If someone had told me that a school in Montana would bar an invited speaker from presenting his or her speech before a high school senior class, I would have said, “no way, not here, not now, not ever.” But then I would have been wrong.
Obviously the Ronan school district didn’t get the word that in America, especially in Montana, people — that reads all people — have a right to free expression and freedom of speech and to listen to varying points of view. I mistakenly thought that was part of an education. Evidently not in certain jurisdictions.
Recently I was invited to speak to the Ronan High School seniors. After three weeks of preparation, research and re-write after re-write, I arrived at the appointed hour only to be told my talk had been canceled. The reason: “some” callers had informed the principal that they were concerned about the scheduled speaker being too right-wing or having an opinion that might be counter to theirs or some other lame excuse.
When I was informed of the decision, I asked to speak to the principal and he agreed to meet with me. He apologized for the inconvenience of being canceled and said the decision to cancel was his alone. He was concerned about my presentation. No, he didn’t ask me of the content. No, he didn’t ask to read the speech for any clarification as to content. No, he would not tell me who the complaining party or parties were, nor would he give me any further explanation. Just that there would be no presentation by me that day.
I served three years in the Marine Corps so that others might stand before their peers or even a group of students, but never did I think my voice would be stilled by some mysterious caller(s) on the notion that I might say something they “thought” would not be in the students’ best interests. Reminds me of another time in history when voices were silenced by the mere suggestion they might be different or have a point of view. I never dreamed it might happen in Montana.
I feel the students missed out that day. I feel they were robbed of an opportunity to hear from someone who actually experienced the true facets of the American dream. But a high school principal failed the very students assigned to his leadership because he feared some unknown person or persons or some other factor not divulged.
For the record, my presentation that day had nothing political or capricious that would be harmful to a senior high school student (or even a grammar school student) or a teacher. It dealt with my hopes for their futures. It was a cheerleading presentation that allowed me to remind them of their individual greatness and opportunities for the future. My intent was to inspire and motivate those looking for an encouraging word and message of hope beyond the walls of the institution they were leaving to the next chapter in their young lives. It spoke to the contributions and greatness of their teachers, administrators, parents and peers but with an emphasis on their ability to conceive, to believe and to achieve. But I guess I was wrong about teachers and/or school administrators.
Since my career had centered around the motion picture industry, I had set out to challenge them with the thought that they might each write their own movie script. A script that would have them as the writer, director, producer and star. A script filled with step-by-step goals of proper preparation and scenes depicting them as lawyers, doctors, captains of industry and/or having careers as they saw themselves in 20 or 30 or 40 years in the future. Silly idea? Maybe. But of course we’ll never know.
Instead they were indoctrinated with a sense of fear and mistrust that a fellow Montanan just might stand before them and say something some official school administrator deemed “possibly harmful.”
In America today, are our children taught or indoctrinated? Is there censorship? I’ll let the reader decide.
Me? I now have the answer.
Gerald Molen, of Bigfork, is a longtime Hollywood producer and worked on such films as “Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Twister,” and “Minority Report.”