pageok
pageok
pageok
W.H. Auden 1, "The Pristine Words Only Academy" 0:

Jacob Behymer-Smith is a ninth-grader at the Coral Academy of Science, a public charter school in Nevada. He's participating in the Poetry Out Loud contest, which is run by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, and in which high school students compete at reciting a great poem that they've memorized. Behymer-Smith chose W.H. Auden's The More Loving One; so far, he's progressed from his school competition to a district-wide competition, in which he placed first. On April 22, he'll be competing in the Nevada statewide competition. You'd think that the Coral Academy's officials would be happy for him, and would be trying to support him.

You'd be mistaken, because -- horror of horrors -- Auden's poem, it turns out, contains unspeakable vulgarities. To be precise, it contains the words "hell" ("Looking up at the stars, I know quite well / That, for all they care, I can go to hell") and "damn" ("Admirer as I think I am / Of stars that do not give a damn"). That, the Dean of Students at the Coral Academy opined, is "inappropriate language," as opposed to the "pristine language" (her words) that she thinks ought to be presented to the school's students.

And because of this, the school insisted on April 7, Jacob couldn't perform his poem. Not at the school; that happened already, which is what prompted the Dean of Students' initial "pristine[ness]" objection. No, school officials said, Jacob is prohibited from speak the words "hell" and "damn" at the district-wide competition at the Governor's Mansion in Carson City, on a Saturday. Instead, the officials said, Jacob should choose another poem to recite there -- 15 days after their order -- though Jacob reports (not implausibly) that he practiced his chosen poem twice a day for more than two months. (Recall that the competition is all about quality of performance, since the students are supposed to recite poems they didn't write; it stands to reason that this quality would be closely connected to practice time.)

Fortunately, a federal district court (hat tip: How Appealing) issued an order on Thursday temporarily enjoining the school's prohibition, and thus preventing the school from retaliating against Jacob for his performance on the 22nd. The event, the court pointed out, isn't a school-sponsored curricular activity: The school plays a role in the competition, but the coming event is off school grounds, outside school time, and run by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation, not by the school. The court also held that this speech isn't the sort of "lewd" and "vulgar and offensive" speech that the Supreme Court has held that schools have the power to restrict (at least on-campus). And there was no reason at all to think that the speech would disrupt the school's educational mission, the one remaining theory under which the speech of public school students can be restricted.

I suppose that if I were the school's lawyer, I could come up with a nonfrivolous argument justifying the school's actions: I'd have to say that the winner of the schoolwide phase of the competition becomes the school's representative at further stages of the competition, and the school is entitled to make sure that its representative conveys a "pristine" image. (Winning students' schools get prizes, alongside the prizes given to the student.)

But while this isn't a frivolous argument, it surely is a weak one. The coming phases of the contest are not run by the school. The phases at the school are supposed to be judged on the student's qualities as a reciter; they aren't an endorsement of the merits of the poem. (The recited poem is selected by each student from an anthology prepared by the contest organizers.) The student competes on his own; it seems to me a stretch to say that he's the voice of the school -- and thus properly under the school's control -- in any meaningful way. The court was, I think, right to say that the First Amendment denies the school any power to restrict what the student says outside school hours, off school property, while quoting a poem.

And even setting aside the constitutional issue, what was the school administration thinking? How could it have fallen into this unintentional parody of high school administators' narrowmindedness?

Can modern literature -- and I'm not even talking about the racier stuff -- even be taught with an insistence that all one's language be "pristine"? (I'll even give the school the benefit of the doubt and assume that their objection isn't to the words "damn" and "hell" as such, or else there goes Paradise Lost, but to the words used in nontheological senses.) And what kind of lesson in loyalty is it when a school undermines a winning student who's gone on to compete at higher levels, instead of supporting him?

Even if in a perfect world, the Coral Academy's students would never let a hell or a damn pass their lips (again, except in a theological context), where is the school's sense of perspective? Their sense that there are places where the school's writ does not run? That there are works of literature for which exceptions should be made, even assuming the rule is in principle a good one? That when a student has done well, you should cheer him on rather than trying to block him?

