Colorado election results

November 9, 2010

Hello. Well, I haven’t posted anything since July, which is reflective of how busy I’ve been with other aspects of my life. This happened a couple years ago as well. Matters in my extended family intruded in a big way and I just couldn’t devote the time to blogging. Well I’m back for the time being. I’ve been lining up some material to talk about, and I hope to do that fairly soon, but anything could happen.

This last election was a blowout for the Democrats by historical measurements. It is the biggest change of seats in congress in about 60 years. The interesting thing is the progressives in congress weren’t affected much. Their constituents thought they were doing what they were supposed to do. The Democrats who got the boot, and were replaced by Republicans, were the moderate “blue dogs” who capitulated to the progressives on the health care bill, and were considering voting with them on Cap & Trade. Ah, well they served their purpose. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the reason the Democrats ran conservatives in conservative districts was so that the progressives could rule over both houses of congress. “Mission Accomplished,” as it were. They used their narrow window of opportunity to ram through as much overbearing government legislation as they could before conservatives fed up with overspending Republicans figured out they had been had by even worse spenders who wanted to take another bit of their freedom away. The Democrats who’ve been kicked out now have cushy jobs in the private sector as rewards for their patronage, last I heard.

Colorado didn’t participate in the Tea Party revolt. Republicans defeated two Democratic incumbents in House races, so now they hold 4 out of 7 of our House seats. We re-elected Bill Bennett, the Democratic senator who was appointed when Ken Salazar took his position as Interior Secretary. We elected John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, to replace our Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, who decided to not run for a second term. The governorship was within reach, but the progressives in Colorado did a real number on conservatives in the governor’s race, but it’s hard to say they didn’t deserve it for running less than stellar candidates. They played the Republicans like a fiddle. The only bright spot was that we re-elected our Republican Attorney General so that he can continue to fight Obamacare in the courts. Republicans also won Secretary of State and Treasurer. That was the highlight. Oh, and Republicans now have a slight majority in the state house, but Democrats still control the state senate.


C.U. finally fires Ward Churchill

July 25, 2007

Do you remember 2 years ago there was a big to-do about C.U. Ethnic Studies Chair and Professor Ward Churchill? He wrote a rant on 9/11/2001, calling the “technocrat” victims of the 9/11 attacks “little Eichmanns”, after the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The essay was discovered by the rest of the country in 2005 when Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College in New York. Shortly thereafter an inquiry was begun at C.U. looking into Churchill’s scholarship. The lack of explicit motivation for this has caused suspicion by some in the community, given the timing, that it was a witch hunt. A possible motivation might have been that the historical reference was so off the mark, it indicated sloppiness in scholarship.

The investigation took 2-1/2 years, went through various committees, survived the resignation of one of C.U.’s presidents, and ended late on July 24, with a vote of the regents: 8-1. Cindy Carlisle, Regent from Boulder, being the one dissenting vote. She didn’t like dismissal. She preferred the punishment of one year suspension and demotion in rank, as was recommended earlier this year by the Privilege and Tenure Committee. Carlisle claims she’s worked with C.U. to create faculty governance, and that since this committee is run by faculty, C.U. should follow its lead. The Standing Committee on Research Misconduct is also a committee run by faculty, and a majority of them recommended dismissal. So it sounds to me like she’s spinning.

This should surprise nobody. I think it’s shameful that we Boulderites tolerate academic incompetence on the part of those who massage our political egos. One might assume it’s because we’re a community of poorly educated ninnies, but that would be false. We are a highly educated community. We have more Ph.D.’s here than you can shake a stick at. We’ve got some who don’t even work at C.U. I’ve heard stories about people with Ph.D.’s working cash registers here at local stores.

The dirty little secret at C.U., and I’m sure at many other universities, is that the faculty cares a great deal about professors’ political views. I saw an interview with a former C.U. history professor 2 years ago who was effectively isolated by his fellow faculty members, because they didn’t like his personal views. He said he didn’t get into his personal views in his classes. He just taught straight history, but that didn’t matter. He ended up leaving of his own accord, just because the atmosphere had become so hostile. The whole argument about “academic freedom” on the part of some faculty at C.U. is a red herring. This may depend on the college within the university. When it comes right down to it, some faculty only care about academic freedom within certain parameters, and those parameters may not even be academic.

Anyway, back to the story. A report by the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct was disclosed in May 2006. It found that Churchill had falsified certain historical events in his books, using the conventions of academia to make it look legitimate. He put citations to other people’s work in his own, as any academic would. The problem was the citations he used didn’t agree with what he said at all. In other words, he was putting words in other people’s mouths. It would be like if I said that President Lincoln said during the Civil War, “This country is a piece of crap!”, and I used the Gettysburg Address as a supporting citation for it. Hey, it’s a citation that pertains to Lincoln. But Lincoln didn’t say that in his speech. Churchill and his supporters argued that while the citations were not accurate, the history Churchill told was true, just based on different sources, which could not be produced, as best I could tell. That’d be like me saying, “Okay, I know Lincoln didn’t say that in the Gettysburg Address, but he said it at some point in his life,” without giving firm evidence.

Secondly, Churchill was charged with plagiarism, passing off other people’s work as his own.

These were not isolated incidents either. The faculty committee found so many examples of these kinds of violations that they had to conclude that these were not mere mistakes, which can happen in legitimate academic work. They were deliberate. They were reticent to say that it was even indicative of extreme sloppiness. The recommendation of the majority of the committee was for dismissal, though a few recommended suspension.

A few more steps had to be taken before the coup de grace was delivered. The Privilege and Tenure Committee recommended suspension instead of dismissal earlier this year.

