Bullying in the schools

The school superintendent in Dunkerton, Iowa thinks his organization “celebrates diversity in our student body”.  His idea of how to do this is to invite a lying, divisive hate group(HT: TPM ) to serenade his students, divide them up by sex, and preach anti-gay bigotry and reactionary Christian-wrapped doctrine to them.  Stanton says he won’t invite them back, but he seem to be still a little fuzzy on this episode, as he was “emphasizing the positive aspects of the group’s message” at the end of the day, so he may just be looking for a gay-bashers and misogynists with better musical chops.  He will surely welcome advice and counsel at  jstanton@dunkerton.k12.ia.us ; his boss is Alen Nagel, rnagel50703@yahoo.com .

What is it with these adults who like to use kids in their care to celebrate their own moral blind spots?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

23 thoughts on “Bullying in the schools”

  1. This blog post seems to be a substantial exaggeration of the article referenced. I hope you have information from another source.

    1. I would agree that you don’t seem to have read the newspaper article on which the post was based. If anything, Michael O’Hare has omitted some of the most scandalous parts, such as:

      “Administrators, teachers and students did not get what they expected Thursday during an extended school program. Everyone anticipated the message from Junkyard Prophet, a traveling band based in Minnesota, to be about bullying and making good choices. Instead, junior and senior high students at Dunkerton High School and faculty members said they were assaulted by the group’s extreme opinions on homosexuality and images of aborted fetuses”.

      “They told my daughter, the girls, that they were going to have mud on their wedding dresses if they weren’t virgins,” said Jennifer Littlefield, a parent upset with the band’s performance.Her daughter, Alivia Littlefield, 16, is a junior, and called Littlefield after the event”.

      “After performing, the group separated boys, girls and teachers in the building…The girls…were told to save themselves for their husbands and assume a submissive role in the household. According to witnesses, the leader in that effort also forced the young ladies to chant a manta of sorts about remaining pure.”

      “Those who walked out or attempted to confront the speakers were shouted down or ridiculed as disrespectful, according to students. Heidi Manahl, Littlefield’s sister, also had a student at the assembly. She, too, was appalled by Junkyard Prophet’s message and tactics. ‘I’ve never had so many young women come up to me crying because of what was said to them. They were bullied by these people and forced to sit there and told to be quiet,’ Manahl said.”

      In light of these direct quotes from the article itself, I wonder if you could possibly clarify the way in which you think Michael’s post exaggerated?

      1. I’m not sure what Philip is referring to regarding exaggeration, but O’Hare’s characterization of the superintendent’s position struck me as unfair.

        From the article:

        Stanton spoke to the student body again at day’s end, emphasizing the positive aspects of the group’s message. But he also told students the presenters shared “an opinion about intolerance that’s not in line with the beliefs of the Dunkerton Community Schools.”
        “We promote tolerance for one another,” Stanton said. “We will continue to celebrate diversity in our student body.”

        It doesn’t really support O’Hare’s flippant conjecture that the superintendent “may just be looking for a gay-bashers and misogynists with better musical chops.”

        As far as characterizing the band as a “lying, divisive, hate group”, I think O’Hare was spot on.

      2. “were assaulted by the group’s extreme opinions”

        People may not like opinions, but one is not “assaulted” by them, except as a metaphor, and not a very good one.

        1. The fact of the matter is that there is a clear bullying problem in this country – and a great deal of it is directed at minorities and at women. To invite in and hear a group that specifically attacks certain minorities (glbt) with false (provably by the way) statistics originating with a man (Paul Cameron) who was permanently removed from the recognized national association for his profession (the APA) for — you got it — falsifying the exact research that the group then quotes; and that specifically targets and attacks women; that in fact reduces a portion of their audience to tears because of their attacks, is not going to help the bullying problem.

          The fact that this group has been identified and certified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group (considered on BOTH sides of the hate fence to be the gold standard for hate groups — being certed by the SPLC) is only icing on the cake.

          This was an anti-bullying event, NOT a political debate. The Federal Government recognizes the SPLC ratings, and the FBI routinely consults with the SPLC. Their rating of Junkyard Prophets alone should have barred the group from any public school More damningly, the lead singer for Junkyard Prophets has asserted on TV that his group is a “guerrilla group” for the extreme Right.

          If you consider that acceptable in a school assembly where EVERY parent doesn’t agree with their message, which many parents certainly did not — then you have no real comprehension of public schools.