Donald Kahn (mail):
I could imagine such an attitude at the equivalent of Bob Jones University; but in a public high school, truly amazing!
4.15.2006 4:34am
MadVeterinarian (mail):
Dr. Volokh,
I enjoy your posts, and I was curious if you had any input on this case regarding the 8th amendment.
4.15.2006 4:34am
pgepps (www):
I went to a high school very much in the BJU mode, and indeed for two years to BJU. I can assure you that (a) there would have been adequate oversight to ensure that the student didn't pick an "inappropriate" poem in the first place, and (b) there would almost certainly have been no attempts to retroactively stifle what someone had approved. There, as here, such absurdity would be a fluke of someone's prissiness overwhelming their academic and institutional good sense.

Cheers,
PGE
4.15.2006 4:41am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
He could do the Houseman's pristine-word-chocked Nettle poem

(they're sowing)
'Tis little matter
What are the sorts they sow
For only one will grow,...
The charlock on the fallow...
will not twice arise.
The stinging nettle only
Will be sure to stand...
It peoples towns, and towers
About the courts of kings.

A poem Wm. Empson says gives bad advice but is one of Houseman's finest.
4.15.2006 8:14am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
On the poetry-as-pristine front, I remember Wayne Booth writing about the ``poetic annex'' to Ogden's Basic English that he received from the State Department, a list of 100 words that you'd need to read poetry. It started

angel, arrow, beast, blind, bow, breast, bride, brow, bud, calm, child, cross, crown, curse, dawn, delight, dew, dove, dream

as you can find at http://ogden.basic-english.org/intlword.html

No damns or hells.
4.15.2006 9:17am
Cornellian (mail):
They should be glad the kid didn't pick Allen Ginsberg's "Howl."
4.15.2006 9:50am
Freder Frederson (mail):
And so the worm turns. Yesterday, you were ranting about the lefties suppressing free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Yet today, here we are, and we clearly see that the right doesn't even like particular words like "h" "e" double hockey sticks. How precious.
4.15.2006 10:00am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Maybe next year Philip Larkin will be a student's choice:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad;
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
That was always a good ice-breaker for the first day of poetry in English 101.
4.15.2006 10:39am
AppSocRes (mail):
e e cummings's "the boys i mean are not refined" would probably not pass muster, either. (perhaps his " she being Brand / -- new" would or Henry Reed's "Naming of Parts")

The bizarre thing here is that after searching the school's web site, I could not find any particular explicitly stated agenda except an obvioius commitment to old-fashioned academic excellence. Neither religion nor politics seems to be behind this absurdity.
4.15.2006 11:03am
tomawesome (www):
this issue is about making up the rules as you go. if "non-pristine" words were not going to be allowed, that should have been clear up front -- before the kid spent two months honing and perfecting his delivery. on top of that, he should not have been allowed to win any level of the competition. because that did not occur, the kid is entitled to continue.
4.15.2006 11:03am
Ken Arromdee:
Yesterday, you were ranting about the lefties suppressing free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Yet today, here we are, and we clearly see that the right doesn't even like particular words like "h" "e" double hockey sticks. How precious.

What gives you the idea that any of the people involved are right-wingers? Did someone say "you can't say 'hell' because it's critical of George W. Bush"?
4.15.2006 11:12am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Freder Frederson: I'm not getting the part about the "worm." Yesterday I was talking about generally left-wing suppression of speech. (I didn't think it was quite "ranting," but, hey, your call.) Today I'm talking about what is probably best described as right-wing suppression of speech (since it's historically been the right wing that has aimed to restrict profanity, especially religiously themed profanity).

Maybe it's because I'm annoyed by speech restrictions whether from the left or from the right -- I'd have thought this was good. So what's "precious" (not in a good way, I take it) about this? And, again, what's with the "worm"?
4.15.2006 12:28pm
James Lindgren (mail):
At the University of Chicago's Laboratory School, one of the better high schools in Illinois, my daughter was given an interesting assignment for a short essay on Catcher in the Rye.

This is not a direct quote, but the assignment (for HS freshman or sophomores) was something like this:

When Holden first sees the word "Fuck" written on the wall, what does he think?
As the book progresses and he sees "Fuck" written again, how do his feelings change?
4.15.2006 1:24pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Am I the only one that thinks Catcher in the Rye is way overrated?
4.15.2006 2:10pm
SG:
Freder,
There's been no determinatoin of the Coral Academy of Science's political viewpoint, and the largely same people who were concerned about suppression of free speech yesterday in a different context continue to be concerned about it in this context. There's nothing that even resembles hypocrisy at play here.