After doing further review yesterday, the Regents had a brief public meeting where they voted for dismissal 8-1, and then left. A press conference was held by a representative for the Regents, and a separate one was held by some Churchill supporters.

David Lane, Churchill’s attorney, was expected to file a lawsuit in Denver District court today, on First Amendment grounds, charging that one motivation for the investigation into Churchill’s scholarship was due to his controversial statements, and that his statements are not grounds for such a “witch hunt”. I listened to the Caplis & Silverman show yesterday on KHOW, and they made a good argument, basically asking the question, “Okay, well when would have been a good time to conduct the investigation?” Churchill had a history of making controversial statements in all sorts of forums. When would have been a good time to conduct it, if not within proximity of any one of his controversial utterances? There were at least a couple grounds for the investigation, all of which had apparently been ignored when they first came to light years ago. Two professors had written articles about Churchill’s academic misconduct. One covered Churchill’s allegation that the Mandan Sioux were poisoned with smallpox-laced blankets by the U.S. Army. The other was from John LaVelle, a law professor at a university in New Mexico–I can’t find his article now, though I did read it. It had to do with Churchill’s notions about an Indian lands law that he said was based on “blood quantum”.

Personally I think that C.U. should’ve acted a long time ago when these issues came to light, at least when there was no rebuttal from Churchill, clarifying them when the charges of falsifying scholarship had been made.

Heck, C.U. should never have given him tenure in the first place, since he lacked a credential that’s a requirement for most anyone else, namely a Ph.D. He doesn’t have one. The highest degree he attained was a Masters degree in art from a small college in Illinois.

A lot of people make an issue of the fact that Churchill can’t definitively prove his Indian heritage, though interestingly, even his brother, when interviewed by the Rocky Mountain News, said that they believed within the family that they had Indian ancestors. So I can’t blame him for that, though once the very Indian organizations he claimed to be a part of did not back up his claims, I think that should’ve given one pause.

The second strike against him in my mind, though this was never an issue that was pursued by C.U., was the fact that Ward Churchill had bullied and threatened other people throughout his career at C.U. Caplis & Silverman recounted a number of stories on their radio show about his physical intimidation and threats on those who criticized him, or called him on the carpet for breaking a rule.

A third strike against him in my mind, though again this was never pursued, were his speeches before anarchist groups, particularly those that called for the overthrow of the U.S. government (all C.U. professors, being state employees, are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution as a condition of their employment), and advocating violence against the U.S. government and corporations (which inevitably involves employees), like that carried out by radical Islamists on 9/11. C.U. considered these rants speech protected by the First Amendment, and indeed they are, but according to the legal history, the oath to uphold the Constitution is supposed to prevent professors like Churchill from advocating the overthrow of the government, and it seemed that C.U. arguably would’ve had the right to discipline Churchill for that alone. Interestingly, until the investigation happened, it never occurred to anyone to check for the oath. It turned out C.U. never required him to take it as they were supposed to.

In one case Churchill really went up to the “crying fire in a crowded theater” line, when at one anarchist meeting an audience member asked him about carrying out a terrorist attack and how to go about it, Churchill told the man, “Without putting too fine a point on it, you carry the weapon.” He told him that he would be a good choice for such an operation, because he was white, and he wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Had a violent act followed that meeting, carried out by the audience member, Churchill could’ve been held legally liable for the damage.

At another event he told some folks something to the effect of, “We’re all going to die someday. The question is will you make your death mean something,” basically calling them to action, to push for violent change in this country.

Apparently C.U. doesn’t have any rules about “professors behaving badly” when it comes to speech like this. I wouldn’t even call it academic freedom. What Churchill engaged in at these meetings was more like giving general advice to potential terrorists. It isn’t speech that one should be put in jail for, just on its own. The First Amendment does protect it up to a point. That point being if his speech results in someone actually taking violent action, and it had that potential in at least one documented case.

Churchill was a professor making over $100,000 a year though. As best anyone could tell he only made these sorts of speeches on his own time, but he had a tendency to make general overtures to violent action “for the cause” in his books, which students were required to read. He used his title as “C.U. Professor” wherever he went, whether he was talking to anarchists or not. Personally I think C.U. should have a rule about that: Say what you want on your own time, but if your speech falls outside these broad guidelines, you cannot use the title of C.U. professor. What he said reflected directly on C.U. as a school.

As far as the investigation is concerned, that’s over, but this sad saga will go on in a lawsuit against C.U., which I assume was filed today.


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.


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.


Confusing message from Boulder High on sex and drugs

May 26, 2007

I’ve been meaing to talk about this. This story came to light a couple weeks ago. I first heard about it on the Caplis & Silverman radio show on KHOW. The Daily Camera has covered the story.

In April the Conference on World Affairs (CWA) held a few panel discussions at Boulder High School (BHS). They’ve been doing this since 1998. The CWA got started at the University of Colorado many years ago. They happen once a year for a week. I’ve been to a few of the university sessions over the years. I can’t remember all that they talked about. There were many panel discussions every day. The ones I went to had to do with foreign policy. From what I could tell the CWA was appropriate to the university atmosphere of openly discussing ideas. I was surprised to hear that the CWA was holding panels at BHS. I thought the subject matter would be too mature. In a way I think I was right.

One of the few panel discussions that was held at BHS this year was called “STDs: Sex, Teens and Drugs”. The BHS panels are reportedly selected and organized by BHS students. I believe one or two teachers are involved as well. From what I’ve read, CWA panels on sex have been held for the past couple years at least.

What follows are my summaries and quotes based on a transcript of this event from BVSDWatch.org. This site was started last year when the school district’s Information Technology Department decided to replace Apple Macintoshes in the schools with Windows PCs. Its stated purpose is to be an advocacy group that champions greater openness on the part of the school district.

