The responsible employees were reprimanded. End of story? Not for…”–and he puts “CNS”, and that’s the end of his quote that I put in my comments. Again, I repeat, this witch hunt must end. The Board of Education is a volunteer policy governance board. We all chose to run. We all deal with controversial issues when they arise. We do so fairly, and within what the law allows us to do. When policy is violated, we do take it very seriously. The administration has acted as is their responsibility to do so. At this point, all appropriate action has been taken. It continues only as it continues to be misrepresented. We hope that this will be the end of the national media coverage, and that people will understand we are the number one district in the state of Colorado, and our students deserve honesty. If they have learned a lesson, they’ve learned now to question the media, and maybe that’s the best thing that’s come out of this.

This feels like a conflicted mind to me. On the one hand she says that some teens are engaging in high-risk behaviors, and on the other, based on the statements of students who came up to speak, she says, “give them the credit they deserve” for making good decisions. I’ll give them credit on an individual basis, not as a whole. They need to demonstrate that they can make good decisions before I’ll recognize that in them. That’s just common sense. This was a common theme with the comments made by members of the public who came up to speak earlier in the meeting, “Give these students the credit they deserve” for making good decisions, as if all BHS students have this capability. That’s just plain naive, and I’m not going to fall for it. There’s no such thing as a “cookie cutter” teenager. Not all are equal in their faculties of judgement and discernment.

She seems to excuse the CWA panel by saying that the high-risk teens need “honest information”. The information given at the panel was most definitely frank and blunt, but I don’t think in the right direction. The only perspective it provided was from a sexually promiscuous and drug-using lifestyle. It was confusing as well. On the one hand statements were made that openly advocated for students to engage in sex and drugs, and on the other, notes of caution. As I said in my last post. Gerhardt summed the whole thing up: Experiment with drugs and sex, but don’t do it to excess. Is this a good message? For one thing, all the drugs discussed are illegal in Colorado, except for medical marijuana, and even then that can get you in trouble with the Feds, even if medical marijuana is technically legal here. What about the advantages of abstaining from both sex and drugs? I suppose this gets into the area of balance, but it wasn’t just that. I think the messages of openly advocating both sex and drugs just had no place in the presentation. I believe I heard Dr. Garcia to say in the May 18th School Board meeting that Principal Jenkins did issue an apology at some point. I could be mistaken. I’ll need to review that. In any case, “honest information” is dispensed in health class. I don’t see why they would actually need this panel to get the straight beef.

The one thing I’ll agree with Teresa on is that the school district up to this point has not adequately communicated what’s been done to remedy the situation with respect to the CWA panel. Helayne Jones’s statement on the matter (below) explains what violations of policy were found to have been committed. I think it’s at least a good recognition of the problem. I just hope they solve it. I agree with one of the members of the public who came to speak, that it would’ve been better if another assembly had been held before the end of the school year. I don’t think it would’ve been necessary to bring in pro-abstinence panelists, but at least Principal Jenkins and the health staff of the school could’ve come out and said they didn’t endorse the harmful and offensive messages that were given at the panel, and discussed the matter with the students, in case there was any misconception about that. I know some people said there was never a pretext of endorsement, but it was held inside BHS, and as Helayne Jones discusses below, there were a lot of things that weren’t properly communicated about the CWA at BHS this year.

Next up was Jean Paxton:

I don’t know that there is much more that can be said. I think that the students from Boulder High, on both  sides of the issue, expressed themselves extremely well. It is an excellent school. It obviously has very intelligent and capable young people, and very dedicated teachers. . . . No one who organizes something like [the CWA panel] can ever be guaranteed what the speakers are going to say. However, I do think that there were inappropriate things that were said, and I believe that most people do agree, that some of the things that were said were inappropriate. I’m looking forward to us looking at our policies and tightening those up, and making sure that in the future that information is clear to people who come into our schools as well as to our administrators and teachers, though I do have to tell you that I spoke to teachers, particularly health teachers who said, “Who could not know that there’s an opt-out policy?” “Who could not know that they needed parent permission?” So obviously our health teachers are aware of that provision, even if other teachers are not. I think probably one of the best things that has come out of this is a very loud and vocal public discussion about sex and drugs in our community. I’m sure that none of the students at Boulder High, nor probably in any other of the high schools have missed the discussion, and have not had some thoughtful decision-making on their own part.

I would like to, however, take the opportunity to say a few words about abstinence, seeing as how that’s just one of the topics that’s been thrown  around. I think it’s interesting that when you say “abstinence” people immediately jump to “abstinence-only” and we’re not going to talk about anything else, which I think would be a very foolish approach to sex education, but I would like to reiterate that in spite of Dr. Becker’s–or Mr. Becker, whatever–comments, abstinence is 100% effective. He said that 6 years out the statistics show that those who chose an abstinence-only program had no better numbers–I’m trying to put this more effectively–They had the same rate of STDs and pregnancy as those who had not chosen abstinence, but it actually had looked at the various options that they had. My concern is that if that’s true, then it’s very possible that our sex education program is not as effective as it should be, because surely those who chose ignorance over education would have higher numbers. So I’m not quite sure that his point was well made there. I was distressed with his discrediting abstinence, parents, and religion, but that was his opinion and he has a right to say that, though I’m not sure that–I do believe he should be counseled about saying those things in a high school. I think we’ve all learned some very valuable lessons, but I think the one most valuable lesson we have learned is that we do have very capable students in our schools, who have had some thoughful discussions about these topics. And as we talk about our controversial issues policy later I think that we, too, will have an opportunity to discuss how we can make this policy more effective in the future. Thank you.

Of all the Board members, Jean Paxton is one I can agree with on this. I assume I can’t vote for her, since she doesn’t represent my area. Sure wish I could, though.

Patti Smith:

I thought we were going to have a quiet spring Board meeting–or, summer Board meeting, and–apparently not. So, I actually thought I might even get off the hook this evening, speaking. I have attended a couple events, but I was going to try to help shorten the meeting, but in light of the contoversy that this has ellicited I’d like to make just a couple statements. First of all, I’d like to give credit to the intelligence and values of the students at Boulder High School.  That seems to be a very common and strong theme amongst the students, that the students feel like they have been very discredited in both local and national media, and the reason I say this is that I attended the Boulder High School graduation. For those of you who don’t know we pick those dates well in advance, so when I found out after the controversy that I would be going to the Boulder High School graduation I was a little concerned. My friends were concerned for my safety a little bit. I thought about how I might look with a pie in my face if that were to happen, but luckily going to commencement was the best thing I could do, because sitting through this meeting tonight can make you feel that there’s unreasonable and undue tension in our community, and going to the commencement, I saw none of that. I saw students display unique experiences and ideas, but also very traditional values. The students who spoke, there were five total, all showed and expressed love and respect for their family, friends, and their teachers and staff. They were thankful for the opportunities they had been given, and two of the students who spoke were from out of the country when they came into Boulder High School. One was from Mexico and had done well enough academically, and learned English, to be a commencement speaker, and the other was from Nepal, and again I thought at the end of the commencement that these students had such unique experiences overall, but they were also all very traditional in how they felt about their community and what their futures would look like. The keynote speaker also was a very interesting gal. She had been ‘Best Girl’ at Boulder High School in 1977. Her name was Aaron Vinner, and she’s now anchor and correspondent for Israeli Broadcast Authority. She spent a little bit of time talking about journalistic integrity, which she was noting was not really being exhibited in this discussion in our community, but really her point was to talk about how her very unique and interesting experiences at Boulder High had given her the strength and independence she needed to travel abroad. She’s living now in Israel, but she’s also stated repeatedly how proud she was to be an American. So it was fabulous, you guys. You all would have been proud of our students, as I’m sure you already are. A couple other things I attended in addition to that was a Latin American night at Eisenhower Elementary School, which was an interesting event this year. It was the first year that we had one, and it featured Aztec dancers and Mexican food and pinatas, and coincidentally this year we really didn’t have enough volunteers to have a 50s night, but we had enough volunteers to do a Latin American night, so I thought that was an interesting perspective on culture and cultural changes here in Boulder. And then the last thing I went to was–it was a retreat for Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition whose mission is to make all students feel safe in schools, and we’re planning for what that will entail for next year, and I’ll keep you posted.

Leslie Smith:

I purposely chose not to speak at the last Board meeting about the Conference of World Affair, but I can no longer sit quietly while my friends and colleagues are being called names and receiving physically intimidating e-mails. I was very glad to see the students get up and speak. I am very proud of Mansour Gidfar. I have had the privilege of working with him when he was a student at Community Montessori. I remember him as a 5th grader being a key birder, and a bird enthusiast, and pointing out different birds when we were up at Brainard Lake. It’s exciting to see him as well as his friends become student leaders. I do support the district’s research and statement put out on the World Affair, which is accessible on our website if anyone wants to read it. I do not support Ms. White’s call for Dr. Garcia, Dr. Jones, and Dr. King to resign. The one thing that I have been very distressed about is, as I said, the name calling and the intimidating e-mails. Dr. Garcia has been addressed as “Dear Moron”. Helayne has been accused of being a “scared little B-word”, and Bud Jenkins has been called a “boob”. These are unfortunately some of the milder phrases that we’ve seen. I just learned on Monday that the secretaries at the Ed Center have been beseiged by phone calls from around the country. They’ve been yelled at and sworn at. I have one question for these adults: What type of role model are you for your children? Is this how you tell them to engage people with whom you disagree with? In my home if one of my children calls somebody a name I call them to the rug and I ask them to apologize. In our district we have strict anti-bullying policy and we work with students to show that this is not the proper behavior. I think it’s a shame that many adults do not abide by these same ethics. I also want to remind adults that the K-20 (sic) educational system does not tolerate intimidating e-mails. In the post-Columbine and Virginia Tech world we take these e-mails very seriously, and students will be suspended and expelled if they intimidate other students through e-mail. Last year C.U. expelled two student athletes for sending an e-mail that intimidated one of their other track colleagues. What good does it do if educators teach students ethical behavior only to have it cast aside once they graduate? I implore the adults that have been sending us foul mouthed and intimidating e-mails to change your ways and be a good role model for your children–for our children. I want to believe that the children of today will be ethical and respectful citizens of the future. Thank you.