You have raised a question about your reading comprehension and logical reasoning abilities, however.
4.15.2006 2:23pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
No, JohnAnnArbor, you're not.
4.15.2006 2:24pm
SG:
Freder,

For sake of argument, suppose you had correctly identified hypocrisy. Would that justify or excuse either case of suppression? If so, which one? If not, how is it relevant?
4.15.2006 2:39pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Maybe it's because I'm annoyed by speech restrictions whether from the left or from the right -- I'd have thought this was good. So what's "precious" (not in a good way, I take it) about this? And, again, what's with the "worm"?

Well, the vast majority of your complaints about speech restrictions seem to dwell on suppression of right-wing speech, which you seem to believe is in great danger on our college campuses. Frankly, I think this is bunk and is being used as a weapon not to encourage free speech, but rather suppress left wing speech.
4.15.2006 2:49pm
btorrez (mail):
Freder

Like the left wing speech that was suppressed the other day at the University of Northern Kentucky,when Professor Sally Jacobsen led her charges on a mission to destroy an anti-abortion display? Something tells me that she will, at best, be given a slap on the wrist, and that whole departments at that and other fine institutions of higher learning will come to her aid for being brave and outspoken.
4.15.2006 3:08pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Is Volokh saying that the school cannot exercise any editorial discretion over what sort of poetry is used to represent the school? It seems to me that poetry could be inappropriate for a lot of reasons.

My daughter attends a public school run by left-wingers, and she was prohibited from performing a dance to the sound of a popular song that includes the phrase "kiss my ass". Do I have a constitutional case against the school?
4.15.2006 3:18pm
Hattio (mail):
So, I'm fairly certain some enterprising student could find a "pristine" (in the sense of no curse words) Bukowski poem about sex, drinking, drugs, prostitutes etc. I wonder if the school principal would appreciate the "pristine" nature of the words themselves?
4.15.2006 3:38pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
You're a funny one, Mr. Frederson! I criticize left-wing speech restrictions, and you disapprove for some reason (plus think that I'm "ranting," where here I thought I was making a fairly well-reasoned argument). You also think that my criticisms are being used as a weapon to "suppress left wing speech," though it's hard for me to see how this is so. Generally, protecting one kind of speech tends to increase legal protections for other kinds of speech, just the way First Amendment precedents work.

But then when I criticize right-wing speech restrictions -- for further examples, see my criticisms of discrimination against atheist speech, restrictions on profanities on bumper stickers, attempted punishment of harsh criticism of the Bush Administration, and more -- that's somehow bad, too, for some reason. It's "precious," plus the "worm turns," whatever that means. (Might I ask you again to explain that, by the way?)

So my criticisms of right-wing speech restrictions are bad. My criticisms of left-wing speech restrictions are bad. I'm a First Amendment law professor, so I'd think it would make sense that I would discuss speech restrictions, but I guess I'm just wrong (for unspecified substantive reasons) no matter which restrictions I talk about. I just can't seem to win with you, Mr. Frederson.
4.15.2006 3:40pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, I think if you can pull a children's book saying some nice things about Cuba, you could set language standards for the poetry read in such a contest.

I think both are foolish, but a school can make these calls and one hopes is accountable for them.
4.15.2006 3:42pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Frank: Could you elaborate on that argument, please? I'm not sure that there's that close an analogy between (1) a school's choosing to remove a book from its own library shelves -- especially a book aimed at 5-to-7-year-olds -- and (2) a school's ordering a high school student not to say something on a Saturday in a different city in an event that isn't run by the school (though the first phase of the event had been run by the school). The closer analogy, I think, would be if a school ordered its high school students not to present papers on Cuba in a geography contest held on a Saturday outside school grounds, and organized by an outside group. I'm pretty sure that would have been unconstitutional, no?
4.15.2006 3:55pm
k parker (mail):
What Gabriel Malor said.
4.15.2006 4:08pm
John (mail):
For those who are interested, Coral Academy is a charter school, not a private school, which is why, I suppose, the First Amendment comes up.

I was interested that the plaintiff was being acted for by a gaurdian ad litem in the suit. Does anyone know why?
4.15.2006 4:24pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Roger: If your daughter was ordered not to dance to that song on a Saturday, in a different city, at an event that's not sponsored by the school, then, yes, you'd have a First Amendment case against the school.

