Saturday, June 21, 2008

Clueless School Administrator of the Year

Every year we get one of these stories.

It seems that the principal of Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, NJ, Mr. Robert Blake, interrupted the commencement speech of salutatorian Jennifer Chau, had her microphone cut off, and escorted her off the dais. Why? Because it seems that Ms. Chau was about to lambaste the school administration for some perceived wrong.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not this was the appropriate time or place for Ms. Chau to air her grievances (What does she think this is? Festivus?), and also notwithstanding the school administration's prerogative to allow whatever speech they see fit at one of their functions, it seems to me that if Mr. Blake had allowed the young woman to have her say, it would have been a story in, maybe, The Press of Atlantic City the next day. Probably on page C3 or thereabouts.

But no. A story about "the man" silencing the poor young schoolgirl who just wanted to express her perceived First Amendment rights is big news. The story hit the Associated Press, and was carried in newspapers all over the country. And on radio and TV stations. And the story lasted for days.

The lesson? Not every battle is worth fighting OR winning. Had Mr. Blake allowed Ms. Chau to make her point, it would have been a small, local, one-day story -- and he would be getting praise for being a big enough man to allow biting criticism in such an august forum.

So this year's award for Clueless School Administrator of the Year goes to Mr. Robert Blake, principal of Mainland Regional High in Linwood, NJ.


Mainland Class of 2001 said...

The Principal was not clueless, actually I think you are the one clueless about the situation. Do you have any idea what this girl was going to say? That girl was going to rant about why she wasn't the #1 student in her class and make all sorts of factless, untrue statements about various people. If she would have finished her unapproved version, this story might not have made front page news however it would have ruined what should be a celebratory event for many students and families. So after quickly reviewing her new version on the spot, the Principal made the correct decision. This story is not about free speech, it is about a bitter girl that didn't like coming in second place.

John Lonsdorf said...

First, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Let me answer you point-by-point:

1. Yes, I had an idea of what the young woman was going to say, since it was apparent through the Associated Press story. However, what she would have said is, in my humble opinion, beside the point.

2. I agree that had she finished her unapproved version, the story probably would not have made the front page, or been picked up by the AP. Where I disagree with you is in the notion that the delivery of the speech would have "ruined" the graduation. I give the Class of 2008 (and their parents and guests) more credit than that. I believe they would have been able to sort through the contents of the speech and make their own judgment as to the appropriateness and the veracity of the timing and the words.

3. Please do not confuse my disagreement with the principal's suppressing of the speech with agreement with her points or even condoning of the appropriateness of the time and place of her actions. In point of fact, I believe that the young woman acted like a spoiled little girl, and exhibited a very selfish side.

4. Here's a dirty little secret: I used to be (a LONG time ago) a public school teacher. As such, I also understand that the principal was well within his rights to cut off the young woman.

All that said, I continue to believe that, had the principal permitted the screed, it would have been the young lady who would have come off looking worse for her effort, and the principal would have been viewed as being the bigger person.

Anonymous said...

So at what point in your opinion SHOULD the (or any) principal stop a speech. Her speech was pre-approved. She then pulled out another speech to read instead. The principal paused the ceremony and reviewed the speech on the spot. It contained accusations about specific other classmates, most specifically the #1 ranked girl. If allowed to progress, then I assume you would also condone allowing the #1 student to trash her speech and spend her time defending herself. PS. Chen's accusations have since proved false. The records were reviewed later that same day.

John Lonsdorf said...

Good question. In short, I believe that people can make judgments on their own as to the appropriateness and (more importantly it seems, as far as you are concerned), the veracity of what is said. I believe the Class of 2008 would have been able to sort this out on their own. I would also hope that the valedictorian would have had the class and strength of belief in her accomplishment to brush off Ms. Chen’s accusations with simply an offhand dismissal, before delivering what I’m sure was a fine speech.

I have no horse in this race. I don’t know any of the participants in this situation. I understand you feel quite strongly about this issue, whether out of loyalty to the valedictorian, the principal, or whomever. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.