Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Speech Every High School Principal Should Give...and None Will

Note: While I applaud most of what the author writes here, I am opposed to the nationalism he encourages. I do believe we are world citizens: our thinking should be governed by what's best for the world, not just for the U.S.

A Speech Every American High School Principal Should Give

by Dennis Prager

If every school principal gave this speech at the beginning of the next school year, America would be a better place.

To the students and faculty of our high school:

I am your new principal, and honored to be so. There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school. I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in America have worked against you, against your teachers and against our country.

First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships.

The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity -- your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school will care about is American. This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans.

If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere. We will end all ethnicity-, race- and non-American nationality-based celebrations. They undermine the motto of America, one of its three central values -- e pluribus unum, "from many, one." And this school will be guided by America's values.This includes all after-school clubs. I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities. This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness.

Your clubs will be based on interests and passions, not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties. Those clubs just cultivate narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self -- while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself. So we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, carpentry and more. If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interesting in are those based on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.

Second, I am uninterested in whether English is your native language. My only interest in terms of language is that you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible. The English language has united America's citizens for over 200 years, and it will unite us at this school. It is one of the indispensable reasons this country of immigrants has always come to be one country. And if you leave this school without excellent English language skills, I would be remiss in my duty to ensure that you will be prepared to successfully compete in the American job market. We will learn other languages here -- it is deplorable that most Americans only speak English -- but if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.

Third, because I regard learning as a sacred endeavor, everything in this school will reflect learning's elevated status. This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly. Many people in our society dress more formally for Hollywood events than for church or school. These people have their priorities backward. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.

Fourth, no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school's property -- whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events. If you can't speak without using the f-word, you can't speak. By obscene language I mean the words banned by the Federal Communications Commission, plus epithets such as "Nigger," even when used by one black student to address another black, or "bitch," even when addressed by a girl to a girlfriend. It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few your age to instinctively distinguish between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.

Fifth, we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way -- the way people attained it until decided otherwise a generation ago -- by earning it. One immediate consequence is that there will be one valedictorian, not eight.

Sixth, and last, I am reorienting the school toward academics and away from politics and propaganda. No more time will devoted to scaring you about smoking and caffeine, or terrifying you about sexual harassment or global warming. No more semesters will be devoted to condom wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as only or primarily a health issue. There will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white, or not male, or not heterosexual or not Christian. We will have failed if any one of you graduates this school and does not consider him or herself inordinately lucky -- to be alive and to be an American.

Now, please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country. As many of you do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you.

Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of four books, most recently "Happiness Is a Serious Problem" (HarperCollins). His website is www.dennisprager.com. COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

18 comments:

Snake Lady said...

[I realize the column was satire]
"We will end all ethnicity-, race- and non-American nationality-based celebrations."
So he's okay with Native American celebrations?
"I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities."
I think he misuderstands "binding" to be "dividing" -- the Black Student Union bound together blacks but always welcomed non-blacks. Is a multiracial Friendship Club/ Rainbow Club/ Diversity Club okay?
"Those clubs just cultivate narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self"
OMG. When I joined Sons of Norway in my 30s, was I being narcissistic? I just wondered if there was another person of Scandinavian descent in Richmond! I found a handful -- all in their 50s, 60s, 70s. I tasted lutefisk for the first time. Should I feel guilty about this? Is it a sin to explore one's own culture with others who are interested in the same thing? The entire City was welcome to celebrate Syttende Mai (May 17th, Norway's Independence Day from Denmark) with us, but no one ever did. :-(
"formal dress code at this school."
Finally, a point of agreement! LOVE the sexy Catholic schoolgirl look. Plaid pleats forever! ;->

Marty Nemko said...

Snake Lady,

It is not satire.

And you're really reaching.

David said...

I think Snake Lady (as do most people who dismiss Prager's points with snarky remarks) misses the main point: our schools are failing miserably at their prime directive of teaching academics. How do we get there? By focusing on academics first and foremost. Until we can get that goal under our belt, schools have no business wasting our children's time with political correctness. Our children have plenty of opportunities to become indoctrinated and segregated into the groups of their choosing outside of school. While at school, they should be focused on academics. Why is that so difficult for some to understand and accept?

Kirstine Vergara said...