Ken Roberge:

In the interest of time I’m just going to say that I’m really impressed with some of the things that have been said here tonight. I agree with all of them. I think this whole affair has been very unfortunate with the way it has rolled out, and I think that the accusations that we are morons, that we do not care about kids, that we are actively promoting high risk behaviors among our youth are just totally false. I hope that the discussion that we’ll have later on about our policy will show how much we do care with our policy on these issues, how much we really try to present a balanced view, and I think that the calls for resignations are totally without merit.

Angelica Schroeder:

I feel rather guilty. I’ve been out of the country for 3-1/2 weeks. I feel rather guilty, having not been here to support my colleagues. I will just say briefly that I appreciate and I agree with (inaudible), especially Teresa’s comments. This isn’t the first controversy in the last eight years. There have been a couple of other blow-ups. There are those out there who sort of help take things completely out of proportion and this is yet another one, but I am reminded this evening that as in the other blow-ups that we’ve experienced that our children are just fine. We just have to remember why we’re here and we’re here for the kids, and our kids have proved again tonight that the kids in this school district are fine. The adults probably, really need to yank things back a little bit and get some perspective, but I’m not as worried as I was when I first started hearing about this, after hearing the students this evening. So I thank all of you for taking all the heat for the last couple weeks.

And what of those high-risk kids that Ms. Steele mentioned? Ah, I guess they don’t exist.

Helayne Jones, School Board President:

. . . We had a superintendent search that has been hailed by everyone who participated in it as one of the most broad reaching and inclusive processes that has been run in this district. We gave everybody an opportunity to not only tell us what they were looking for in a leader, but to additionally have an opportunity to interview and give us feedback on each of our finalists. The Board was able to read each and every input sheet and select a superintendent that on all rankings was ranked the highest by parents in this community, by administrators, and by teachers. I’m proud that we were able once again to listen to our community and to find a leader to take the helm, in Chris King.

Dr. Garcia mentioned the awards and the recognitions teachers throughout our district have received, our administrators, and once again even our  budget has gotten an amazing award. Why do we think this happens? Because we are a school district that is focused on the needs of our children, and it’s often difficult to weigh those competing values and needs in our community. Boulder High School has been named number 168 out of the top 200 high schools in the United States. Why has that happened? Because we provide an education that teaches our students to be critical thinkers, to have academic excellence, and also as part of our 21st century graduate, to have the knowledge, skills, and characteristics to allow them to go forward in a global economy, and I think everyone on this board is very proud of it. Additionally Boulder High School was one of a handful of schools in the nation this year to receive a Grammy Award for its productions and performances in the performing arts. Why does this  happen? Because we’re a school district that values not just what’s tested on CSAP, but creating students that are well-rounded.

In the past few weeks I attended the graduation at Justice High School. We’re not just a school district that focuses on the  majority of our students. We’re a school district that focuses on the needs of all of our students. At Justice High School I saw kids who have been able to reclaim their lives, and to go forward and to graduate, and I saw their families there to  support them and celebrate. And I saw school district administrators there, because that is part of our community in that charter school. Additionally I attended the graduation at New Vista graduation. After a tough two weeks it was really nice  to be reminded of why I serve on the Boulder Valley School Board, as I watched those students parade in; as I watched them stand up on the stage and share their excitement and their optimism at going out and fixing the world that they often find adults may have not done a great job on.

On Sunday I ended my weekend at Macky Auditorium with 2500 volunteers from 17 different congregations in this community who got together for ShareFest. 2500 volunteers gave up time on their weekend to paint Boulder Valley schools. Why do they do that? Because they believe like I do that it’s a community that raises its children, and that we’re all invested in the future of our children. I was proud to be invited and the most amazing part was that as I walked out people thanked me, because they had an opportunity to volunteer in their schools. And I looked at them and I said, “No. I think you have it wrong. I thank you for caring for our community and our children.” I show my commitment to the students of this district by volunteering on the Boulder Valley School Board. I am proud to do it, and I am proud to continue to do it.

Additionally I have received a tremendous amount of e-mails from people who want to publicly support and show their support for public education, especially what’s been going on in the media. To that end I’d like to remind everybody that you have the opportunity to purchase a license plate that was started by, and sponsored by Impact On Education, and if you purchase a  license plate that supports public education, you let everyone in your community know you support it. If you do it by June 29th, you save $25. So, I’m encouraging you all to go to the Impact On Education web site, and if you’d like to publicly support your school district and show your support for public education, to please do so by buying one of these plates. . . .

As far as the Conference on World Affairs and Boulder High School, I would like to read into the record the letter that has been signed this evening by every single one of our School Board members in response to the letter we received from the Senate Minority Caucus. It’s a little lengthy so bear with me:

The Boulder Valley Board of Education received the letter signed by you and nine of your colleagues concerning a University of Colorado Conference on World Affairs panel held at Boulder High School on April 10th, 2007. This letter is our response as the elected representatives of this school district. We, too, care deeply about providing the best possible education to our children, and are proud of their accomplishments. We, like you, govern primarily by making laws, which we call policies. We expect, as you do, that these will be followed. You have asked that we “require parental approval and screening of content for all future presentations that touch on such topics.” You should know that Boulder Valley School District Board Policy INB, teaching about controversial issues, was adopted in 1987, and requires just such notification and screening, as well as other safeguards. We have determined that this policy was violated, and we have been assured that these violations will not reoccur in 2008 or beyond. Specifically, these violations were: faculty advisors did not “determine the appropriateness of the issue with respect to curriculum, course objectives, and the knowledge, maturity, and ability of our students.” Faculty did not advise the principal regarding the planned study of a controversial issue. Faculty did not “make provision for suitable instructional materials and adequate time to give reasonably thorough coverage of the topic.” Some faculty did not provide alternative projects for those students whose involvement would constitute a serious burden of conscience. Student and faculty panel advisors did not insure a balanced presentation through the careful selection of materials, guest speakers, and other instructional resources. All Boulder High School parents have received an apology from school administration concerning any student being required to attend the panel. In addition, both Superintendent George F. Garcia and Deputy Superintendent Christopher King, who will become Superintendent this summer, have made it clear that district practice and policy must be complied with for all future Conference on World Affair panels at Boulder High School. To your request that Dr. Garcia be dismissed for his handling of issues arising out of this Conference panel, we do not concur. Though each of the seven  members of the Board has his or her distinct perspective, as to the findings of Dr. Garcia’s investigation of this panel, and the actions that he has taken, we all do agree that Dr. Garcia, who retires July 31, 2007, is an excellent superintendent who deserves much credit for this district’s superior academic performance over his seven-year tenure. As to your request that the Boulder High School Principal be dismissed, we also do not concur. In the Boulder Valley School District it is the  delegated responsibility from the Board to the Superintendent to address personnel matters. On May 22nd, 2007, Dr. Garcia  reported that based upon a combination of criteria, and his belief that Board policy violation that occurred was unintentional, though serious, appropriate personnel action was taken. Each member of the Boulder Valley Board of Education is committed to educational policy-making that is in the best interest of each of our more than 28,000 students. We are  currently studying our policy to see what if anything needs to be modified or clarified before the 2007-2008 school year begins.

Sincerely, signed by the entire Board of Education of the Boulder Valley school district.

Regarding BHS’s ranking, it is worthy of note. There are 7,450 high schools in the U.S. BHS’s ranking puts it approximately in the top 2% of all high schools in the country. I appreciate the awards that BHS has received. I especially appreciated that part of Jones’s speech where she says, “We teach more than what’s on the CSAP”. So much for schools being forced to “teach to the test”. BHS is a case in point.

Patti Smith:

I just wanted to reiterate mine, and I assume all of our support for you [Helayne Jones], and for Dr. King, and for Dr. Garcia, considering all of the negative statements made about you this evening.

Helayne Jones: “Thank you”

This is as much as I was able to get for now. There’s more to this School Board meeting, the video for which has not yet been posted.

A formal letter of apology was sent home to BHS parents on June 12, 2007, by BHS Principal Bud Jenkins. The letter contains pretty much the same elements as what Helayne Jones said at this Board meeting. It’s possible that Jenkins sent out an apology to the students, within BHS, soon after the event, and the outside world just didn’t hear about it, though I think if that had occurred one of the students would have mentioned it. None of them have. I can only speculate that this is the only apology that was issued on the matter.


Boulder High School scandal comes to a head, Part 1

June 29, 2007

I’m going to do this in two parts, since this gets rather long.

Things came to what appeared to be a climax in the BHS scandal over the CWA panel on “STDs: Sex, teens and drugs” at the last School Board meeting on June 12. I didn’t get the chance to see it live, but the video for the public comment period was recently posted on BVSDWatch.org. Parents, students, even former BHS alumni came forward to speak to the Board about the CWA panel. The rule was that each person had 2 minutes to make their statement. Several people “doubled up”, where two people signed up for time, but one would donate time to the other, so one of them would have 4 minutes of time.

I thought quite a bit of what was said was interesting, giving a flavor for what opinion on this is like in Boulder. So I’m including many quotes below. This is not a complete transcript. I’m only including quotes that I thought would be of interest on this matter. With the exception of office holders, and some Boulder residents and students who have been on national media, I’ve decided not to associate people’s names with the quotes. You can watch the video if you want, where each person’s name and place of residence is revealed, but I want to give these people a modicum of privacy. I’ve also removed references to these people by other speakers. So these are not complete verbatim quotes. I’ve tried to make these edits obvious. I think what’s important is what they talked about.

The way it came down was most of the people who spoke were either in favor of the CWA panel, with some reservations, or were in favor of continuing CWA panels at BHS. There were more dissenters this time, so Priscilla and Daphne White didn’t feel alone in the matter, but it wasn’t enough to tip the scales in the other direction.

This is my own transcription of what was said. I have tried to quote people accurately. I can’t guarantee I didn’t make any mistakes. I welcome corrections. Just leave them in the comments to this post, and I’ll update this post accordingly. If you don’t want to identify yourself, just put a nonsense name (or “Anonymous”) in the “Name:” field of your comment.