The BHS CWA panelists were: Sanho Tree, a fellow and director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Drug Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.; Andee Gerhardt, a community engagement leader with Ernst & Young’s International Accounting Firm in the Americas; Joel Becker, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Department of Psychology and at the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA; and Antonio Sacre, an award-winning storyteller and performing artist from L.A.

Ironically, even though the title of the panel suggests the main subject was going to be STDs, the panel hardly talked about it at all. Keep in mind as you read this that this was a school assembly where attendance was required.

First up was Sanho Tree. I liked what Tree presented. He tried to relate a message to the teens in the audience, but he spoke responsibly. This was his second appearance at a CWA panel on sexuality. He talked about the worrying prospect of drug testing for after-school activities, and how unproductive it would be. Probably his most controversial statement was his opinion that the drug war has failed, and that society needs a different strategy for fighting drug abuse. He then criticized the DARE program of drug use prevention, saying it tries to scare kids away from drugs by exaggerating the problems. This has a “cry wolf” effect when kids realize the exaggerations are not true, and then it causes them to question the whole anti-drug message. I’ve heard other criticisms of DARE in years past, that it’s actually increased drug use with teens, despite having an overall negative message about them. Tree criticized popular culture for exaggerating the benefits of drugs (like alcohol). He pointed out that alcohol is not necessarily glamorous.

Next was Andee Gerhardt. She talked about her real world experience of drug use, and the negative consequences it had on her life. She talked about the economic effects of making bad decisions in your teen years, and what the economy will be like in 3 years. She said something about college graduation rates, and I’m not sure if it’s correct. She said that 18% of freshmen in high school graduate from college. First of all, I don’t know if that fits well semantically. Secondly, I wonder if she was talking about high school graduates. That would make more sense. This is the same statistic I heard when I was in college in the early 1990s. Who knows. Maybe it’s gotten better since then.

Gerhardt closed with something I would’ve said differently though:

So I guess I just want to impart, you know, this: find some balance with the, you know, having the fun and experimenting and enjoying what you’re doing, whether it’s learning, or sexually, or with drugs and alcohol and hanging out with your friends, but keep focused because it is your life, and eventually your parents don’t bail you out, and eventually you’re going to have to do it on your own.

(my emphasis)

The next two speakers were the most controversial, because they got more into “the sex thing”, and they didn’t do it responsibly, in my opinion.

First up was Joel Becker. If nothing else he came off as a teenager. Here were some of the bombs he set off:

I’m going to dovetail off a little bit of what Andee said, but I think I’m going to go in a little bit of a different direction, because I’m going to encourage you to have sex, and I’m going to encourage you to use drugs appropriately. And why I’m going to take that position is because you’re going to do it anyway.  So, my approach to this is to be realistic, and I think as a psychologist and a health educator, it’s more important to educate you in a direction that you might actually stick to.

He went on:

I want to encourage you to all have healthy sexual behavior. Now what is healthy sexual behavior?  Well, I don’t care if it’s with men and men, women and women, men and women, whatever combination you would like to put together.

He sobers up some here:

But I think that we know enough about what constitutes healthy sexual behavior to think about it along two lines. One is, the issue of health and disease. So all the information that you can get about the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, you should have. . . . We were handed this survey that was done here at the high school, and one very shocking statistic that came to me was, and actually the people that compiled it missed something here, there was a question: ‘have you had sex?’ and 33 percent of the respondents–and I guess this goes all the way from the ninth grade to the twelfth grade so we’d expect it to be lower in the ninth grade, higher in the twelfth grade–33 percent; so a third of you copped to having sex. How many were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when you had sex? Eight. That would be 8 of the 15, which is actually more than 50 percent, because they saw it was what percent of the total, its over 50 percent of you who are having sex under the influence of alcohol and drugs. If you look at the AIDS transmission literature, this is a major route of transmission. People having sex under the influence because you get careless, and you get sloppy. So that’s very important to look at that relationship between those two variables.

Interesting choice of words in a couple places…

Here he gets wishy-washy:

So, what else do I mean by having healthy sexual behavior?  I think that we also want to have a definition of healthy sexual behavior as sexual behavior that is appropriate to your level of emotional development. Now what does that mouthful mean?  Well, I’m not sure that ninth graders, tenth graders, eleventh graders, and twelfth graders are all exactly equal. In fact I’m fairly sure you’re not, in your level of emotional development in terms of what you can handle. And if you think that having sex doesn’t come with feelings, that’s where you’re mistaken. Sex does come with having feelings, and that’s what you have to be prepared for.

Whatever this means. How is a teenager going to be able to determine on their own whether they’re emotionally ready or not? Let’s be realistic here. I agree with the part where he says “sex comes with feelings”, but the rest of it was worthless.

Some parents would have a problem with this part:

I’ve been told that this is a very liberal high school, and I’m probably speaking to the choir by encouraging you to have healthy sexual behavior because most of your parents probably have given you similar views, but you know, when you are 13, 12, 13, 14, certainly one of the most appropriate sexual behaviors would be masturbation. Masturbate. Please masturbate.

I for one have no problem with this message. This probably is not stated in a health class sex-ed course, because some people have moral compunctions about it. I think it is healthy for kids who are discovering their sexuality to masturbate. It’s far more healthy and safe than any kind of sex with some random person. So Becker won a point with me on this part.

He then went on to criticize Jewish, and I guess Christian tradition, whom some adherents believe says that masturbation is a sin. He didn’t criticize the Bible itself, that I could detect, but the traditions that arose from it. He ended that part with:

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and it doesn’t even address the issue of masturbation in women.  So, it’s not a sin to masturbate in my world.