More broadly, my post wasn't just about the First Amendment, but about the administration's lack of a sense of perspective, and lack of support for its students. Any thoughts on that?
4.15.2006 4:25pm
justwondering (mail):
(The recited poem is selected by each student from an anthology prepared by the contest organizers.)


Isn't this the best (nonlegal) argument in the student's favor? How can he possibly be faulted for selecting a poem preapproved by the contest organizers?
4.15.2006 4:28pm
frankcross (mail):
I'm certainly not saying that the two are precisely parallel. But they share similarity in that the school district in its judgment is saying that students should not receive certain messages. On the Cuba book, I thought the consensus was that school districts had discretion to decide what was in the best interests of their students.

Now, there is an obvious difference between grade schoolers and high schoolers. And that surely implicates our assessment of the wisdom of the school's decision. But is it a difference of kind? Perhaps one could say that we should not defer to the school district's decision as students age. But that seems to be the core issue. Should we say that school districts no longer have the ability to set standards for high schoolers?
4.15.2006 5:01pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Frank: Indee, let's assume the age doesn't make a constitutional difference (a plausible assumption).

In the school library book removal incident, the school is saying that it doesn't want certain messages conveyed to its students using books that it owns, in the school library that it owns and runs.

In the poetry recitation contest incident, the school is saying that it doesn't want its students to convey certain words to others, on a nonschool day, outside school premises, in an event that isn't run by the school. Seems to me like a pretty big difference, no?
4.15.2006 5:05pm
Oledrunk (mail):
Requiring words to be pristine might be a mistake. Some ancient anglo-saxon expressions are pristine in the literal sense of the word.
4.15.2006 5:38pm
anonymous coward:
Catcher in the Rye is certainly overrated, but it's still terrific reading material for bright 9th-11th graders. I quite like the assignment Prof. Lindgren's daughter had--tricking the kids into doing a close reading.

I cannot see the form of speech restriction in this post is "right-wing"--pristine language is just an obsession of certain people, likely to be school teachers, across the political spectrum.
4.15.2006 6:03pm
frankcross (mail):
That is a difference, though I inferred that the student was presenting as a representative of the school, which would imply the school's endorsement of the contents of the presentation, perhaps more so than maintaining a book in a library.
4.15.2006 6:44pm
Anon. (mail):
Can't we put the constitutional issue aside and get back to what was clearly Eugene's purpose in the post: to reminding us just how petty and, well, uneducated, school officials can be? Even if there were no constitutional violation here, and even if this poetry event were held on campus, there is something astonishing, isn't there, about educators thinking teen ears unfit to hear W.H. Auden? W.H. Auden! My goodness, we're talking about one of the most beautiful and remarkable poets of the past century.
4.15.2006 7:42pm
Hank:
It's not just astonishing that these educators think teen ears unfit to hear W.H. Auden. It is astonishing that they think teen ears unfit to hear "hell" and "damn," in any context -- or "fuck" or "shit," for that matter. Kids hear those words all the time, and have never been harmed by them. And they quickly learn the contexts in which they are inappropriate. Adults who get upset by Bono's "fucking brilliant" remark and Janet Jackson's breast are the ones who are acting like children -- they act as if certain words and body parts have magical power. The "harmful to minors" statutes that deny minors access to pornography would more accurately be called "embarrassing to parents" statutes.
4.15.2006 8:07pm
Can't find a good name:
John: Most likely the plaintiff is represented by a guardian ad litem in the case simply because he is a minor. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) provides that "An infant or incompetent person who does not have a duly appointed representative may sue by a next friend or by a guardian ad litem." Given that the plaintiff's surname is Behymer-Smith, and the guardian ad litem's name is Patience Behymer, I'm guessing the guardian ad litem is the plaintiff's mother.

I can't find the applicable law or rule which would provide whether the plaintiff as a minor would have been allowed to bring the suit in his own name with no guardian ad litem involved.
4.15.2006 10:00pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
My recollection is that, 40+ years ago, when most h.s. poetry classes WEREN'T yet seriously looking at Ginsberg and McClure (because I remember getting hassled at my fairly progressive h.s. for reading a (relatively mild) McClue poem which included the word "orgasm"), the then-approved Norton Anthology included the following bit of humorous doggrel from Ezra Pound:

Winter is Icummen in
(Ezra Pound)

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, tis why I am,
Goddamm.
So 'gainst the winter's balm
Sing Goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm
Sing Goddamm, sing Goddamm,
DAMM.