I included my own commentary in between quotes.

The following is from a mother of a student entering Boulder High this fall:

I have a daughter entering Boulder High this fall. In Superintendent Garcia’s May 22nd report on the CWA panel of April 10th he admitted that a district practice and policy were violated. He said the panel did not reflect a broad range of views and perspectives, or provide opposing points of view. He also said some of the comments made were crude. I think they were far worse than crude. They were dangerous. He concluded that an assurance that the Boulder High School Administration would correct these errors before planning the 2008 conference. I e-mailed the Board, the Superintendent, and the Principal of Boulder High the week of May 21st, and urged you all to repair the damage done by reassembling the students before the end of the school year and presenting opposing views to the panel’s irresponsible and dangerous statements. Had you done this you would’ve been fulfilling the spirit of the dictates of Board Policy INB. This would’ve also shown me that you were concerned about the harm done to the kids, and that you are committed to their best interest. But you didn’t. Dr. Garcia’s assurance of corrective measures being implemented didn’t include correcting the current wrong-doing, only future wrongs.

Those kids left Boulder High that day having heard from apparently credible sources that it’s possible to experiment with drugs responsibly. I wonder how you do that with meth, and I wonder how many might just try it now. They heard the opinion that it’s natural to experiment with same-sex partners even when you aren’t homosexual, and that sex with someone you love is not necessarily better than with someone you don’t know. They get enough of this thinking from outside sources. They don’t need it delivered to them in a trusted forum such as their high school. You failed both the students and the parents by not reassembling them and repairing the damage done when we asked you to. I am concerned about sending my daughter to a school whose administrators seem more interested in protecting themselves than the kids. Thank you.

Some accusations have been leveled at the soon-to-be Superintendent, Chris King, that he’s been a part of the Boulder Valley School District’s “circle the wagons” response to this scandal. This is addressed by a mother of a student from Broomfield (part of the BVSD system), along with other remarks:

Hi, I’m . . . from Broomfield, which is part of the Boulder Valley School District. I’ve lived there a long time, and I’ve recently thrown my hat in the ring for Broomfield City Council. Many in Broomfield, including my family remember Chris King as a friendly and handsome young journalism teacher at Broomfield High School. Most of Broomfield appreciates our Board member Jean Paxton’s firm stand that the panel on sex and drugs was inappropriate, but many Broomfield parents have long felt they don’t have much voice in the Boulder Valley School District and were disappointed when the newly formed city and county of Broomfield didn’t get its own district. These School Board meetings are not broadcast in Broomfield because no one at BVSD has gotten back to Broomfield’s Channel 8 about the proper format. Your e-mail addresses are very hard to find on your website. Sometimes we in Broomfield feel like Boulder is very far away from us in many, many ways. I’m here tonight to ask Dr. King and the Board to reflect on why there seems to be every year or two a very public school scandal after a desperate parent feels the need to “go public” at this meeting to be heard. I also was one of these parents who tried to go through channels to resolve a very serious problem in a school but met a brick wall in BVSD. When I and other parents brought our complaints to this venue two years ago, a vigorous public debate also ensued. Complaining parents are often unfortunately misidentified as “the problem”. It’s not an easy or pleasant way to solve problems coming here, and making a fuss, but it does work. I can tell you from personal experience. So hopefully it will work this time, too. I’d like to ask the new Superintendent to commit to a new policy of openness in communication. Consider an ombudsman position to help parents communicate. . . . Thank you.

Channel 8 is a city channel offered through Comcast cable TV. City Council, and School Board meetings are broadcast on Boulder’s Channel 8 station. Apparently Broomfield has a different one. I don’t know how many others in the area have one as well.

The following is from a father of a student attending BHS:

My wife . . . and I are Boulder High parents and we are here tonight to support the decisions and actions of the School Board, Superintendent Garcia, Principal Jenkins, and most of all the students and Boulder High. On April 10th a wonderful thing happened at Boulder High. The World Affairs Conference was invited to talk about drugs and sex. The panelists, realizing that the majority of their audience had already tried one or both, came to the reasonable conclusion to provide detailed information about these subjects.

Talking about sex is important, particularly to adolescents fueled with hormones, who are faced with this issue on a daily basis. Details are important. It was refreshing when Bob Dole went public about his need for Viagra, but probably not useful for teenagers. It is also unlikely that adolescents will ask or even want to hear personal stories about sexual function or dysfunction from their parents. Talking about drugs is important, too. Denying the power of addiction allows addiction to win. People do drugs because it makes them feel better. Usually the better the drug makes you feel the more dangerous it is. If we do not provide adolescents with frank details about drugs they will have to rely solely on peer information to make good or bad decisions. In addition to the information the panel provided, a wonderful, courageous and very American event occurred. A Boulder High student stood up and voiced her opinion, which was completely different than the panelists. For this she received respect from the panel and applause from the audience. I can’t think of anything more useful, reasonable, or American that has happened lately. I am proud of the panelists, the dissenter, the audience, and most of all Boulder High School for providing an environment so this could happen.

Then something terrible happened. A group of hysterical, unreasonable, and un-American adults decided to spoil it: led by Bill O’Reilly who is well practiced at using fear and hate to find the villains even when there might not be any. Boulder High and the Boulder Valley School Board were beseiged by hate mail and hate phone calls. This usually anonymous and therefore cowardly harrassment included teachers and even the poor receptionist. The volume both in terms of quantity, intensity, and harrassment was astounding. Thank God I’m a secular progressive! I don’t have time to let the irony of that sentence sink in, but I would like to thank O’Reilly for the label. It is more descriptive and punchier than “Liberal”. Is the opposite of secular progressive “religious regressive”? If so, should we be looking forward to such grand old traditions like the blacklists of the 50s, and the book burnings of the 30s?

The event of April 10th is a shining display of reasonable thought, discussion, courage, and the American ideals of free speech, and freedom of thought. This example belongs to the panelists, Boulder High School, and its students, including the brave young lady who dissented. I hope they remain proud of it. I apologize to the students of Boulder High that we adults are presenting cultural, political, and climatic challenges that seem insurmountable, but from what I have observed, you have the courage, will, and reason to conquer those challenges. As you meet those challenges, please think about the phrases: “land of the free”, and “home of the brave”. They are usually said together for a reason. Freedom requires bravery, and fear is the greatest weapon against freedom. So please continue to tell us adults to pack up our fears and take them somewhere else. Boulder High remains the land of the free, and the home of the brave. Thanks for the opportunity to speak freely.

As if he was ever denied the opportunity to speak freely… I think he’s giving this greater significance than it deserves. He thinks CWA is so great. You know, a lot of this comes down to values. It’s striking to me that this aspect is being totally ignored. One group of people’s values is being stroked, and another group’s is being pilloried. One group is celebrating, the other is outraged. I wonder how the parents who think the CWA is so great for bringing “controversial subjects to our school” would feel if some panels came to BHS claiming that smoking was good for you, that global warming is a fraud, that the oil companies are actually the good guys, that President Bush is the best one ever, that the Iraq war is actually going just fine–I could go on. Any of these would be legitimate topics for discussion (though the premises could be wrong like some of what was discussed at the last CWA panel). Assuming such things were even allowed to be said at BHS, if these same people heard about it, I predict there would be a hue and cry in this community that would make this praise pale in comparison, because people’s values would be offended. Why isn’t anyone in the school district acknowledging this?

Perhaps the answer is that there’s a knee-jerk reaction in this town to anyone criticizing it. It doesn’t mean that problems don’t get corrected, but it’s a dysfunctional process. It takes people lighting a fire under the feet of public officials to wake them out of their complacency, and then the officials complain that it’s gotten so “hot”. If they’d be more responsive this wouldn’t happen.

The following is from Mansour Gidfar, a student at BHS. He’s been on the O’Reilly Factor, and probably some other media outlets I can’t remember:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the Board, Mrs. Jones, assorted spectators, and cameramen. I’m an incoming junior at Boulder High next year. I’m here tonight with a group of Boulder High students, if you could please stand up. Say hi to the nice people. And the reason we’re here is because we feel that one voice that has been left out in this discussion is that of the Boulder High students. So we’re here to correct that. Obviously not all of us can speak, because of time constraints and the risk of redundancy. These are our supporters. So, I’m just going to dive right into my feelings on the panel itself. Now I don’t think anyone can pretend that there weren’t controversial statements made, and I fully understand Daphne White and her family’s objections to these, and there were crude statements that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but overall I think this panel was a good thing. and as a high school student I can tell you that it’s wildly unrealistic, even if you preach abstinence 24 hours a day, to not expect a certain number of high school students be having sex and using drugs, and I think that what the panel went and did is that they provided a feasible course of action, should a student decide to say “yes” instead of “no”, and that’s a very good thing. I think if public outrage has shown us anything, it’s that parents are uncomfortable with the idea of approaching their students with a topic such as sex and drugs, and I think the panel’s frankness was both necessary and useful. A second thing I just want to touch on very quickly is that in this whole debate I think the students need to be given a little more credit as far as their capacity to make educated decisions, though. I think you will be very hard pressed to find a single student at Boulder High School who walked away from a 90-minute panel, and is going to base the decision to start having sex or start using drugs entirely on what four strangers had to say. Over and over again one quote I’ve heard thrown around is for example Mr. Becker’s reference to Ecstasy. There is not a single student at that school who is going to say, “Oh, well, I mean, he mentioned it in passing. I guess I should be doing Ecstasy now.” We have the capacity as young adults to make our own decisions and I understand that as adults and parents in the community people might feel compelled to speak up about this, and I think that’s a very good thing. Having said that, though, I believe that us as students should be given a little more credit as far as our decision-making abilities go. Thank you.

This assumption was raised by multiple students, that “the panel didn’t change anyone’s behavior,” so what’s the harm in it? Well, says who? These know-it-alls can speak for themselves, but they shouldn’t even begin to speak for the whole student body, because I bet they don’t know every single student in school.