I think children and parents who are steeped in particular religious traditions would have a real problem with Becker, here, because it appears he’s trying to lead students away from the Judeo-Christian traditions that say masturbation is a sin.

He talked about the emotional aspects of sex, or lack thereof, between boys and girls, but he went about it in a childish way. It’s hard to know if this was intentional or just the best he could come up with. He started off talking about Sigmund Freud and his study of sexuality, and then went into how girls feel about sex versus how boys feels about it. He threw in:

We older people make jokes and say teenage boys will stick their you-know-what in a melon. I mean, that’s about as much feeling as they need to have for the object. And after it’s over, it can be as meaningless as you could imagine. So you have to all be prepared for those differences between the two of you.

He closed with:

So what I’m saying here, and then I’ll wrap up, I encourage you to have a healthy sex life that is both responsible and appropriate for what you can handle emotionally.

Okay. Whatever. Notice there’s no discussion of what it’s like to find a loving partner, getting married, etc. It wouldn’t have to be religious either. Becker’s whole focus is on promiscuous sex and what you have to watch out for. From what I remember there was no discussion, or very little, of marriage in health class when I took it at BHS. There was discussion about monogamy, and how it decreases the likelihood of spreading STDs. I don’t know if they still do this, but I remember there was some sort of school activity set up every year where a boy and a girl in the school would go through a mock wedding, just as one of those “dress rehearsals” for life.

Next up was Antonio Sacre. He started off with some charming anecdotes, winning over the audience. He talked about what life was like for him in the 1980s (I could relate). He turned his story into him talking to himself when he was 15, using the word “you” to refer to himself then. It sounded like something out of the movie “American Pie”. He talked all about his early sex life, from getting Playboys and condoms from his dad, doing a “truth or dare” stunt with his “hunka hunka burning love”, his first experience with masturbation, and his first wet dream. He said, “You at 15, little Antonio, should have waited to have sex.” At least that part even an abstinence teacher would’ve loved, but then he gets into his first attempt at a sexual encounter with a “super hot junior”, when her mother comes home and interrupts them, and he describes the trauma of being confronted by the mom, and him trying to escape the house. He then describes a second attempt with the same girl, and how afterwards she thinks she might be pregnant, but it turns out to be a false alarm. He said, “From that day on, you swear you will always use condoms.” Okay. Weird. Inappropriate, but at least there’s a moral to the story.

But then, he starts describing condoms:

They’re tricky. And even though in your teens, even when your 16 and 17, you could have thousands of erections, sometimes 50 in a day, and you know because you counted. The act of putting on a condom, for me at least, makes me lose my erection almost every time. That’s the thing they don’t tell you about condoms. If you’re lucky enough to get them on, and you still stay hard, it’s hard to stay hard. And it doesn’t feel as good. And sometimes you hurt the woman because you can’t feel her, because you didn’t know, when you were 16, that lubrication like KY helps you stay hard and makes her feel better. And I know how hard it is to talk like that to a girl. It’s even hard now for me as an adult. So I don’t know how it is for you to be able to say so.

Man, I can imagine parents getting really pissed at that passage.

Then he describes how he stopped using condoms because his now girlfriend said she was going on the pill, and then he gets a venereal disease. He describes how he goes to the doctor and they do a test on him. He closes with a story about how he, as a senior, fell in love with a girl, had a sexual relationship with her, and she got pregnant because she forgot to take her pill from time to time. He eloquently implies, but doesn’t directly describe her having an abortion. He describes his feeling of loss about that decision, that he lost that “opportunity” to be a father at 17.

I can imagine elements of this story being used in a health class section on the mistakes that sexually active teens can end up making, but some of it was too graphic to be appropriate for that audience, which included some 14-year-old children. I think his heart was in the right place, but the story was too mature, in my opinion. He actually illustrates what Becker was talking about earlier.

They then went to the Q&A session.

The first question was about kids 11 and 12 years old having sex, and why that is. Joel Becker answered with:

That’s a really good question.  I don’t think there is an easy answer. I think it’s probably a combination of what you’re exposed to in the media, probably it comes also from a lack of good parenting in some situations, absent parents, and probably from a lack of ability to attend educational panels like this.

Really? So 11 and 12-year-olds should hear this discussion? I think he’s right about the media, but I don’t think even 11 and 12-year-olds would understand most of what’s talked about here.

Another student asked about the effects of drugs on society, and the history of drug use. Sanho Tree gave an eloquent answer about drug history, and described how shamanic traditions in ancient cultures used drugs in a controlled manner as part of their spiritual practice. He said this shamanic tradition kept drugs from being abused. He said he wished we had some way of replicating that in our society, as opposed to using “police control” over drugs. I don’t know how that would happen. I don’t see in our society any structure by which that could work. We’d have to replicate shamanism of a sort, and I’ve never seen our society do that while I’ve been alive, or in our history. But overall I thought what he said was instructive.

Becker dropped some more bombs, this time on drug use, starting with his answer for everything, “if you’re emotionally ready for it.” Again, how is a teenager supposed to know?? He said:

And there’s no question that people’s worlds are changed after their consciousness is changed. Well, you have to really sort of think, am I ready to have my world changed? I’m 14 years old. Maybe I’m not ready to see what one sees on LSD.

Uh, yeah. I’d think you weren’t. And how would a 14-year-old have the first clue about whether they’re “ready” for LSD?? Later in his response he says:

There’s a very famous man named Timothy Leary at Harvard who did therapy with LSD. Even today, there are psychiatrists who will do sessions under the influence of ecstasy. If I had some, maybe I’d do it with somebody, but I don’t, you know. I haven’t tried it but there are people that do it.

