Saturday, April 04, 2009

Banning Picasso at the Lapin Agile, part 18...the canard of divisiveness

It appears that the committee to review the school district policy regarding play selection at LHS will be encouraged to focus not on play content but on the process by which plays are selected. This policy orientation does not, at least in the minds of those organizing and running the committee, necessitate a further or final look at the production of Picasso, since in their minds the question is no longer, "Did we make the right decisionn?"; rather, it is the question, "How do we avoid this kind of divisiveness in the future?". The hope seems to be that there might be a policy and process-driven path to the latter question. The further hope seems to be that this committee can carry out its work without focusing on issues of content, specifically in this case, the content of Picasso.

On the surface, this seems like a perfectly reasonable intention, but it reveals I think an embrace of a fallacious way of thinking. Divisive is an interesting term. It denotes both discord and disagreement. The former sense conjures an atmosphere of mistrust and machiavellianism. The latter sense merely denotes a diverse range of perspectives...conflict, controversy.

The role of theater arts in high education ought not to have anything to do with promoting discord or mistrust; on the other hand, it is legitimately concerned with exploring conflict and controversy among other things.

So when we seek to avoid divisiveness in the community; we should be careful not to throw out the baby Diversity with the bath water of Discord. We should not get gun shy at the first sign of discontent and reflexively clamp down on expression. The potential for mischief here is enormous. It will likely be exploited by people who understand the asymmetrical nature public discourse. A small but well organized group of people can instantly create an atmosphere of discord, then sit back and lay the problem at the feet of the community at large which in the spirit of avoiding divisiveness will appease them. The net result of such a situation is the ability of a single element in a community to veto artistic projects by playing the card of divisiveness.

Ultimately, artitistic projects are inseparable from content. We entrust people in whom we have confidence to make sound educational choices for kids. It would appear that this trust has been called into question by some as a result of the Picasso affair. I know that there are some on the committee who would dispute this and who would point to other past productions which have triggered complaints, albeit less vocal and less high profile. They say that we just need a better process. To those people I would propose a simple thought experiment: What if I had chosen Our Town last December? Would there be a committee today?

This is why it's important that people on all sides of this issue go see the play. It's not about flogging a dead horse though I recognize that some people would like to see this subject go away. There are facts that have yet to be collected. Facts about whether this theatrical experience did in fact turn out to be a worthwhile educational experience for the young people who were involved. For all the high flown rhetoric about what is good and appropriate for kids, there has been precious little attention paid to the actual experience these kids have had, are having, and will have had by the time the show closes on May 18. To pretend that their actual experiences have little or nothing to contribute to the policy discussions of this committee is a strange way of trying serve their needs.

What is needed, I think, is an attempt at building a consensus in the community on the virtues of diverse forms of expression, and on the core value of excellence in all such forms. It is essential that the widest possible range of artistic expressions be afforded to our students, but it is equally essential that those endeavors be carried out with integrity. If people come to the show, they will see a production put on by high school age kids, amateur theater to be sure, but they will see, I predict, young men and women giving of themselves in a way that the adults of this community would do well to consider and reflect upon.

That's not to say that everyone will like it. But we can live with that, right?

Please come.


Anonymous Linda D said...

Thanks Kevin for bringing up what the students involved are getting out of it. This is not an easy play to produce or perform and the group of students involved in this are learning much more than the memorization of lines. It not performed right the humor and wit will be lost (the few weak reviews I have read about this play compared to the many good reviews were because of the acting and directing). The characters in this play are people in everyday life that our students have already crossed paths with and will see more of as they leave their nests. The old guy, preoccupied with sex probably because as you age things don't work as well, especially if you are drinking a lot. The waitress, who has probably had a hard life and through her experiences just "knows" about what is going on around her, always with a thirst to keep learning (even though she is stuck working in a bar). A young lady, who is easily swooned, who thinks she's in control of her life (but seems a little naive). The realization that many of our inventors and artists are creative, intelligent people who sometimes lacking in other area's (but what would our world be without them?). The witty remarks and humor are thrown in to keep us awake and thinking and maybe to help us laugh with the characters (humor and the ability to laugh is good for your health)as they try to see outside themselves. Isn't this part of education to understand that there are all kinds of people in this world? How do we learn tolerance of differences without exposure to a variety of idea's? Since the play was banned from the high school I have tried to understand the perspective "from other points of view". Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe I was suppose to protect my kids from the outside world...maybe by exposing them to "real life" situations (like my brother dying from alcoholism on the streets) I've somehow hardened their view of life (or by exposing them fear that they may make that choice?). No, I believe that exposure to different idea's and people only strengthens someones own value's. Back to the play, when Sara wanted to try out for it my husband and I thought for a second "wow, that's a little spicy". But not once did we questions Sara's ability to handle this play or think that the high school students that came to watch couldn't handle this (many high schools place the rating of PG13 on this type play, whether it is for adult content or even the ability to get the humor and witty remarks). The "blanding down" of education creates the risk of "losing" the population of students who are already thinking "outside of the box". Thanks Kevin for your time and for helping to challenge your students to always keep learning.

1:01 PM  

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