Kids don’t think of it in terms of, “Oh, well, I mean, he mentioned it in passing. I guess I should be doing Ecstasy now.” If anything they’ll internalize the message, if they’re already receptive to hearing such a thing, and either use it as an excuse to continue doing Ecstasy if they already are, or to start doing it if they’ve been getting pressured to do it by their friends, or those they want to befriend. The arrogant optimism displayed by many of the students who came up to speak has been proven wrong in the past.

The following was from the mother of a student:

I have a student in the Boulder Valley School District. So I’m here this evening to share some feelings. My concerns are more that both sides of the spectrum are considered. To somewhat of a degree I feel that the communication to the parents wasn’t as good as it could be. I would like to see more choice in being able to say yes or no as to whether or not my student would attend such an assembly. I personally disagree with the qualifications, the screening criteria, and what was said. That’s personal, and I appreciate especially what the last student said, from Boulder High, that the dissemination of information is important, and I want that information to be continued to our students, but I don’t want someone else’s values to be taught to my son. The values are to be taught out of our home, to my son, and I want that choice to be respected so that I can do that. I can make that choice. So I would like the Board to perhaps approve communication for all the parents, and to the students, and to screen better. That’s all I’m asking. I appreciate your time.

The following is from another BHS student:

I’m a student at Boulder High, an incoming junior, just as Mansour is, and I’m here to talk about what–obviously you know what we’re talking about, the Conference on World Affairs. I’m sure you’re all painfully aware of the fact that many teachers and administrators have been threatened and have been persecuted by members of the community at large, probably across the nation as well. I’m here, first off, to support them, because I honestly believe that our principal, Bud Jenkins, is an excellent principal. And I also think that our teachers at Boulder High are some of the best in the nation. It’s proven. Boulder High, I believe, is somewhere around 170th school in the nation, out of thousands of schools–thousands. Also, we’re 2nd in the state. That has to be attributed to the excellent leadership at Boulder High, and of course, the students. Now, I’m here to talk about the students. As Monsour has already said, I’m here to talk about the voice of the students not being heard in this matter. You see, we’ve been discredited as well. We really have, because I honestly believe that Boulder High would not be Boulder High without the students. We all work very hard. We really do. And I feel that by getting all this bad press coverage and all this controversy, has ruined that reputation of the students. Now, no matter how young we are, no matter how, or who we find out information from, we do have the ability to do one thing: and that is to make the decision between what is right, and what is wrong. It’s a simple, basic instinct of the human race. Now, we all know that drugs are bad. We know that unprotected sex is dangerous. That’s obvious. Like I said, we know the difference between right and wrong, but the chances are that if we are going to make wrong decisions, then we’ve already decided to do so before this panel, and that panel will not have changed that fact, but what I think is most important is all of you as educators are entitled to give us the best education possible. Now, with every topic taught at a school there will be those who disagree with it. Some people disagree with evolution. Some people disagree that math will help you in the future, and some people will think that this panel was wrong. But just because people disagree with it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taught at our schools. That’s very important. Now, I think that you should look at the matter that way. Look at what’s best for our education for us. Personally, I’d like to learn math. I’d like to learn the theory of evolution, and I’d like to learn what was said at this panel. So I thank you very much for your time, and I hope you consider what I have to say. Thank you.

The following is from a mother of two students who just graduated from BHS:

First of all, I want to commend Helayne Jones, Bud Jenkins, and the rest of you for standing firm against certain members of the press who are trying to turn this into their own political agenda. I am extremely proud to be represented by you. But now I want to say that the Conference on World Affairs is one of the best things that Boulder High has going for it. As the mother of two graduating seniors, I attended the panel in question this April. In fact, I make it a point to volunteer each year for the Conference on World Affairs at Boulder High because it’s so fantastic. As a parent who was there, I found the discussion to be one of the most enlightened I’ve ever heard. I say this not just about the panelists themselves, but the students who spoke up following the presentation. I was extremely impressed by their questions, which thanks to our educators, were thoughtful, well articulated, and emotionally relevant. I was also very impressed when a young woman stood up and challenged the panel for what she saw as its one-sidedness. That took a lot of courage, as all of the panelists noted. Here is my main point, though. Let no one forget that Boulder High earned its ranking of 168 among the nation’s schools, not by stifling discussion, but by encouraging its students to think for themselves. Whether this independence results in one student challenging the panel, or 500 students independently weighing all that they’ve heard, doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we have right here in our community a young generation of intellectual and talented thinkers who will go on to improve the society on a global scale. Certainly these students have proven to me that they are far more intellectually capable than certain members of the press. Let’s give these students the tremendous credit and respect they deserve. Let’s continue to support the CWA at Boulder High. Thank you.

I looked this up recently. There are 7,450 high schools in the U.S. The rank of 168th puts BHS approximately in the top 2% of high schools in the country. So it’s worth noting. I personally believe that what was wrong with the CWA panel is there were portions of it that were inappropriate to the audience, and overall I think it was of low quality. It’s like Ward Churchill at C.U. People will defend him because he “provokes thought and discussion”, but his scholarship, as has been demonstrated by C.U.’s own investigative panel is of low quality–so low that one of their recommendations was that he be dismissed. Yet he still has many defenders in this town. It’s beyond me why intelligent folks want to entertain the thoughts of people who don’t even deserve to be put into the same intellectual category as themselves. It makes me think that while they are clearly smart in some ways, in others they’re just gullible, probably because what these nincompoops say fits with their own political ideology. It’s sad. I don’t know how else to explain it.

The following is from another BHS student:

I don’t think really it’s a matter of whether students are going to go out and do what they say or not, it’s a matter of what they said is appropriate, which obviously it wasn’t. You tell us to keep our comments here appropriate. Were the comments they made appropriate for 12th graders and 9th graders? I’m going to be a sophomore next year. I was a 9th grader during this panel.

This wasn’t the only panel that could’ve been controversial. Another panel a couple days before on marijuana awareness was very controversial itself. They got up there and told us that marijuana use was okay, and that alcohol, which is a legal drug if you’re over 21, was terrible and that you should use marijuana as a substitute, and talked about smoking marijuana with your parents, which is not appropriate at all for kids of our age. Before the panel, the guy running it said that they could only get away with this at this school, and I want to let them know that they’re not going to get away with it, because it’s not right and it’s not morally correct.

The next speaker was the aforementioned student’s mother:

As a taxpayer and a 22-year resident of Boulder I feel absolutely let down by all of you. You claim to be looking out for the kids, but I don’t see that at all. You allowed unscreened speakers to come into a public high school and spew explicit sexually graphic rhetoric along with condoning the use of illicit drugs down the throats of our vulnerable children. Shame on all of you. If this is what living in Boulder is all about, then please count me out. I think I will be looking for a new place to live.

Also the adults in charge of our kids refuse to take any accountability for this unfortunate travesty, and have forced concerned parents, such as myself, to seek justice. As mentioned many times that there was only one parent that was making this an issue, you are sorely mistaken. I know of many other parents, including myself, that refuse to let go of this issue until adults in charge do the right thing. All we want is a letter of apology written and delivered to every Boulder High family.

Private education is not an option for our family. We are forced to utilize the public school system. I feel that not only were my children’s rights violated, but so were mine. How dare Boulder High do this to so many taxpaying families. This is not how I want my tax dollars spent.

I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some folks at that meeting muttering “good riddance” under their breath to this woman’s comments. Every person who spoke got at least some applause for what they said, but this attitude is a part of this town. If you complain the response you typically get is, “You don’t understand Boulder. If you don’t like it, then leave.” No public official would ever say that to someone’s face, but I’ve heard it in discussions between residents. Boulderites definitely have an opinion of the kind of community they want to create here. Many of those who are politically active have come out and said openly in other forums that they love the fact that Boulder is a “progressive community”, and they want to keep it that way. You definitely have to adhere to a set of social values to be socially accepted here. It doesn’t mean that you will be run out of town. I haven’t seen that level of intolerance here, but you’ll definitely be shunned by the elite.

The following is from a BHS student who was one of the students responsible for picking the topic discussed, “STDs: sex, teens and drugs”, and for picking the panelists:

I’m going to be a junior at Boulder High school this fall. BVSD, the Board of Education, Conference on World Affairs, and Boulder High School should not be punished for the panel on April 10th. I am one of three young women who chose this topic and who chose the four speakers to speak at this panel. We choose panels we think will be interesting, and will provoke valuable discussion and thought amongst the future leaders of our world. Besides a debate, we thought this would be a good opportunity for those students in our school who are involved with sexual activity or drugs to hear different courses of action, or simply gain more knowledge.

As one of the creators of this panel, I cannot agree with everything that was said during this session. However, I can and do feel that every bit of information and thought shared by these panelists with the students was valid and important.

There was argument that abstinence was attacked, however, Mr. Joel Becker was simply stating researched fact that abstinence should be practiced with background knowledge in the event that something goes wrong.

Personally I would argue that the panel wasn’t even about sex. It was a discussion of choices. Whether you make good ones or bad ones, it doesn’t matter, so long as you can live with the decisions that you make. The panel presented an array of choices that we as students have the opportunity and risk to choose or leave behind.

After I introduced our panel, a very shaky and nervous Antonio Sacre stood up and shared his story. He cautiously and discreetly mentioned that he got a girl pregnant, and she had to have an abortion, and while they were both in high school. Whether that child was born or not, the choice they made affects their lives now. As he said during the panel, every year he thinks about what could happen, how many years it would have been.

The panel didn’t attack one way of thinking, nor one way of action. It simply presented thoughts for students to tuck away for use later in life. No one is to blame for this panel and no one should be fired. We may not be adults quite yet, but we are capable of knowing ourselves. And knowing for ourselves which ideas we hear and which thoughts we tucked away, the ones that will lead to decisions we can live with. Thank you.

She illustrates something I’ve seen with a lot of the supporters of the CWA panel, that they gloss over the distasteful comments that were made by the panelists, and instead focus on the good things that were covered. I think all of these supporters have paid a great deal of attention to what was said. Many of them have said they’ve reviewed the transcript multiple times, due to the uproar over it. To gloss over the inappropriate things said misses the point of why there’s been a controversy: some of the messages openly encouraged kids to do things that are dangerous. Now, legally maybe nothing can be done about that, but I can’t believe a school that holds itself in high regard can just sit idly by and not interfere when such utterances are being made. As has been discussed in other forums on this controversy, not all of the students were paying attention the whole time. They may have picked up on some of the messages delivered, and not the others. It’s a lowering of standards that’s taken place, and that’s what’s troubling about it. Hopefully the corrections the School Board has mandated (I get to this later) will be implemented. I hope they raise the bar on who they’ll invite as well. BHS deserves better than what they got in April.