Oh really? I’m sure the DEA would be very interested in finding out who he knows that does this. Sheesh! Again, talk about inappropriate material for the audience!

Sanho Tree then gave an answer that I think would horrify caring parents:

And also, I want to add quickly, you know, I’m 42 years old, and if I could talk to myself, as Antonio said, if I could talk to myself back then I would say, I would tell myself, some of you in this audience aren’t going to make it to this age. Some of you are going to die from overdose, some of you are going to die in car accidents, under the influence perhaps, some of you are going to contract HIV or hepatitis C, and it will be a slow, painful illness, and some of you may commit suicide because you try to self-medicate yourself with illicit drugs rather than seeking help from people who would know what they’re doing.

Then Becker comes back with:

I could add onto that, because I’m older than Sanho, and I’m a member of that generation, so you know, LSD was my drug of choice in college, and I lost a lot of friends. I had one friend who jumped out of a third story window. He thought he could fly. That’s just one example. So, with non-responsible use, I think what Sanho says, some of you just won’t be there.

Yeah, especially if you listen to his advice. Becker is a riot. He dispenses this “it’s up to you” advice, and then says, “I lost a lot of friends” to drugs. Let me tell you something. The company you keep says something about you. In my entire life I’ve had 1 friend who committed suicide. None of my life-long friends has used drugs at any time in their life. One slept around some when he was younger, though he kept it to a minimum. I’m not holding myself out as some moral paragon. I’m saying that not everybody has “lost a lot of friends to drugs”, to contrast with what Becker said. And the fact that he has lost so many friends to irresponsible behavior should cause one to take his advice about life with a large grain of salt.

In my opinion this was one of the worst parts of the panel discussion. It was so fatalistic. There are other ways of explaining these things to kids that are factual and clinical. There’s no need to make it personal and about personal values. There is a way to get it across using standard instructional methods, and the kids will get it. Secondly, they could put forth some positive messages for once, maybe give the kids an idea of what they can do with their lives besides do drugs. At least Gerhardt tried to do that.

Another student asked about the abuse of prescription drugs. Becker’s attitude towards the whole session comes out in his answer to this question: “Change your parents.” He elaborated by saying that a lot of people in their parents’ generation (the students’ parents) have bought into what the pharmaceutical companies have been selling, which is “take a pill for everything”, even when you want to change your mood or behavior in social situations. Actually, Becker gave his best answer of the session here. I wish he had been this good throughout the whole thing. Sanho Tree gave a good answer as well. The message was that you don’t need drugs to alter this or that about you. You can do it better using other, healthier methods. Amen to that! Kind of curious why they didn’t say the same thing about illicit drug use.

Another student asked about taboos about sex and drugs, drugs for depression, and the connection between sex and feelings. I felt a little down when I read this. Hasn’t this student talked to his/her (I couldn’t determine the gender from the transcript) parents about this connection between sex and feelings? Is there some sort of lack of communication? Has he/she even talked to a school counselor about it?

Becker answered, but not very well. He said “it’s all individual”, and that he couldn’t tell you if you were 14, 15, or 16 whether you were ready for sex or not. He said:

There would have to be some sort of self-assessment. It would be great if that was part of a curriculum in health education where you would be able to look at, am I really emotionally prepared to do x, y, and z?

I can tell you for sure there’s a reason that health classes don’t get into this, because parents would object ferociously. You know, it strikes me that in a way this panel turned into a (bad) group therapy session, and that’s what’s inappropriate about it. On sensitive subjects like this, particularly for this audience, it’s better to have one-on-one therapy, rather than “group think” answers like this.

As for drugs and depression, Becker gave a good answer: some people have real disorders that need to be treated with medications. Simple.

Another student asked about abstinence education, and whether it damages students’ knowledge about sex. Andee Gerhardt made a fair attempt at an answer. I think she makes a good point that abstinence is fine “as long as you’re educated about that in relation to the truth about not being abstinent.” She made an interesting point:

It sort of goes back to the 10 and 11 year olds having sex. Are they doing it because they think that they don’t have an option to not have sex? So, there’s a balance.

Indeed.

Becker gave a good answer, saying that in studies of students educated in abstinence they found that those who had chosen abstinence and those who hadn’t had the same level of STD rates (I don’t know how that worked…how can you get an STD if you’re abstinent?), because they didn’t know how to use condoms. They weren’t taught how to use them. Those who stuck to abstinence until marriage tended to marry earlier, which leads statistically to higher divorce rates. He said if you marry before you’re 25, the divorce rate is 80%. He then said this, which I’m sure parents would’ve objected to:

If you make the choice of abstinence, you’re then still obligated to learn about what to do if it should happen, and to also think about all the ramifications of waiting to have sex.

The ramifications? Like, “Oh, I guess I should have sex with my boyfriend/girlfriend, because if I don’t I’m going to get into a bad marriage.” What kind of message is that? That’s just going to encourage teens to have sex before they’re ready. I know it must be hard for kids, but the idea is to wait until you find the man or woman you can truly spend the rest of your life with, marry him/her, and then have a truly healthy sexual relationship. One of the hardest things you’ll master as a human being is your own sexuality. This is true whether you’re married or not. This idea that you should probably engage in sexual activity even with a person you don’t love, because you’ll just get yourself in hot water if you don’t is a false choice. Yet Becker just lays it out there, implicitly, as an option. Again, I think he’s being real irresponsible here. The big thing I sense is missing here is that parents really need to provide guidance to their kids about this issue. It doesn’t have to be about sexual reproduction. What I’m talking about is the importance of finding a good partner, someone who really cares about you, and you care deeply about, and only having sex with that person. Most of all parents need to teach their children what true love is, by giving them the love and attention they need when they’re young (I’m talking from the time they’re infants to age 7). It’s a bit late by the time they’re a teenager, but better late than never.