Inspiring, but over-reaching. Also, I don't think it would matter if the principal will give the speech at the beginning or towards the end of the term. I think what would matter is if the students can fully understand what he's trying to say. This sounds too formal; a more layman speech would be probably get the students' attention. Also, I think these things should be discussed with parents and teachers as well as they are the ones looking after the child. I think they are in a much better position to discuss these with the parents and children rather than the principals who barely knew the students. Find out what makes a good leader at http://sn.im/103met

Anonymous said...

David, remember that teaching academics is a waste of time.

Our students need to be inspiring entrepeneurs, not filling kids heads with worthless things like the dates of battles, shakespeare and geometry.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the principal. While I certainly do not think people should separate themselves because of race...I do think that many of the most well adjusted students are so because of their strong self-identity.

I love my race/culture and to be told that I could not be this would be awful. It is because I am so confident and comfortable with (and down right proud of) my race that I was able to embrace and celebrate my friends/colleagues/and family of other races/subcultures.

I may be biased because I grew up in totally diverse areas in the country and to see my friends and I together we look like the UN, but I love being able to learn more about and share in celebrations and traditions of other cultures.

I see what the principal is trying to achieve but I certainly think s/he missed the mark.

Marty Nemko said...

Most Recent Anonymous,

I want to thank you for your comment. It's an example of the best kind of blog comment: it presents a perspective different from that of the poster, AND it is a point worth considering,. And and you made the point well and concisely.

The blogosphere at its best is what schools should be: a marketplace for all benevolently derived, thoughtful ideas. Thanks for contributing to that.

Jason Ribeiro said...

While I agree with many of the points in the speech, it left me wanting more, it felt incomplete. He describes a lot of school policies but I wanted to hear something about how a school's educational format could be reformed.

Thinking back to my high school, if there was something I could say to the kids now that now wish I was told, it would be that they need to sketch out a plan A, B, and C for their life and refine it as they go along. I was consistently told "it's ok if you don't know what you want to do when you grow up" and "many people have an undeclared major, that's ok" - by school counselors no less.

Well, as I found out the hard way, no it's not ok to be indecisive about your life, in fact, the worst plan is to have no plan. Even if you end up hating a chosen path and want to change careers there is tremendous value in seeing your planned hard work come to fruition and that is a life skill in itself, it gives a person that much more confidence.

Self-esteem is a life skill and schools do not know how to teach it, but they should to the degree that they can. Schools think Home Economics is teaching life skills when in fact it is a refuge for students with low self expectations and fear of academics. Wood shop and art classes are the same thing. I'm not saying there is zero value in those types of courses, but high schools have made the mistake of trying to be all-things to all the students and degraded their product as a result. Instead, there should be path oriented high schools - science-engineering, legal-finance-business, industrial-mechanical, etc. High schools with a focused purpose can produce students with a focused purpose and a focused purpose brings self-esteem.

Furthermore, students need to be encouraged to speak out when they are obviously getting the shaft by the teachers and school. There are things that went on in my high school classes that I would never tolerate now as an adult, but I was too afraid as a kid to speak out against the teacher or complain to the school when teachers wasted time giving useless assignments that had no learning value. Conversely, schools demand no experience value assignments like community volunteering that would offer students early resume credentials.

I could go on with more points, but from what I've seen, our state, our country, doesn't really have the guts to do what needs to be done to change education. It's a very sad situation and I really feel for the kids these days, they deserve better.

Jason Ribeiro said...

While I agree with many of the points in the speech, it left me wanting more, it felt incomplete. He describes a lot of school policies but I wanted to hear something about how a school's educational format could be reformed.

Thinking back to my high school, if there was something I could say to the kids now that now wish I was told, it would be that they need to sketch out a plan A, B, and C for their life and refine it as they go along. I was consistently told "it's ok if you don't know what you want to do when you grow up" and "many people have an undeclared major, that's ok" - by school counselors no less.

Well, as I found out the hard way, no it's not ok to be indecisive about your life, in fact, the worst plan is to have no plan. Even if you end up hating a chosen path and want to change careers there is tremendous value in seeing your planned hard work come to fruition and that is a life skill in itself, it gives a person that much more confidence.

Self-esteem is a life skill and schools do not know how to teach it, but they should to the degree that they can. Schools think Home Economics is teaching life skills when in fact it is a refuge for students with low self expectations and fear of academics. Wood shop and art classes are the same thing. I'm not saying there is zero value in those types of courses, but high schools have made the mistake of trying to be all-things to all the students and degraded their product as a result. Instead, there should be path oriented high schools - science-engineering, legal-finance-business, industrial-mechanical, etc. High schools with a focused purpose can produce students with a focused purpose and a focused purpose brings self-esteem.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that our educational system is flawed, I strongly object to most of the author's points.