I thought it a little precious, even then. Apparently, it's still scandalous somewhere.
4.15.2006 11:42pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

And even setting aside the constitutional issue, what was the school administration thinking? How could it have fallen into this unintentional parody of high school administators' narrowmindedness?


Professional training, post-graduate education, and years of on the job experience.
4.16.2006 12:00am
Dirty Thirty-First:
"worm turns"

http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/22/messages/97.html

http://www.bartleby.com/59/3/wormturns.html
4.16.2006 12:23am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
"THE WORM TURNS - "Someone previously downtrodden gets his revenge; an unfavorable situation is reversed. The saying represents an evolution of the old proverb, 'Tread on a worm and it will turn."

Thanks, Dirty. And, Freder, what in God's name is the relevance of this to EV's post?
4.16.2006 1:31am
Brian G (mail) (www):
It's a shame he didn't use an expletive and Bush in the same sentence, or racially slur Clarence Thomas. He'd be up for every school award there is.
4.16.2006 2:23am
Porkchop (mail):
Hank wrote:


Kids hear those words all the time, and have never been harmed by them. And they quickly learn the contexts in which they are inappropriate.


I certainly agree that kids hear those words all the time, but I disagree about them learning the contexts in which they are inappropriate. Teenagers (I have had three), have a tendency to carry over their rather coarse speech among themselves into inappropriate contexts, as in "Fuck, it's nice to see you, Grandma!" or "Fucking good campaign speech, Mr. President!" I think that you can see that this is problematic for parents. While I disagree entirely with the school's actions, I think I understand its motivations.
4.16.2006 9:30am
Cornellian (mail):
I certainly agree that kids hear those words all the time, but I disagree about them learning the contexts in which they are inappropriate. Teenagers (I have had three), have a tendency to carry over their rather coarse speech among themselves into inappropriate contexts, as in "Fuck, it's nice to see you, Grandma!" or "Fucking good campaign speech, Mr. President!"

I've noticed at some point between graduation from high school and graduation from college, teenagers just somehow come to realize that they way they spoke in high school is not the way they will be able to speak as adults. Only the truely clueless undergrad thinks he can go into a job interview with "hey, Dude!" just because that's the way he greeted people in high school. That's just part of growing up and there's bound to be a few incidents along the way, sort of like a boy's voice cracking during puberty.
4.16.2006 1:36pm
The Monster (mail):
Well, since Coral Academy is a private institution, in my mind it becomes a question of the contract they have with Jacob's parent(s). Provided that the contract permits them to expel him from the academy at any time for whatever reason the administration may have, a court should not be able to intervene. By the same token, parents who disagree with their policies are free to take their children and tuition elsewhere. Presumably, Jacob's mother liked the policies of Coral Academy when she chose to send her son there. Now she wants the benefits of other students following those policies without the cost of her own son doing so.
Were it a public school, receiving tax money extracted by force, it would be an entirely different matter. Taxpayers' money attends those schools whether they choose to send their children along or not.
4.16.2006 3:16pm
Hank:
I've never heard a teenager say, "Fuck, it's nice to see you, Grandma!," but, if one did, I strongly suspect that it would be the only time he or she did. As I said, they quickly learn the contexts in which such words are inappropriate.
4.16.2006 3:23pm
Shangui (mail):
It's a shame he didn't use an expletive and Bush in the same sentence, or racially slur Clarence Thomas. He'd be up for every school award there is.

I realize this would fit your notion of liberal teachers warping our kids, but a number of kids have been expelled in recent years for wearing shirts, etc. that object to Bush, the War on Iraq, etc. Could you give a single example of any student winning an award for either of these things? If not, then retract the comment. Thanks!
4.16.2006 6:24pm
John R. Mayne (mail):
It's almost self-satirizing. My initial impression was that the school has a somewhat better legal case than Professor Volokh believes (though, obviously, I'm inclined to rethink given Eugene's views.)

Did these people attend junior high school? Law firms have less obscenity than junior high schools. To think that either a high school student or his audience will be shocked by this seems seriously misguided.

I'm for some restraint generally. A local junior high school puts on a performance each year to 1980's hits; I wouldn't be having a 13-year-old girl singing and dancing "Mickey" by Toni Basil.

But let's draw the lines where they need to be. "Damn" and "hell," especially in this context? The line's way past that for high school students.