After having said this I realize I’m leaving some people out: those who are gay. Personally I’m not opposed to gay people being able to marry or have civil partnerships. That isn’t the law right now, so I understand you’re left out in the cold in this regard. I think if getting married or entering a civil partnership is a gay person’s way of pursuing happiness, the state should support it. It will promote monogamy, which is the best way to prevent the spread of STDs, promoting greater general health. There. I said it.

Sanho Tree gave a fairly reasoned response against abstinence-based education, but then he said this, which really puzzled me:

We all experiment. It’s very natural for young people to experiment with same-sex relationships. Perhaps you don’t talk about it much. A lot of people experiment and never go on to become homosexual. They go on and lead very productive lives, etcetera, etcetera.

I used to hear it was natural for young people to have homosexual feelings or thoughts. It was just a transitional psychological phase in realizing their own gender identity. I never heard about it getting to the point where kids would try out same-sex relationships, and that it was “natural”. Saying “natural” makes it sound common. I don’t think it is. But hey, if you’ve done that, but went on to become heterosexual, I’m not going to say that’s wrong or anything. To each his/her own.

A student asked about the legalization of drugs. Sanho Tree gave a decent rationalization for the legalization of some drugs (not all), though I imagine that parents will be upset that this was discussed at all. Sanho didn’t say anything about breaking laws. He took a critical look at what effect our policies have on society. Becker, being what by now I can only say is his usual irresponsible self said:

I would also vote for the legalization of most drugs. I think that we’re missing a real opportunity here to regulate something in a way that will work a lot better. I happen to live in the state of California in the city of Los Angeles, which has been described as America’s Amsterdam. We have legalized medical marijuana in the state of California. There are 110 marijuana clubs in the city of Los Angeles. There was an article on the cover of the Los Angeles Magazine that said ‘When Did LA Become, Like, the Capitol of Marijuana, Like, in the US?’ And it is. If you want to get marijuana in the city of Los Angeles, all you’ve got to do is go to a doctor who will write you a ‘script. You go to a club. You go and you buy somewhat regulated production marijuana so you know you’re not getting stuff with chemicals in it. They not only sell marijuana, they sell hash, they sell baked goods. We have brownies, we have cookies, all the things you might want, so come on over.

I imagine parents would be irate at this sort of talk, regardless of whether marijuana is “legal” in L.A. or not. In addition Becker exposed the truth of the medical marijuana law in California. In effect it’s legalization, with one hoop to go through. You get a prescription from your doctor (at least you’re supposed to by law), and you go to a “marijuana club”, and get your dose. But Becker makes it sound as easy as finding a corrupt doctor (who I guess aren’t too hard to find) who will write you a prescription for no reason at all, and you can get your stash. The law was passed to make it so that people with certain ailments that marijuana could actually help with, could get it legally. From what I’ve been hearing it’s turned into general legalization, in effect. Becker confirmed it.

Another student asked about the effects of alcohol vs. marijuana. Gerhardt gave a good answer, talking from her own experience, saying she didn’t endorse either one. Both had their downsides. Sacre gave an OK answer, talking about his experience, mainly about gauging what his body could tolerate as far as alcohol. He talked about some experiences his friends had with marijuana. Each had different reactions. He gave sort of a mixed message here, again proving the point that “medical marijuana” in California is just legalized marijuana:

When you get to 21, see how your body reacts to alcohol. You know. And when you move to Los Angeles, see how your body reacts to marijuana, you know.

Tree talked about the violence associated with alcohol abuse, and the effects of marijuana. He said that when you’re under the influence of marijuana “You’re a vegetable. It’s not good for your motivation”. I think that’s a decent message.

This part was totally unnecessary. Sacre added:

Just from a personal point of view, alcohol—maybe it’s proven or not—but I know alcohol effects my sexual ability. So it’s embarrassing to be out on a date with a lovely woman and have a couple of beers, and if, you know, we’re moving towards that—and to be unable to perform is a little embarrassing.

Yeah, like teens are really going to need to know this. Wouldn’t want any of them to be over at the house of a “super hot junior”, you know, and “not be able to perform”. Comments like this are just inexcusable. It’s inappropriate to the audience. Save it for the college crowd, guys.

Becker gave a good, responsible answer on the biological effects of marijuana. I don’t get this guy. Some of his answers were good and informative. His other answers were just awful, giving mixed up messages to the audience, particularly about sex. He said he was going to mainly talk about sexuality, since that’s what he knows more about. I thought his answers on drugs were far better than his answers on sex.

One of the last questions was one that a lot of us have heard about: “Would you have sex with someone you liked but he doesn’t love you?”

The transcript says there were sighs and groans from the panel. All of them answered “Yes”. Sacre clarified by saying he’s been devastated by having sex with a woman who didn’t love him. But he’s had other encounters that were the same, and they were “the best he’s had”. He went on:

And I’ve had sex with women that I didn’t love. And know as an adult, I am, I am able to say to a woman—and I know that when you’re older it’s a little bit different, probably—if we want to, we’re going to have sex, and she’ll say, ‘Where is this leading?’ and I’ll say, ‘Nowhere. We can have sex tonight, and if you’re not comfortable with that, then I don’t need to have sex.’ When I was a teenager, I would sometimes feel like I would die if I wouldn’t have sex. But now, it’s, like, you know what? It’s okay. We can have a great time tonight.

Hmm. Great role model (not).

Gerhardt said that in her experience it didn’t matter. It felt the same to her whether she loved the man she was with or not.