I disagree that abstinence was not attacked. It was criticized on multiple fronts, and nobody defended it, with the exception of Daphne White, who merely objected to it being attacked. The only lifestyle that was discussed was a sexually promiscuous one. Granted some cautionary tales were told about it, along with drugs, but there was also open promotion of both. I think the whole thing was summed up by Andee Gerhardt: Whatever you do sexually or with drugs, keep a balance. In other words, “Yeah, you’ll do all this stuff, but don’t go to excess.” That was the assumption put upon everyone there. Like I said earlier, I regard it as confusing. I can’t imagine such messages being delivered in a properly run health class on sex-ed. I can fully understand that those who believe in abstinence would feel pushed aside by the panel, and their values grossly offended.

The following is from a C.U. student:

I am a recent graduate of Fairview High School, and I continue to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder. I have been to many past Conferences on World Affairs, and I hope to attend many more. I think that I have somewhat of a unique perspective, because I am neither an angry parent, nor an involved student, but I remain a member of the community, and my life will be touched if anything occurs with the Conference on World Affairs. As it stands I think that there are two primary issues involved with this, as one person called it, scandal. The first is the appropriateness of the comments. I’d like to keep my comments on the appropriateness quite brief, because it’s an incredibly subjective topic. I’d simply like to remind the School Board that the Boulder Valley School District has always practiced a non-abstince-only-based sex education program, even when this was not the state policy, and that numerous studies demonstrate that school districts with abstinence-only sex education programs do not have notably lower levels of teen pregnancy. I’d also like to add that as a person who went to Fairview, we often felt rather superior to Boulder High School. I mean, we had the IB program, we had better SAT scores. The only thing that we ever envied was the Conference on World Affairs, and Boulder High’s close symbiosis with it. We had something called ‘Social Studies Day’ in which there was a day where we brought in speakers to Fairview, but that pales in comparison to the panoply of speakers available at the CWA. I’d just like to say that regardless of what you think of the appropriateness of the situation, or whether or not it should’ve been endorsed by the School Board, the symbiosis between Boulder High School and the Conference on World Affairs is one of the best things that the school has going for it, and it’s an amazing, amazing program, and it would be a shame to let it go to waste.

Okay, so the BVSD does not have an abstinence-only sex-ed program. I think we’ve established that. It seems like that’s all the CWA supporters have been complaining about though. They make it sound as though without this panel, all students would’ve known about was “don’t have sex” and “don’t use drugs”, without understanding what much of it was. Even the CWA panel talked about it in that light, making it sound as though all the students were taught was abstinence. Apparently this is not true. So what’s the beef, then? Why such a staunch defense of this panel? Like I said earlier, most of the valuable information that was discussed by the panel is also revealed in a comprehensive sex and drug education program in health class.

The following is from another BHS student:

I’ll be a junior next year at Boulder High School. In case you all are wondering, no, I don’t do drugs, and yes, I am abstinent. Rather than lighting up by the Creek, or partying my way to infamy, I prefer to spend my time doing my schoolwork, and running with the cross-country team. While I disagree with the panelists statements on sex and drugs, I find that the reactions by certain members of the state government and the mass media have been absolutely ridiculous. Yes, mistakes were made. Blatant encouragement of experimental sex and drug use was bizzare, and even moreso that there was no opposing view offered. And yet, among everyone I know, from straight-A preps to those who made other decisions before the panelists came along, nobody’s personal behavior has changed in the slightest. As students we’re not being given credit for our intelligence and values. By high school most people have already decided what is right for them, not what the rest of the world thinks is right, but what the individuals themselves believe is right. I can’t imagine the opinion of a single speaker swaying the established values of 2000 young adults so far to the left that an epidemic of drug use and orgies erupts. From the very first day we walked into school, we’ve been told that was wrong. While our values may evolve to reflect our own life’s experiences, rejecting every last scrap of wisdom our parents and teachers have endowed us with is an extremely difficult barrier to overcome. Our town, our schools, and our leaders do not deserve such disrespect for these shockingly abhorrent results on the students as some have so ominously foretold. We don’t need different administrators to filter the real world for our weak, impressionable minds. We’re not little kids anymore. We deserve better. It’s time to treat us, the students, as the adults we strive to become. Thank you.

Like I said before, this student can speak for himself. If he wants to be treated as the adult he strives to become why is he still living in his parents’ house, which I bet he is?

Back when I was going to BHS there was this great show on TV called “The Cosby Show”, with comedian Bill Cosby, who played Dr. Cliff Huxtable, and a cast of actors and actresses, portraying a black middle class family. There are some classic episodes from that show. One of them has Theo, Cliff’s eldest son, complaining to his father that he doesn’t respect him enough, and doesn’t treat him as an adult. He goes out of the house for a while, comes back home, and finds that all of his stuff is gone–everything, gone from the house. He starts calling for “Dad”. Cliff finally shows up, looks at Theo funny and asks, “Who are you?” Theo, shocked, says, “Uh, dad, it’s me, Theo.” Cliff says, “I don’t know you. Get out of my house.” Hillarity ensues. Theo wants to stay. Cliff says, “This is my house. Who says you get to stay here? To live here you’re going to have to pay rent.” Theo is shocked, “Rent?” Cliff says, “That’s right.” Theo says, “This is all the money I have,” and shows him his allowance. Cliff says, “That’s not enough.” Theo asks, “How much is it?” Cliff gives some figure in the hundreds of dollars. Theo is shocked. Cliff tells him to go out and get a job, earn the money. At the end of the episode Theo has earned enough money to pay “rent”. He’s set up a sleeping bag so he can sleep on the floor, and he has a lamp without a lampshade. Cliff ends the charade, but said he wanted to teach Theo a lesson, that this is what being an adult is. If you want to be treated like an adult, with respect to match, start acting like one. If you’re going to live under your parents’ care, you’ve got to live under their rules, like it or not. I took the liberty of making up the quotes from the episode. I don’t remember exactly how it went. I remember the gist though. Anyway, I think this student could use that sort of lesson.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but in fairness I believe I heard that Mansour Gidfar and Jesse Lang, two students at BHS who have taken stands on this matter, are presently clerking for prominent lawfirms (or the same lawfirm) in Boulder. So they at least have started to do “adult stuff” like actually work for a living.

I think the real question that needs to be asked is did this panel help anybody? Isn’t that the role of a school, to help enlighten people some? It seems like what this student, and others were saying is that this CWA panel was a “throw-away”. It didn’t influence anybody. In my view, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. No one can really say right now. Even if it only encouraged students who are already sexually active and/or doing drugs to continue doing so, isn’t that a problem? Are they just “throw-aways” too? What a callous attitude. If so, that’s a pretty callous attitude. You see, the reason why there are controls on what people can say in a school is that you have adults running the place, people who are supposed to be trusted and respected. This isn’t to say that they actually are, but that’s the expectation that’s set up. Whether teens acknowledge it or not, they understand this expectation as well. The whole point of school is, in essence, to influence the students. HELLO! And the adults are the ones who are supposed to be doing the influencing. If you put the CWA panel in this context you can see why some (I wish I could say most) adults in this community have been so upset about it. The panel didn’t just discuss matters in an objective context. The word “you” was used quite a bit, to directly address the students. Not exactly argumentative. This is the reason I say that the denial around this is disconcerting.

In the next part I get into the School Board’s response to the controversy.


Farewell, Prime Minister Blair. I will miss you

June 27, 2007

Today was Tony Blair’s last day as UK Prime Minister. He is stepping down in mid-term to be replaced by his Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury Secretary), Gordon Brown.

Blair came into office during President Clinton’s 2nd term. At the time he was the head of a political movement in liberal UK politics, called “New Labor”, which seems awfully similar to Clinton’s push in the Democratic Party for the “New Democrats”. Blair and Clinton seemed like the best of pals.

I went to visit the UK for the first time in 1999. I had the opportunity to talk politics with some of the locals, sleeping at B&B’s (bed and breakfasts), thankfully always keeping it cordial. At one place I stayed, the husband in the family and I got into a conversation about our respective national leaders. We both agreed that we didn’t like Clinton, but he gave me his own distaste for Blair, saying that he “spins everything”. He also complained, “I hardly know what he’s talking about half the time.” It sounded familiar. I told him we had the same problem of spin with Clinton. Fortunately with Blair there appears to have been no scandal about “getting a hummer in the office from an employee.” From these conversations I assumed that Blair was like Clinton: shallow and without principles.

I had a delightful conversation with a man and his wife in a pub. We talked about our perceptions of each other’s countries. I mostly talked to the husband. I remember he said they had an American made luxury car, and that it was a bit wide for their roads (I can imagine! Their one-way streets would pass for narrow alleys in the U.S.). He said that they had made a trip to the U.S. recently, and they were amazed at how cheap everything was. Their money went quite far. He said he was also amazed at the sheer size of our country, and I believe he said he could understand why we used airplanes to get across it. He said he remembered learning that the UK would easily fit in the state of Texas. I, on the other hand, commented about the roadways in the UK, and the lack of road signs. Whenever I’d get directions from anyone it was so disorienting, because they’d have to give me directions by landmark, like “take a left at the pub” and “drive down the windey road”; not road names or designations. Road designations were spotty at best. Writing down the directions was like writing an essay! It was so easy for me to get lost. I also commented on how expensive everything was, though the B&Bs were quite affordable. The difference in perceptions on cost was due to the exchange rate. The UK’s has long been higher than ours.

Then the man asked this question that flabbergasted me: “Does everyone in America own a gun?” I sat there a bit stunned for a moment. I said, “No. Why do you think that?” He said something about how the movies they see always have Americans shooting at each other. Something like that. I explained that most movies are set in the major cities, and yes there’s gun violence in those places, but even so, not everyone there has guns. Secondly, American movies tend to exaggerate and sensationalize to create excitement so people will go see them. There’s an air of unreality about them, because it’s meant to be an escape. I’m sure they also hear about the gun violence occasionally through the news.