--JRM
4.16.2006 8:12pm
Elliot123 (mail):
If the students must choose a poem from an anthology compiled by the contest organizers, it's reasonable to ask the school administration why it did not review that anthology for content it didn't like when the anthology was issued.

I don't think that would really change the substance of the issue, but if an administration has set certain standards, we might ask why they don't do a competent job of administering them.
4.16.2006 8:32pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The Monster: This is a public school, not a private school.

Shangui: Can you point to the specific instances in which "a number of kids have been expelled in recent years for wearing shirts, etc. that object to Bush, the War on Iraq, etc.," especially expelled from public schools such as this one? I thought I'd been following such matters closely, but I don't think I've heard of any such expulsions.
4.16.2006 11:09pm
ReaderY:
I take it "The Divine Comedy" is not taught at this school -- at any rate, not Part I?
4.17.2006 12:57am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Maybe he should instead recite from a play, one written in rhyming verse? I was thinking of John Wilmot's "Sodom, or the Quintesence of Debachery." Wilmot was the filthiest playwright of the Restoration, and he published it anonymously ... lest it injure his reputation.

I recall the opening lines, as King Bolloxinion intones

Now in the zenith of my lust I reign
I eat to swive, and swive to eat again
....
My subjects shall be free!
My pintle shall my only sceptre be.
4.17.2006 1:36am
Sarah (mail) (www):
It sounds to me as though the school is trying to exercise authority after the fact, because they're upset over what happened when they weren't paying attention. The anthology, according to the website, has (or will have) 400 poems in it altogether; I imagine that no one said "let's have a read-through of the entire book to make sure there are no bad words" but clearly, more than one said "let's make sure that that student doesn't recite those words while representing us" after the kid had already recited it on the school grounds. I think they're trying to make up for what they see as the kid going too far; they're being kind of dumb about it, but you know, my (public) university can and does kick students out for engaging in criminal conduct off-campus (usually they limit that to brawling and rioting after football games in the campus area.) I'm not so sure this overreach is particularly unusual for educators, even at the high school and university level. The fact that it's a charter school mostly just means that the top administrators don't have a community and school board to answer to, at least not the same way a public high school's administrators would. They're used to doing things their own way, and are probably quite shocked at the idea that the student would decline to follow their instructions, let alone take them to court.

If anything, the school may be more motivated by a sense of "what is and is not proper for a teenager to be formally reciting in public" and "ways to avoid embarassing oneself in front of adults who can affect your future" than any moral prohibition on swearing. The school seems quite focused on this whole "preparing students to take on the world" notion (judging from their website) and this may have been motivated as much by a concern for the student's welfare (in the sense of his public image) as the school's.

Plus, you know, the standard charter/private school concern: some parents might be offended and choose not to enroll their children if we don't do something.
4.17.2006 4:25am
Sarah (mail) (www):
I meant to add, the CAS student handbook does mention swearing:


Hallways and Bathrooms are areas used by all members of CAS. PLEASE DO NOT
-- Loiter in the halls, lunchroom, or bathrooms.
-- Eat in the bathrooms.
-- Chew gum anywhere on campus.
-- Run in the halls, lunchroom, or bathrooms.
-- Use any profane or vulgar language while in these areas, or within the school environment.
-- Yell, scream, hit lockers or otherwise make excessive noise while in these areas.
-- Leave belongings or litter on the floor.
-- Roughhouse, push, or wrestle.
-- Be in the above areas without a pass during class time.
-- Vandalize, leave unclean, or write in bathrooms.
-- Public displays of affections exceeding a friendly gesture.

Consequences will be given for breaking any of the above-mentioned rules.


The student broke the rules; it's conceivable this whole "you have to read a different poem" was decided upon as the consequence for violating that particular rule.
4.17.2006 4:30am
Porkchop (mail):
Sarah wrote:


The student broke the rules; it's conceivable this whole "you have to read a different poem" was decided upon as the consequence for violating that particular rule.

But according to the original post, he won his school competition. It makes little sense to me that the school would choose a rule-breaking recitation as the winner in the first place. This sounds more like some kind of after-the-fact decision to me. Maybe one of the losers(' parents) complained about the recitation to the school administrators? Or maybe the English department takes a more liberal view of the rules than the administration? Who were the judges in the school competition?
4.17.2006 3:08pm
NickM (mail) (www):
And now, the 9th grade English class will read from Huckleberry Finn until the Dean's head explodes.

