More on Wilton HS

The superintendent of Wilson public schools has released a statement, the full text of which can be read here. It’s worth reading to understand at least some of the rationale for banning the play, though some of it is clearly disingenuous. Like this part, for example:

The play has contained direct excerpts from a book, documentary films, letters to newspapers, and web-sites. These sources are modified and “cut and pasted” together in a way that does not give them attribution nor cite the viewpoint of the particular author or filmmaker.

Besides copyright issues not even being mentioned in the Times article, it seems like this is the sort of thing that could easily be solved by either editing the script to include attribution or including some sort of bibliography in the play program. Worst case scenario, the group wouldn’t be able to charge admission for the play. Then again, I’m not a copyright expert, so maybe I’m off here. Regardless, it seems clear that this wasn’t the primary reason for blocking the play.

School performances are different from private or commercial performances. Because the performance is part of the educational program, we have a unique obligation to our audience. Most people understand that we can not perform plays or musicals that contain vulgar language or strong sexual content because it would be inappropriate for a high school student audience. On a much more serious level, we believe that this play can be upsetting to our student, parent, and community audience. Our community, like many, is grieving the loss of our own and feeling anxious about those currently in harm’s way. As a school, we have a responsibility to ensure that the Iraq war, the lives lost, and the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families are presented in the appropriate context with appropriate support and guidance. We need to figure out how best to do that. In its present form, the play does not meet those standards.

On one level I sympathize with the school administration. This controversy is a principal’s nightmare, and they’re caught between risking the ire of angry civil libertarians and angrier “pro-decency” parents and conservatives. I can understand the desire to try to shield students from things that might be shocking or offensive. But this is a high school. The students attending Wilton High are on the verge of entering the real world, and it seems to me that trying to sugarcoat the Iraq War or remove any offensive or shocking content does a basic disservice to these students. War is shocking, war is violent, and war tends to not only involve a lot of violence, but also a lot of profanity. How is the school supposed to educate students about the Iraq War by reducing the entire concept of war to something roughly equal to a particularly lame Civil War reenactment?

I’ve been talking to Sarah Anderson, one of the students involved in the play who was interviewed in the Times article, and one thing that she made very clear very early on was that the play was intended to present all sides of the debate over the war. That might be part of the problem for the administration – the only viewpoint that wouldn’t be considered shocking or offensive is the kind of empty “support the troops” rhetoric and tired flag-waving that’s completely detached from any substantive debate over what our troops are doing in Iraq in the first place.

It’s also worth noting that, as Sarah points out, the project was canceled while the script was still unfinished. Given that, as the article points out, many changes were made to the script at the request of the administration, it looks like the administration wasn’t overly interested in reaching some sort of compromise over the play’s content.

You can read both the original version and the edited version of the play here.

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