As just a funny aside, after I got back to the States, I happened upon a movie called “This Is My Father”, starring James Caan, about an American man who discovers a family secret by travelling to his ancestral home in Ireland. During his trip two Irish girls walk up to him on a road and talk to him for a bit. I’m not making this up. It’s like they have a script over there…the girls asked him, “Does everyone in America own a gun?” Notice that it’s exactly the same wording as the question the man in the pub asked me. Get it through your heads, people! Not every American owns a gun! Sheesh! 🙂

One thing the man at the pub said has stuck with me years later. We were talking about international relations a bit between the U.S. and the UK. He said something about how he was glad that our two countries had held together a “special relationship” for so long, and he hoped it would continue. I agreed wholeheartedly. It was wonderful to meet people who were aware of what was going on in their own country and around the world, even if their view of the U.S. was a bit skewed. I find that a lot of people in the U.S. are not as aware of what’s going on in our own country, even, much less what’s happening in the rest of the world. The attitude we Americans display is that we have better things to do than to pay attention to this stuff, at least until our government enacts some policy that steps on certain Americans’ toes, or doesn’t lift a finger to solve a pressing problem.

After George W. Bush was elected president, he and Blair had their first meeting. It appeared to get off to a rocky start. They didn’t seem quite comfortable together. This concerned me for a bit. I hoped that liberal/conservative politics wouldn’t get in the way of our relationship with the UK.

The strength of the relationship between Bush and Blair really changed after 9/11. We learned from President Bush that Blair was the first world leader to call on the President to express his condolensces for our loss. What brought tears to my eyes was the vigil that was held at Buckingham Palace by British subjects, mourning our loss with tears in their eyes, waving American flags and playing our national anthem. Wow. To me that really said something, that they would go out of their way to do that, to express their solidarity with us at a time when we feared that things could fall apart–things could get worse. There was a genuine fear on the part of many that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were just the first in a series of planned attacks, and that we might see more in the days and weeks ahead. For the first time in so many years we felt vulnerable.

The Canadian Prime Minister held a vigil for us as well with Canadians, doing much the same. It didn’t get as much coverage though, which I thought was a shame.

I can’t remember when this was, whether it was a special session of congress, or if it was Bush’s first State of the Union address after 9/11, but Blair was there in the gallery sitting in a seat of honor during the President’s speech.

I watched “The Blair Decade”, a documentary on PM Blair that aired recently on PBS. It was very interesting. It showed various members of his staff, and associates, talking about his term in office. They said that Blair strategically wanted to forge a close relationship with the Bush Administration after the 9/11 attacks, to help make sure that America didn’t “fly off the handle” and do something rash in response. To be sure, Americans were tempted to do that. I can’t say the Bush Administration had those thoughts, but American citizens certainly did. In my opinion he accomplished his goal. The documentary also revealed that Blair helped forge pro-American international relationships that would help us begin the global War on Terror. This was not done just because Blair was “Bush’s poodle”. Blair genuinely believed in what we were doing, and it turns out that extended all the way to Iraq.

Blair offered his support of the U.S.’s policy towards Iraq on the condition that we would try to get the U.N.’s stamp of approval for an invasion first. The Bush Administration did this. The documentary revealed that when things were not going well in the U.N., and we were pushing ahead with our invasion plans, and public opinion in the UK towards our policy was not good, Bush called Blair and offered him an out. He told Blair, “I want regime change in Iraq. I don’t want to see it happen in the UK as well.” Bush said it would be fine with him if Blair decided that the UK should not participate in the invasion. Blair wouldn’t have any of it. He believed, just as Bush did, that Iraq needed to be dealt with forcefully. He honestly believed, as Bush did, that Saddam had WMDs. Blair told Bush that despite public opinion at the time, the Blair government was with us on this. It cannot be said that Blair was forced into any of this. He chose it, and I think of him highly because of that. No, Blair was not an “empty suit”. I think he showed true leadership qualities. I’m sure that Blair was aware of the UK’s past history with Iraq, that Winston Churchill had dealt with it, before he became PM, and said, “I hate it!” He knew what he was getting into.

Based on what the documentary revealed about Blair I think that there are some common traits between him and Bush. It said that Blair tended to be more passionate about the general thrust of policy, and was not so interested in the details. This has been true of most of our recent Republican presidents: Reagan, and George W. Bush. I think George H.W. Bush was more of a policy wonk. Both Bush and Blair have a strong moral compass, and both are basically in agreement on the righteousness of spreading freedom. Both are devoutly religious, though Blair is not public about that.

The times when Blair came to give a speech before congress were really stirring. He is so articulate. He’s explained the War on Terror better than our own president. I don’t think that means he got it more than Bush does. Bush is a man of few words, and has trouble being articulate, though he has managed it on occasion. The anti-war forces have had a lot of success due to his inability to communicate well about it. I’ve sometimes wished that Blair would’ve made more visits so he could’ve explain our own war to us. I can understand Blair’s unofficial designation as “the Prime Minister of the United States” by his detractors, though I mean no offense by that.

I am sad to see him go. He was a good friend when we needed one. He stuck by us, by his own volition, despite being unpopular at home. He did indeed have convictions. Perhaps he found them on the job. I don’t know. In the “Pantheon” of British Prime Ministers I am sure he will be remembered in the history books, along with Margaret Thatcher, who was another consequential PM. In our public consciousness, at least among those who remember history, Winston Churchill is still at the top of the heap. In any case, I hope that in his retirement Tony Blair will make more visits to the U.S. As always he will receive a warm welcome here. I hope that Gordon Brown will measure up to Blair’s stature.


A couple good articles by Paul Danish

June 19, 2007

For those who don’t know, Paul Danish has been a prominent figure in Boulder for years. He served on City Council for a while, and he’s driven some policy decisions Boulder made. The main one was limiting residential growth. I have this vague memory that he also worked for Soldier of Fortune Magazine, which was published here in Boulder (maybe it still is). He’s written for each of the Boulder newspapers: The Daily Camera, the Colorado Daily (a privately run paper for C.U.), and now the Boulder Weekly. I don’t agree with everything he’s said or done, but occasionally I feel like he hits it right on the mark.

The first column of his I’ll cover here is titled, “Ending the Genocide in Darfur (not)”. What he says here is what I’ve been saying to those who will listen for months (though not on this blog): The Boulderites who support “ending the genocide in Darfur” are either being foolish or insincere, because a lot of them support ending the war in Iraq, not by winning it, but by cutting and running. Tell the truth to their face, man!:

There is, however, no chance that the United States will undertake such a campaign — because the folks who aver that they want to end the genocide in Darfur are for the most part the same ones who have been working for years to make it impossible for the United States to win in Iraq or take unilateral military action generally.

They have worked tirelessly to de-legitimize the Iraq war and to convince the American people that it is a lost cause (which it isn’t), and they have largely succeeded. They fiercely oppose the Bush Doctrine, which provides for the United States engaging in pre-emptive war against those who harbor its terrorist enemies, and which could easily be applied to the Islamic/fascist government in Sudan that harbored al-Qaeda.

Moreover, if the United States actually started bombing Sudan, does anyone have the slightest doubt that a lot of the folks with “End the genocide in Darfur” signs in their yards would be in the vanguard of those howling about American aggression and even accusing the United States of genocide.

And speaking of genocide, if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq prematurely, the subsequent civil war(s), and outright invasions would likely result in multiple instances of genocide.

The fact that the people who want to end the genocide in Darfur seem OK with throwing 25 million Iraqis under the bus suggests that their concern with ending genocide is a tad selective and more than a little unserious — if not outright disingenuous.

In other words, if we want to end the genocide in Darfur we need to support the idea of winning in Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq will not inspire confidence that we’ll be able to do anything constructive in Darfur, because the aftermath in Iraq will be tremendous and horrifying (yes, more than it is now, folks–it can get worse). Further, I doubt there’s much public support now for getting ourselves involved in “yet another mess” in Darfur, and there’s going to be even less if we pull out of Iraq.

The next column I was impressed with, though not as much, was “Climate change and radical change”. Here he says that yes, global warming is a problem and we’re causing it, but we’re not going to do anything about it. I think he’s incorrect about the “we’re causing it” part, as in “It’s warming because of our CO2 emissions”, but I agree that we (the industrialized/industrializing countries) are not going to do anything about it either, despite what Boulder decided to do about it (like it’s going to matter). Yes, I’ve heard that other cities around the country and the world have looked at what Boulder has done, and there are some interested parties who’d like to do what we’ve done, but again, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference in the climate. We can pay our “penance” to the environment if we want. We have free will. The most it’s going to accomplish is create another city bureaucracy, growing the city government, which is already the #1 employer in town (hey, it creates jobs!), and make some of our homes and businesses more energy efficient. The latter is fine with me. I think energy efficiency is good. What I think is bad is the resorting to scare tactics over a phenomenon whose purported cause is dubious at best, and abusing the good name of science in the process. But then, this whole thing isn’t really about science, is it? It’s all about social standing. The elite in our society have taken it upon themselves to flaggelate themselves, and by extension some of us as well, in the name of the environment. It’s now a required part of their social status. If they don’t, they’re ostracized.

Danish’s argument is that in terms of politics, China is using its economic growth to try to forestall a revolution (an overthrow of the government). In a few years China will pass us in the amount of CO2 it produces. Without China’s willingness to curb carbon emissions, we’re just spitting in the wind trying to curb ours. And China isn’t going to curb its emissions, because that will limit its economy’s growth, and the communist government there cares a lot more about its own survival than the climate.

Where we part ways

Danish’s most recent article, though, is one where I think he completely misses the boat. He excuses what happened at the CWA panel in April on sex, teens, and drugs. He caught the same disease a lot of our town leaders have, called “Circling The Wagons Syndrome”, where we defiantly preen about and yell to the outside world, “What are you looking at?!” It’s just bluster and doesn’t mean much of anything, but it’s kind of flabbergasting to people looking in on it from the outside. In a previous post I made reference to geoff’s post (over at “Uncommon Misconceptions”) about how the BVSD has announced that next year there will be more adult oversight of the CWA process. There’s no acknowledgement, of course, that outside criticism had anything to do with this. I’ll just say that Boulder is a provincial town. We don’t want “foreigners” (ie. the rest of the U.S.) to change us. We just want our oasis, undisturbed. I don’t agree with this attitude, but that’s the reality of this place.