Nick
4.17.2006 6:47pm
AGENT:
You can find these e-mail addresses sprinkled throughout the website. I would suggest e-mailing whoever you think deserves it.

Board of Trustees:
ftaban@unr.nevada.edu
dkhan@sppc.com
a_akturk@yahoo.com
pekelomer@hotmail.com
wildwinkie2@aol.com

General info:
info@coralacademy.org

Principal:
bkaraduman@coralacademy.org

Dean of Students:
cheryl@coralacademy.org

English Teachers:
andrea@coralacademy.org
jennifer@coralacademy.org
linda@coralacademy.org
marisa@coralacademy.org
thomas@coralacademy.org

"Project coordinator":
acar@coralacademy.org

I know that my e-mail (CC'd to all of the above) will concentrate on why this poor student is omitted from their homepage headlines of student achievements (Science fairs, "word power challenge"). He certainly seems to deserve that recognition at least.

Furthermore, maybe VC readers can do more than just increase the number of hits this site will get this month.
4.17.2006 7:25pm
Bored Lawyer:

The recited poem is selected by each student from an anthology prepared by the contest organizers.)


Isn't this the best (nonlegal) argument in the student's favor? How can he possibly be faulted for selecting a poem preapproved by the contest organizers?



Yes, this is the best non-legal argument.

In legalese, one would use the terms "acquiescence" or "equitable estoppel." Arguably there is also promissory estoppel, a cousin to contract.

The school, having hosted the local installment of a national contest and adopted its rules, including the anthology of approved poems, is now equitably estopped from ruling otherwise.

(Prof. Volokh, does the rule that one determines a case on non-Constitutional grounds where possible still hold?)
4.17.2006 11:23pm
Clarification Queen:
Eugene Volokh and readers,
Please view the local news stories about these events as they might clarify the situation. The administration had/has a problem with the Auden poem; however the concern was limited to the administration. Jacob received support from other teachers throughout the school (one testified against the administration).

4/12/06 Reno Gazette

4/13/06 Reno Gazette

4/14/06 Reno Gazette
4.17.2006 11:31pm
Paula Helm Murray (mail):
the school sounds like it wants to have it's cake and eat it too. What a bunch of idiots.

The kid read a poem from an apprved by the compeition list, if the school thought some of the poems were obscene, could't they have pre-screened and at least told THEIR students, "You MUST NOT present s, t, u, v, x, y or z because they violate our school's rules on language.'

Apparently they allowed him to do it at the school level competition without dinging him. So the whole thing sounds totally hypocritical and stupid. they need a mind-wash. I'm glad he gets to perform at the higher level. And the school officials need to be forced to pay his court costs out of their own friggin pockets.
4.18.2006 2:09am
AGENT:
In my post above, I listed the e-mail addresses of some of the faculty at Coral. I since received a personal reply from Ms. Ladoucer (an English teacher) and her comments to me, as well as some of the articles above; demonstrate that she has stood up to the administration in this matter. FWIW, I believe that she should be commended for this.
4.18.2006 2:37am
AnandaG:
Amazing how neither Freder Frederson nor Shangui have turned up again.
4.18.2006 9:54am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Since almost all literature published since 1921 (the same date the Copyright Act is currently locked on) is garbage anyway, and since we have more lit than anyone could read in a lifetime available for free, it would be no loss if one read nothing published after 1921.
4.18.2006 11:24am
Ploni:
I comment on VC for the first time because I think everyone involved missed the boat. Historically, words have been considered "vulgarities" for two reasons: either because their meanings are associated with topics considered too impolite to discuss in public, and any (limited) mention of their terms had to be confined to the accepted euphemisms of the time (thus completely banning f*** and s***, which are the proper terms for their meanings that date back at least to the early Roman empire, before the disintergation of the Proto-Germanic language (the common ancestor of English, German, Dutch, and the Scandanavian languages (except Finnish)- or because the concepts conveyed by the words are so "holy" that mere use of the words in a non-sacred context profanes the words themselves.
However, the word damn in the prase "don't give a damn" has absolutely nothing to do with damnation to hell. A damn was a small, insignificant, tool used by a tinker, and when one wanted to say he didn't care about something at all, he would say "I don't give a tinker's damn", later shortened to "I don't give a damn". The "damn" here is nothing more than a homophone of damn as in "damn to hell".
4.18.2006 1:22pm