  2. Philip, did you read the article? I see no exaggeration at all in Michael’s caharacterization.

  3. So–what does “diversity” look like? Because it seems to me that actually representing the views of the majority would be included somewhere, as opposed to the “all you people, and everyone who agrees with you, are intolerant, so only the people who agree with me get to speak publicly or have any chance of having the proposals they vote for actually bind the lawmakers” proposals of all the “diversity” fans.

    1. by majority, are you referring to the majority of the population who are women? the majority of the population who are non-white? to which majority do you refer?

    2. You seem to be making an assumption that hard core extreme-right Evangelical Christians are the majority someplace outside the deep south and the mid-west. I don’t think that’s the case. Either way, however, you seem to be confused about who is abusing their power over these children in their care. Can you cite to me any similar instances of liberals abusing their power to force children to sit through this kind of thing?

      This was a pretty horrific and traumatizing thing to force on the kids. This is almost as bad as what the Taliban does and I shudder to think what these school authorities would do to children if they had the kind of absolute authority in this country that religious fanatics have in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Israel. These people are no better than the Taliban.

      By what right do the authorities in this school force children in their care to submit to political and religious indoctrination as part of an official school function? And how would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot and your children were forced to endure this kind of thing during a visit from Hugo Chávez or some lunatic Wahhabist mullah? I notice also that the didn’t bother to get permission from the parents even though I am constantly hearing Christians whine about how their parental rights are being trampled on every time their kids are assigned to read a non-Christian book or learn about evolution, biology or history.

      1. By what right do the authorities in this school force children in their care to submit to political and religious indoctrination as part of an official school function?

        Are you being sarcastic, or is that an actual question? Because from my POV, it seems that EVERY school function contains a lot of political and religious indoctrination–this is just one of the very rare cases where the POV of the indoctrinators was conservative.

        1. Sam, that usage of the word “conservative” is so far off the mark that it sounds like some kind of sick joke.

          Dwight Eisenhower was conservative. Robert Taft was VERY conservative.

          This isn’t “conservative,” and old fogeys like me who remember real conservatives are offended by the misuse of the term.

        2. “Because from my POV, it seems that EVERY school function contains a lot of political and religious indoctrination–this is just one of the very rare cases where the POV of the indoctrinators was conservative.”

          Then your POV is pretty detached from reality.

        3. It’s been a while since my high-school classes (in Brookline, MA and on the south side of Chicago, IL, both fairly liberal neighborhoods), but I can’t recall any situation where the adult authority figures in those schools shouted down or ridiculed students who expressed a belief in God or desire to avoid premarital sex.

        4. I don’t think that implicitly calling a large section of society scum is supposed to be what either school or, ideally, Conservatism is about. Junkyard Prophets seems to disagree; I’m disappointed you seem to defend their position.

          If they had presented a wholly positive message about how wonderful it is to be pure, virginal, and for women to be submissive to their men, I for one would still find that offensive because it would amount to religious indoctrination and it was promoting a sort of sexual politics I thought long dead. But at least it wouldn’t have been bullying.

  4. This story calls to mind a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    It is a pity that few liberals are conversant enough with both fundamentalism and the teachings of Jesus to point out the stark contrast between that mindset and what Jesus, according to the Biblical accounts, actually taught. Jesus during His ministry is never reported to have condemned anyone for sexual sin. He reserved His most forceful direct action for those who were profiteering from religion. The people whom Jesus criticized most harshly were rich folks, religious teachers and those who made public spectacles of their piety. (And, while it was not a person, He strongly rebuked one hapless fig tree.)

    1. Indeed, the Gospel is pretty sparse in its discussion of sex. There is very little direct discussion. In the synoptic gospels there is the discussion of divorce, which Rabbi Joshua bar El says the Lord granted men the possibility of divorce because of “the hardness of your hearts.” He uses texts in Genesis to argue against divorce, and favors the protection of the vulnerable. This position is often found in his teachings.

      Similarly, in John we find the story of the woman caught in an adulterous relationship. In that wives were the husband’s property in that time and place, adultery constituted theft, a theft punishable by death in the Deuteronomic Code. It seems clear(ish) that the Rabbi doesn’t approve of adultery, but neither does he condemn the woman.