Danish says he thinks Becker’s comment about, “I’m going to encourage you to have sex, and I’m going to encourage you to do drugs appropriately,” is just fine, because it made these things less of a “right of passage” for teens, making it less likely they’ll do them out of rebellion against authority. He said that if adults keep telling teens “kids don’t have sex” and “kids don’t do drugs” that because they’re growing up, they’ll think that that’s what adults do. I find this logic flawed, but then maybe teenagers think this way. Their reasoning capacity is not always the best. What I mean is I think Danish’s reasoning is flawed on this.

The way other CWA supporters have responded to Becker’s comment makes it sound as though they thought it was some sort of reverse psychology, that because an adult was sitting there encouraging them to do this, that it would turn teens off to it. From the audience’s reaction I don’t think it had that effect…

I think Danish read too much into it and was being overly generous towards Becker’s intentions and competence. Come on. Who are we kidding here?

Edit 6/22/07: Correction–I made reference earlier to a memory I had that Paul Danish worked for Soldier of Fortune Magazine. He used to work for them, but no longer does.


Update on CWA at Boulder High School

June 18, 2007

Geoff at “Uncommon Misconceptions” has a post on a decision that’s been made about future CWA topics/panels at BHS. It sounds like students will still get the first vote on what topics will be discussed, but there will be more oversight by teachers, parents, and administrators, with the criteria being that “district policy will be followed”. Superintendent Garcia released a report last month saying that district policy for ensuring balance for controversial topics was violated the last go-around.

I had a feeling this is what was going to happen. We’ll see how the new system works. If all goes well then no news will be good news.

If I got to weigh in on this (which I don’t), I’d let the students pick the topics, but let teachers and parents pick the panelists. Apparently what’s happened in the past is students picked the topics and the panelists, which led to what they got in April, and caused such a furor. There was a “faculty advisor” providing oversight before. I wonder what they did. Either they approved of the panelists or weren’t paying much attention.


PBS: Thou shalt not scrutinize Islam

June 18, 2007

I’ve been meaning to write about this. I happened to catch Frank Gaffney on C-SPAN a few weeks ago talking about a documentary he helped produce, which was at first selected and funded by PBS and then dumped because of politics. The film is called “Islam vs. Islamists: Voices From the Muslim Center”. It’s an analysis of the struggle for the soul of Islam between moderates and extremists, offering a perspective on the enemy we face as a nation (ie. the islamist extremists). It was supposed to be part of the PBS series “America At A Crossroads”, but was not included when the series finally aired.

The story that Gaffney tells is that each of the films that was funded by PBS was approved by a selection committee. Hundreds of proposals came in. Only a handful were selected for funding and production. “Islam vs. Islamists” was one of those selected. The documentary filmmakers for each of the selected documentaries then went out and made their films. The expectation was that each of them would ultimately be aired by PBS as part of the series. This was the case for every film, except for “Islam vs. Islamists”. It was funded and completed, but not aired. The reason sounds like a sordid tale of internal corporate politics.

The way Gaffney tells it, the selection committee was originally made up of a diverse panel. I can’t remember all of the names on it, but I remember he said that Mara Liasson, a journalist for NPR, was part of it. They selected “Islam vs. Islamists” to be funded and produced, along with the others. During the filming process the political game began. The former head of PBS was ousted by a political battle, with antagonists alleging impropriety unrelated to this project, though the controversy over this film may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back (no pun intended) regarding his tenure. Robert MacNeil (for those who remember the “MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour”, before it became “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer”) and some others who worked within PBS protested this film to the top brass. I think Gaffney said MacNeil alleged that the film was unbalanced and did not meet the editorial standards of PBS. The selection committee, which had originally approved “Islam vs. Islamists” was completely replaced with new people, some of whom had strong ties to radical islamist organizations. MacNeil offered to make a different documentary to replace “Islam vs. Islamists” in the series. His film was approved and ultimately aired (though I forget what it was called). According to Gaffney, MacNeil’s piece did not air the voices of moderate Muslims, but instead featured only the extremists, and cast them in a sympathetic light. Gaffney said that for all practical purposes it was “a propaganda piece” for the islamists.

According to Gaffney he was not involved in the day to day activities of filming “Islam vs. Islamists”. From how he described his role, he sounded like a producer, providing support for the film’s production. He is now championing it so that people can see it. Yet, during production, the filmmakers were asked about their association with Gaffney and other conservatives, by the PBS staff. One asked the director, Martyn Burke, “Don’t you pay attention to the political affiliations of those you work with?” His answer was “No”. Gaffney was struck that the question was even asked. It suggested a built-in bias and suspicion against conservative thinkers on the part of those working at PBS. Maybe the true intent was to ask about associations with Gaffney, who has worked for a think tank that is focused on opposing the islamists.

In the C-SPAN interview Gaffney also got into a possible contradiction in his story. A documentary film about Richard Perle and his views on the War on Terror was made and included in the “America At A Crossroads” series. Perle is often branded a so-called “Neo-Conservative”. He’s also been tagged as an “architect of the Iraq war”, a distinction he denies in the piece. How come the piece on him was aired if there was a bias against conservatives at the network? Gaffney delved deeper into the problem. He said that the crux of the controversy was that PBS had already made up its mind about Islam: that the people whom Gaffney calls “the islamists” are the only true Muslims. The people whom Gaffney calls “moderates” are not true Muslims, but outsiders to the religion who are just critics of Islam. Though I don’t think Gaffney talked about it, I suspect multiculturalism played a part in this. The sense I got from listening to Gaffney was that some at PBS felt uncomfortable with “Christians” (I don’t know if everyone involved was Christian) scrutinizing Islam, that it would not be a fair portrayal of the religion. The overall message that came through was “We cannot judge, and we cannot know what Islam is, unless we were Muslims ourselves.” The Muslims that PBS brought in to be a part of the process had close ties to extremists, according to Gaffney. So they set the standard for PBS for who a real Muslim is.

PBS offered to air “Islam vs. Islamists” if the documentary filmmakers would agree to “portray the ‘islamists’ in a fairer light”. Gaffney said that in the documentary as it was, the extremists got their due. He said, “We let them speak in their own words.” He said that PBS just wanted them portrayed in a more sympathetic light, which is what they got in MacNeil’s piece.

Gaffney had tried to obtain the rights to “Islam vs. Islamists”, so that he could try to find other networks that would air it. I’m not sure if he sued. I remember Gaffney saying something about breach of contract. In May PBS announced that it had released the film to Oregon Public Broadcasting, that it would be made a part of their library, and that any PBS station could get it upon request. This apparently thwarted Gaffney’s attempt to get the film rights. He said that it also consigned the film to a black hole. He said that normally most PBS stations broadcast what the national PBS headquarters sends to them. PBS distributes the programs nationally. This “available on request” scheme, he says, ensures that the film will likely not be seen by most PBS viewers. There have been a few private screenings of this documentary.

Gaffney seemed passionate about the notion that one of the things he hoped would be accomplished by people viewing this film is that people would hear from the moderate Muslims, whose voices are so often silenced. If we are going to win the War on Terror, it’s the moderates who are going to need our support. He saw this action on PBS’s part as a setback in that goal.

I personally would like to see it. I think one of the strongest arguments in favor of broadcasting it is that taxpayer money was spent to create it. We should have the right to see it.

Here is an interview with Martyn Burke that I was able to find on the web. He tells some of the same story Gaffney did.


Psychologist says “Teens are adults”

June 11, 2007

I happened upon this article, called “Trashing Teens”, on the “Psychology Today” web site and I thought it had some bearing on what happened at Boulder High School during the Conference on World Affairs. It’s an interview with psychologist Robert Epstein. The interviewer’s questions are in plain italics. Areas I’ve emphasized are in bold italics. I thought these quotes were interesting:

In every mammalian species, immediately upon reaching puberty, animals function as adults, often having offspring. We call our offspring “children” well past puberty. The trend started a hundred years ago and now extends childhood well into the 20s. The age at which Americans reach adulthood is increasing—30 is the new 20—and most Americans now believe a person isn’t an adult until age 26.

The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor.

Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you’re an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you’re a child. This infantilization makes many young people angry or depressed, with their distress carrying over into their families and contributing to our high divorce rate. It’s hard to keep a marriage together when there is constant conflict with teens.

We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other “children.” In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable. In 1904, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall said it was programmed by evolution. He was wrong.

He makes school sound like an asylum with only teenagers in it. This is just not reality. In school they are supervised by adults almost the entire time they are there. They have expectations placed on them to perform (unless of course the school cares greatly about their “self-esteem”). It sounds like what Epstein is saying, though I don’t quote him directly in this regard (read the full article), is that kids should have less school and enter the workforce earlier

Ironically, because minors have only limited property rights, they don’t have complete control over what they have bought. Think how bizarre that is. If you, as an adult, spend money and bring home a toy, it’s your toy and no one can take it away from you. But with a 14-year-old, it’s not really his or her toy. Young people can’t own things, can’t sign contracts, and they can’t do anything meaningful without parental permission—permission that can be withdrawn at any time. They can’t marry, can’t have sex, can’t legally drink. The list goes on. They are restricted and infantilized to an extraordinary extent.

In recent surveys I’ve found that American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons. Psychologist Diane Dumas and I also found a correlation between infantilization and psychological dysfunction. The more young people are infantilized, the more psychopathology they show.

You believe in the inherent competence of teens. What’s your evidence?

Dumas and I worked out what makes an adult an adult. We came up with 14 areas of competency—such as interpersonal skills, handling responsibility, leadership—and administered tests to adults and teens in several cities around the country. We found that teens were as competent or nearly as competent as adults in all 14 areas. But when adults estimate how teens will score, their estimates are dramatically below what the teens actually score.