The last question (or statement) of the session was another one we’ve heard some about. This was said by Daphne White, who’s been in the news lately:

Hello. It’s actually really hard for me to get up and say this, but I feel like I have to. So, I’m extremely offended, and just by some of the things you say, and I think it’s important to understand even though this is Boulder High School, there are people who are on that have different views, and I think that this discussion has been fairly one-sided. Sorry. But some of the things that offended me were just that I think it’s inappropriate to discredit religious views on some of these issues. And I know that, Mr. Becker, you discredited abstinence, and this is something that a lot of people feel very strongly about, and I just want everyone to know that there are two sides to the argument, even though this has been fairly one-sided. And also, I noticed that you were taking some of these serious issues to be humorous, and I think that, if anything, kind of encouraging teens to kind of the opposite of what I thought this panel was supposed to be about, encouraging teens to be abstinent. So I would just state that I think that the panelists need to think about what messages they came to send. (the rest was indecipherable)

Gerhardt and Becker did a good thing by not coming back hard and being critical at Daphne, but rather validated her courage to speak her mind. Becker toned down his usual rhetoric in his response, saying that he didn’t mean to demean abstinence as a choice. He was being critical of the abstinence programs as they’re currently structured, because he said they don’t educate kids about sex. He said:

I think you’re very right for you. And I think that all the people who believe like you are right for them. But I don’t want you to tell the other people that what they are doing is wrong.

Well, at least the guy has a heart. I can tell that. I just don’t think he understood the audience he was speaking in front of. I found his comments on sex generally to be inappropriate to the audience. I would say the same about Sacre’s comments as well, though he had his moments when he was doing well.

I used to hear parents lament that children are being forced to grow up too fast. This panel encouraged just that. “Do it when you’re ready”. There’s no sense of appealing to an authority figure that they trust in their lives to help them gauge whether they’re ready or not. Research has shown that teenagers are about as impulsive in their behavior as 2-4 year-olds. You wouldn’t trust a 4-year-old to make decisions on their own, would you? Yes, teenagers need to learn about decision-making, but under a parent’s watchful eye. Responsible parents need to be the ones determining how much freedom and control over their own lives their teens deserve. Just as small children can get themselves into deep trouble that can ruin the rest of their lives, so can teenagers attempting to go it alone.

The Boulder Valley School District superintendent decided this past Wednesday to keep the Conference on World Affairs at BHS. Earlier, Boulder Valley School Board President Helayne Jones, who initially called this CWA panel “a huge mistake”, said recently that she was misled by a “vocal minority with a political or religious agenda”. She said they misrepresented what was happening in our schools. She said, “While there are portions that are more graphic than I would have preferred, the overall message of the session was not to encourage students to have sex and do drugs. The overall message was for responsible decision-making.” Er, yeah, but it encouraged the students to decide everything on their own. The full article on this is at one of the links I have towards the top of this post.

I don’t get this reaction. When Patricia Priscilla White, Daphne’s mother, read some quotes from this panel to the Boulder School Board, Board President Helayne Jones stopped her after she heard some of what was said, presumably because she considered it offensive. Mrs. White tried to continue, saying, “If the students of Boulder High can hear this, you can too,” but Jones insisted she stop. Now Jones says it was all okay. My, we have a capacity for denial, don’t we.

I went to BHS 20 years ago. I remember we had a couple assemblies with guest speakers or performers where a few inappropriate things were said. They were rare, isolated incidents. Each time this happened though, the next day our principal released a statement to the students apologizing for these things, saying that the school administrators had reviewed the event before it happened, and informed the guests of the school’s guidelines of appropriateness, and that perhaps they were misunderstood. Each time as well the statement said that had there been more inappropriate things said by the guest during the assembly, the principal would have personally stopped it early. The principal attended each assembly. That was then. The rules have most definitely changed. From what I understand, no apology has been issued by the school board or the BHS principal. And just to show how entrenched this point of view is, Linda Shoemaker, a former Boulder School Board president, said she thought this panel was just fine for the students (find the last letter to the editor on the linked page).

The school district has adopted new rules for the CWA conferences. Notes will be sent home to parents in the future, giving them the option to opt-out their students from attendance. Personally I think the panels should be opt-in. Opt-out I assume means if the parent doesn’t respond, the student is still required to go.

The sense that I get, reading the pro-CWA reaction to this, is the reason some prominent people in town have come to this panel’s defense is a direct response to the Bush Administration’s promotion of abstinence education in the public schools. They feel that not enough about sex is being taught to the students, and that forums like this are a “supplement” to the official sex education. They feel strongly enough about it they’re willing to overlook the inappropriate comments made on the panel, because they think, “This is better than no supplemental education”. I feel like this is an overreaction, though. From what I understand, the sex-ed curriculum at BHS is not an abstinence training program. So what are they missing out on by just having that?

Update 6/1/07: The O’Reilly Factor is the only nationally broadcast show I’ve heard of that is covering this. Dan Caplis of the Caplis & Silverman radio show on KHOW was on the Factor yesterday, and he said that the State of Colorado mandates abstinence sex-ed in the schools. Assuming BHS is obligated to follow those rules, my assumption above that the sex-ed at BHS is not abstinence-based is probably wrong.

I think abstinence is a good thing for unmarried teens to practice, but I also think, as Gerhardt said, that they deserve to know the truth about what they need to do if they are not abstinent. Some people consider this a mixed message as well: “We encourage you not to have sex, but if you do…”. I think that the sex-ed I had when I went to BHS was good, because it incorporated some messages about abstinence, but it talked about almost everything else as well, and it didn’t sound like a mixed message. The one exception was masturbation. Sex-ed didn’t talk about that at all, but then it was assumed at that time that, “No one needs to tell them about that. They already know what it is.”