      In Matthew, we find the Rabbi teaching us that looking at woman with lust is equivalent to committing adultery with her. Perhaps this is an example of thoughtcrime predating Orwell, perhaps it’s merely a lesson that attitudes are important. I’ll leave that to others to decide.

      That’s really about it in the Gospels. Now, if you want to talk about the Epistles, and especially the letters credited to Paul — that’s a whole different thing.

    2. “It is a pity that few liberals are conversant enough with both fundamentalism and the teachings of Jesus to point out the stark contrast between that mindset and what Jesus, according to the Biblical accounts, actually taught. ”

      Start with Slactivist, then go to Religion Dispatches, and then work your way through actual churces.

  5. For what it’s worth, I think that it’s fairly easy for people who believe in a romanticized version of postwar America and a non-taliban version of christianity to deceive themselves about just how bad the loony fringe of bible-thumpers have gotten. They hear words like “traditional morals” and “renewal” and “values” and think in terms of Dickensian liberalism rather than Torquemada. Which is to say, there is a small chance this may have been a teachable moment rather than just another outrage. And of course, the more links the slightly less likely other smalltown high schools will make similar bad choices.

    (Dickensian liberalism: I’m using Orwell’s analysis: “If only people would be nicer to one another the world would be a much nicer place.” This may or may not be what Dickens intended, since at times his works showed a pretty good understanding of the structural forces that made people mean.)

  6. Not unusual. For many years the Campus Crusade for Christ has held prayer meetings in US schools that were presented as required attendance assemblies by school officials. One of the worst offenders has been the school system run by the Defense Dept. for dependents of the US military. Outrageous intolerance in clear violation of law and sponsored by our government.

  7. Religious people practice religious indoctrination on children because adults who haven’t already been indoctrinated won’t swallow it. That’s true regardless of the religion. I was once standing in a Kinko’s line in my town, in the navy blue portion of my blue state, behind a woman who was reproducing materials designed to get five-year-olds to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. To me that’s just verbal child abuse. There’s no WAY a five-year-old can understand the implications of making that choice. Even if it were the smartest choice in the world, and as a non-religionist I assert that it is not, a five-year-old is simply not ready to make that choice, nor can s/he be said to have made it freely. Kids that age want to please authority figures. But get ’em young enough, and they may be religionists for life.

  8. Interesting discussion, I wish I’d been able to check in and participate. In spite of being very late back to the party, to answer question about the first comment:

    Agreed school students should not be subject to bigotry and hatred as they appear to have been here.

    Whether the school system/principal was merely incompetent, or actually complicit (before and/or after the fact), however, is another matter. Examples:
    -Saying the superindent celebrates diversity and his idea of it is to invite a hate group implies some knowledge it was a hate group beforehand. Article suggests they had invited the group in the past with completely different results, and did not know the group would deliver the message they did.
    -Saying he (the principal) may be looking for gay bashers with better musical chops, ie he wants the hate message delivered
    -similarly ‘these adults using kids in their care to celebrate their own moral blind spots’ – while everything in the article says the principal was unhappy with the groups message and disagreed with it.

    and then you give out his email and invite everyone to send him their opinion. bring out the pitchforks!

    maybe you read enough into the facts to feel comfortable all but saying the principal has beliefs similar to the hate group and to some degree wanted what happened to happen. maybe you are right. but i see far from enough evidence in the article to say that, and so snarkily. incompetent stewardship of an important responsibility, sure. although to what degree depends on detailed facts not present. publicly slamming the guy for beliefs you have no idea he has, wrong.

    1. Philip, the invited group was put on the SPLC list of hate groups the same day, on the basis of widely available evidence including the national publicity surrounding Dean’s unfortunate performance at the Minnesota House of Representatives last summer. This is not a respectable band with an odd quirk or mere minority views: it’s a hate group and abundantly known to be so. If anyone had done minimal web searching before hiring them, it would have been quite clear who they are. Furthermore, the performance/indoctrination was allowed to continue for three hours in the presence of teachers and principal, and the superintendent seems to think promising never to bring this group back, and emphasizing the positive aspects of their performance (seriously?) is an appropriate next step. At some point public officials are responsible to know what they need to know to do their jobs, whether or not they bothered to find out at the right time.
      The supe and board chair’s emails are publicly posted on the district’s web page. An email, especially the kind of thoughtful comment RBC readers are likely to send, is not a pitchfork. Your points are neither vacuous nor silly, but on reflection I’m entirely OK with the way I handled this post.

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