Other long-standing data show that teens are at least as competent as adults. IQ is a quotient that indicates where you stand relative to other people your age; that stays stable. But raw scores of intelligence peak around age 14-15 and shrink thereafter. Scores on virtually all tests of memory peak between ages 13 and 15. Perceptual abilities all peak at that age. Brain size peaks at 14. Incidental memory—what you remember by accident, and not due to mnemonics—is remarkably good in early to mid teens and practically nonexistent by the ’50s and ’60s.

If teens are so competent, why do they not show it?

What teens do is a small fraction of what they are capable of doing. If you mistreat or restrict them, performance suffers and is extremely misleading. The teens put before us as examples by, say, the music industry tend to be highly incompetent. Teens encourage each other to perform incompetently. One of the anthems of modern pop, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, is all about how we need to behave like we’re stupid.

Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.

There are at least 20 million young people between 13 and 17, and if they are as competent as I think they are, we are just throwing them away.

When Epstein says “teens should be learning from the people they are about to become” he doesn’t mean adult teachers in a school. He means the teens should be working with them. When seen this way, that’s fine with me. As a teen I would’ve enjoyed working with adults to a certain extent. I’ve always tended to want to hang around people who are older than I am, even as an adult, because they tend to have more wisdom than I do.

Do you believe that young people are capable of maintaining long-term relationships and capable of moral reasoning?

Everyone who has looked at the issue has found that teens can experience the love that adults experience. The only difference is that they change partners more, because they are warehoused together, told it’s puppy love and not real, and are unable to marry without permission. The assumption is they are not capable. But many distinguished couples today—Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, George and Barbara Bush—married young and have very successful long-term relationships.

According to census data, the divorce rate of males marrying in their teens is lower than that of males marrying in their 20s. Overall the divorce rate of people marrying in their teens is a little higher. Does that mean we should prohibit them from marrying? That’s absurd. We should aim to reverse that, telling young people the truth: that they are capable of creating long-term stable relationships. They might fail—but adults do every day, too.

I dunno. I find this dubious. Yes, some young couples have managed to stay together, but like he says, overall the divorce rate for teens is higher than when marrying in their 20s. One of the things Joel Becker said in the CWA panel at BHS sounded accurate to me, that if you marry before the age of 25 the divorce rate is 80%. I’ve heard something like this from other sources as well, and I think there’s a reason for it. Teens and young adults into their early 20s haven’t gotten a sense of who they really are yet. Most of them have not had to meet tough life challenges and see their way through them, situations they would never learn under their parents’ care or in school.

I suppose what he’s arguing is that teens should be “let loose” earlier in life so that they can gain these life experiences earlier, but to what purpose? So they can act out their natural urges?

The “friends with benefits” phenomenon is a by-product of isolating adolescents, warehousing them together, and delivering messages that they are incapable of long-term relationships. Obviously they have strong sexual urges and act on them in ways that are irresponsible. We can change that by letting them know they are capable of having more than a hookup.

Studies show that we reach the highest levels of moral reasoning while we’re still in our teens. Those capabilities parallel higher-order cognitive reasoning abilities, which peak fairly early. Across the board, teens are far more capable than we think they are.

I dunno about this either. The reason teens have short-term relationships is because adults tell them it’s not real? I doubt that. I’ve heard about adults having short-term relationships as well. They’re called “one night stands”. Does he think it’s because other adults are telling them their relationships are not real? Hey, no one’s holding a gun to their heads, so it can’t be that. I think the reason is most teens are experiencing their sexual feelings for the first time, and are playing with relationships.

In fact, I’ve heard anthropologists say just the opposite of what Epstein is saying, that in aboriginal cultures “teens are still kids”, unlike in our culture, where we act like they’re adults in terms of personal relationships and what they should want out of life. I’ve heard these anthropologists say that teens still play and have fun, not unlike younger children do, an activity that’s looked down upon in our culture as “immature”. They play different games, but they’re still discovering the world and human relationships through child-like play. I think in much the same way teens tend to play with romantic relationships because they’re curious about what it’s like. They’re not serious about it yet.

I’m sure there are cases where teens find each other and feel a deep love for one another, and have those feelings of wanting to start a life together, with the parents objecting and trying to keep them apart. One could make the argument that they should be allowed to do that, because they’re ready, but I don’t think he should be making a blanket statement that all teens are like this.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Epstein and perhaps some other people in his profession went through this and that’s why they make this such a big issue.

What’s the worst part of the current way we treat teens?

The adversarial relationship between parents and offspring is terrible; it hurts both parents and young people. It tears some people to shreds; they don’t understand why it is happening and can’t get out of it. They don’t realize they are caught in a machine that’s driving them apart from their offspring—and it’s unnecessary.

What can be done?

I believe that young people should have more options—the option to work, marry, own property, sign contracts, start businesses, make decisions about health care and abortions, live on their own—every right, privilege, or responsibility an adult has. I advocate a competency-based system that focuses on the abilities of the individual. For some it will mean more time in school combined with work, for others it will mean that at age 13 or 15 they can set up an Internet business. Others will enter the workforce and become some sort of apprentice. The exploitative factories are long gone; competent young people deserve the chance to compete where it counts, and many will surprise us.

It’s a simple matter to develop competency tests to determine what rights a young person should be given, just as we now have competency tests for driving. When you offer significant rights for passing such a test, it’s highly motivating; people who can’t pass a high-school history test will never give up trying to pass the written test at the DMV, and they’ll virtually always succeed. We need to offer a variety of tests, including a comprehensive test to allow someone to become emancipated without the need for court action. When we dangle significant rewards in front of our young people—including the right to be treated like an adult—many will set aside the trivia of teen culture and work hard to join the adult world.

Let’s compare this position with something Joel Becker said, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at UCLA. The theme of his whole presentation was that teens should feel comfortable with the idea of having sex and doing drugs “when they’re ready for it”. When asked about the connection between sex and feelings, Becker said:

Okay, let’s see where to start.  The one you asked about sex and feelings, I think that the only thing I could expand on that is that I think it’s a very individual answer, so I don’t know that I could tell you exactly what 14 year olds are emotionally capable, and then 15, and then 16, because you are all individuals, and there would have to be some sort of self-assessment.  It would be great if that was part of a curriculum and health education where you would be able to look at, am I really emotionally prepared to do x, y, and z.

One thing Epstein says here is something I’d basically agree with, except the part about “significant rights”:

Too often, giving children more responsibility translates into giving them household chores, which just causes more tension and conflict. We have to think beyond chores to meaningful responsibility—responsibility tied to significant rights.

Overall I get the sense that he thinks adults are corrupt, and are either vindictive towards teens or are just too unaware of them as people to care, and that teens are pure and innocent and only want what is right, which is whatever comes naturally to them. He does say that some parents are trapped by our society’s rules, that even if they thought that their teens were more capable and responsible, they weren’t allowed to allow their teens to own property, sign contracts, get married, etc.

The part of human development Epstein ignores is that teens are notoriously impulsive. This isn’t by accident, from what I understand, but because of their neurophysiology. Their body goes through a growth phase that’s rather like the one they had when they were 2-4 years old. Their brain also goes through some changes, with similar effects. When you combine it with the fact that most have little to no real life experience beyond the confines of home and school, they’re accidents waiting to happen. Maybe that’s being too harsh, but it’s close to the truth. Hence they need parental supervision.

Another thing I noticed with Epstein was something I saw with the BHS CWA panel, that they saw current American culture as anti-human, and that more primitive, aboriginal cultures have healthier, pro-human rules and customs. In the BHS panel discussion Sanho Tree talked about how more primitive cultures, with shaman, had healthier attitudes towards drug use. They didn’t quite argue that we should become just like them, but they wished there was a way that some of the human roles that certain people played in aboriginal culture could be brought into ours. Here, Epstein argues that “non-industrial” cultures dealt with teens better by promoting them into adult roles whenever they were deemed ready. There’s none of this “artificial stuff” getting in the way of that. As a substitute for a tribe’s chief or holy man who would confer adulthood on the tribe’s teenagers, Epstein proposes “competency tests”. To be drawn up and administered by whom, he doesn’t say, but I can guess.

I suppose if we wanted to we could go back to a pre-industrial culture where children started working when they were little, starting small, carrying out responsibilities that increase with age. By the time they were teens they would have enough of a work ethic and some sense of the real world that they might very well be capable of carrying out the rights and responsibilities of an adult by the age of 14. But what kind of childhood would they have? How much of an education would they have? This isn’t the world we live in, yet Epstein thinks that somehow this would work.

In our modern, complex society, children need schooling up to a certain level. I think a major part of what Epstein is complaining about is the public school system, though he only describes it as a “warehouse”. He’s barking up the wrong tree. The problem is that kids in middle school and high school are not getting the education they need and deserve. The truth is most American kids have to go to college to get a true high school education now. Yes, you read me right. If you doubt me take a look at what high school students in other countries around the world are learning. It’ll look something like college. Since Epstein is complaining that teens are being cheated in the time they have on this Earth, that’s the main culprit right there.

Andee Gerhardt said in the BHS CWA panel discussion that in the near future most jobs are going to require a college degree. And the vast majority of people can’t get into college without a high school education. So what is Epstein saying? That most people just shouldn’t bother going to college? Isn’t that consigning most people to a life of poverty? I just don’t find his solution realistic. An answer in the right direction would be to revamp the middle and high school systems, and curricula to make them more competitive with the rest of the world. Then maybe we could go back to the way things used to be where most people could get a decent paying job with just a high school diploma. However that’s going to happen, it’s not happening soon.

Edit 6/13/07 – There’s an article in Time Magazine, called “Parents: Relax”, by John Cloud, from March 30, that ponders whether “teens are getting smarter”. He cites statistics showing that illicit drug use, violent crime, teen pregnancy, and suicide rates are all down. He then mixes in Robert Epstein’s recent proclamations that “teens are adults”, and talks about how he advocates for “competency tests” for teens. Cloud makes the same argument I do about these tests. He also pokes a hole in Epstein’s argument, saying that while his clinical surveys may show that teens know how to make good decisions just like adults do, statistics also show they make good decisions less often than adults.