The message we got from sex-ed 20 years ago was, “This is what sex is about: reproduction. This is how it works. These are sexually-transmitted diseases (and what that means), and here are the means available to protect yourself from them, no matter what kind of sex you’re engaged in. If you contract one of these diseases, here is how they are treated (if that’s possible). Some STDs are incurable. These are contraceptives against pregnancy. Here’s how you should use them if you engage in intercourse. Just because a girl is taking ‘the pill’ does not mean men boys don’t need to wear condoms. This protects against pregnancy and STDs. Monogamy is one of the ways you can protect yourself against STDs. The safest sex is no sex. If you want to be absolutely sure you will not get pregnant or catch an STD, don’t engage in sexual activity.” There was also a session with school counselors about dealing with romantic relationships in your teens. That was it in a nutshell. The emphasis was on anatomy/biology, and health issues. It did not get into values. The emphasis was on if you choose to engage in sexual activity. As I indicated there were some messages encouraging teens to not have sex. There were certainly no messages encouraging teens to have sex. There were some things implied but never said, but I’m sure we all got it anyway: We are not going to get involved in your personal life. That’s between you, your partner (if you have one), and your parents. We are going to arm you with all the information you need to understand the consequences of your actions, if you engage in sexual activity. I thought this was a good approach, because then if us teens were thinking of becoming sexually active, we at least had the opportunity to think about what that really means. It’s knowledge that we were able to use later in life as well so we didn’t go into adulthood ignorant of some things. Not all high school graduates go on to college. While universities offer sex-ed classes of their own (the one I went to did, anyway), not everyone takes them. They’re optional.

Sex-ed in high school is not, and should not, be a means of getting teens to become sexually active. It’s the last institutional opportunity they have to get educated about their own bodies before they go out into the real world.


Update on Polk

February 28, 2007

The Daily Camera reported earlier this month that there were problems with the case against Boulder City Councilman Richard Polk, and that he plea bargained to reckless driving, a misdemeanor. The problems according to the prosecutor, David Cheval, were that the stop may not have been legal in the first place, and the results of the roadside test Polk was given, plus a urine test, showed that Polk was not impaired by marijuana. The question I have from this is was Polk impaired by alcohol? When the incident was first reported, the Camera said that he admitted to having had “a glass of wine” before getting in his car. The prosecutor suggested prescription drugs Polk was taking may have been to blame, though this hasn’t been confirmed. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to bother analyzing further what was in his system.

The reason Cheval said the stop may have been illegal is that Polk’s driving was not affecting any other cars on the road at the time. He also conflated “straddling traffic lanes” (a term used in the police report) to “swerving once” over the center line. He didn’t think he had a case that he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt, so he didn’t pursue a DUI case.

What’s been undisclosed is what the deal is with the marijuana that was found in the car. Last I checked, marijuana possession is still illegal in Colorado, unless the person possessing it has medical authorization for it. It sounds like this matter isn’t even being pursued. Is marijuana possession of any amount legal in Boulder? The Camera has been a bit confused about the amount. When they first reported it they said there were “a couple bags” of it. This time they said it was in “a baggie” (note the singular).

The picture the prosecutor is painting is of an overzealous police officer, or perhaps one trying to fill his quota of tickets. Polk just happened to fall in his net and it turned into a bigger problem than he anticipated. The plea to reckless driving sounds like a compromise, like I imagine many plea bargains are. The prosecutor hasn’t established that the stop was in fact illegal. He “questioned” it. That seems to be as far as that’s gotten. I think that’s uncalled for. If he’s going to question the stop, he should question just about every traffic stop. A lot of them are for minor infractions like this. They occur even when no other traffic is around. It’s not uncommon. Anyway, Cheval left that in murky waters, and he and Polk agreed to the reckless driving charge.

The prosecutor has not pursued a complete investigation, and is willing to leave some loose ends. Maybe the Camera is trying to respect Polk’s privacy, but it appears to me the elephant in the room that’s being ignored is the marijuana possession. What they’ve established at least is Polk wasn’t driving while impaired by it.

I don’t know what really happened. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what was going through Polk’s head as he went driving that night. If we know all of the facts here, I don’t blame the police officer for doing any of what he did. It sounded pretty routine to me. In years past I’ve seen police stop people for minor infractions on the level of what Polk did. It’s not fair, because the law is enforced so inconsistently, but it’s nothing new. Maybe all Polk was doing was trying to find a house on the other side of the street he was driving on. I know when I’ve driven down Pine it’s hard for me to see the signs on cross streets at night. I’ve swerved a few times so I can shine my lights on the signs so I can see them. I’ve done so carefully, of course, so as to not endanger other traffic. Would that rise to the level of a reckless driving charge, though? I would think all that would call for is a ticket; not the points, the fine of a few hundred dollars, and the community service. What’s up with that? It seems to me Cheval is going out of his way not to charge Polk with drug posession. He’s found a charge that on its face is overkill, but seems to fit the severity and combination of violations (the violation of traffic rules, and drug possession), but with a different label on it. Is Polk getting special treatment? I wonder.

Meanwhile Polk went through “drug education” and is seeing a counselor regularly. Something tells me this isn’t enough. I’m not talking about any sort of punishment. He was found with marijuana in the car with him and a warm pipe. Does that say “drug addict” to you?

The City Council is investigating whether what Polk has been charged with rises to the level of a “crime or felony”, which is the wording of the section of the City Charter that deals with ousting a City Council member. Given what Polk actually did, I wouldn’t boot him for his driving, but rather his drug possession. But then, we’re not supposed to talk about that, are we.