I find it baffling that someone could be so blind to the benefits of identity-based student organizations. Mr. Prager accuses such clubs of "just cultivat[ing] narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self -- while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself."

My experience with such organizations has been exactly the opposite. My mind has been opened to blindnesses I didn't know I had about other people's experiences - yes, by examining my own identity, but doing so in the context of the varied identities around me. I think that being aware of other people's experiences within the United States makes me a more complete American.

Another thing that troubles me about the idea of pretending that difference doesn't exist is that it's not truly possible if you're the different one. Everyone else might forget, but you know every time you look in the mirror. It's easy to talk about ignoring difference if you haven't felt like that. Rather than making the different kid feel better about being different, enforcing the "difference doesn't exist" mentality just silences the different kid.

I could argue with the piece on twenty other points because I think Mr. Prager is focusing on almost all of the wrong things, but I'll be happy if someone reads what I've written so far and thinks about the speech a little bit differently. Thanks for reading my comment.

Jeffrie said...

Except for the part about identity-based clubs (my school had some, and I was a member of one), my high school was pretty much like this. It wasn't all that long ago, but it seems like it now.

It wasn't a perfect place, my high school, but it was a good place. It helped to shape me into the person I am today, and that was part of the reason my father insisted that I go there. It was better than he had growing up, and he wanted that for his children.

Consider the opposites of everything is this speech. How far will high school students go in life if they don't have some, if not all, of these values strengthened at school and/or at home?

I believe there's nothing wrong with identifying with a group. Other people will see you that way, even if you don't. But how far will kids go if they are trained to focus on that more than anything else, like their interests?

I also see nothing wrong with being bilingual. It's an advantage, actually. But how far will kids go if they can't properly speak English in America? It's not the official language here, but it's still the dominant one.

How far will kids go if they can't dress properly for the occasion? In the real world, they'll be expected to know that.

How far will kids go if they use vulgar language? If they just can't shake the four-letter words, they should, at the very least, know when to use them & when not to use them, a lesson Dr. Laura Schlessinger might need to re-learn.

How far will kids go if they believe they should feel good about themselves for no reason? I'd rather feel good about myself for something I've done, or at least attempted to do. In the real world, are you rewarded with good feelings just for being you?

And how far will kids go if they are learning what they need to learn, rather than political correctness and issues that should be taught at home? No matter where they learn such issues, ultimately people need to decide their views on their own. And if proper manners & conduct was emphasized in school and home, there may not even be a need for political correctness.

Maybe it's just my own bias for having attended a similar school, but I think there is a place for such a school. If I had a high-school child, I'd give a chance.

kare anderson said...

Marty re heros for boys
http://apaconvention.typepad.com/2010_apa_convention_blog/2010/08/a-glimpse-at-the-apa-caregiver-briefcase.html

Jeffrie said...

Here's somebody's idea on how to improve the school situation in the Los Angeles Unified School District: just build a bigger, more expensive, nicer-looking school, because "children learn better in more pleasant surroundings." Cost: $578 million.

Also from the article: "Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall and some schools persistently rank among the nation's lowest performing."

The article does not mention what will be done to keep this shiny new school from becoming a low-performing statistic like many of the rest of the schools in its district. Anything like the ideas in this speech would not even be considered, but I bet its implementation would be a far less costly (in more ways than one) alternative.

Trevor said...

If I am reading this right, your new principal would overturn the Scopes trial, and uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling on no prayer in school, allow teachers to unquestionably teach evolution without having to worry about offending parents who hold that God created the world, which is certainly the way it should be. Not only would the principal get rid of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, but also the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Also your principal is giving a big F-You! to the First amendment, because free speech isn’t an important tenant of American values, nor of language in general.Will this language rule prevent teachers from teaching books such as Slaughter House 5, Brave New World, or Catcher in the Rye? Considering we are all Americans now and that race, sex or ethnicity are no longer important schools should no longer see the need to teach about the civil rights movements, and books like The Secret Life of Bee’s, or To Kill a Mockingbird should be removed from the curriculum. In the long list of school clubs that are going away the nationally successful D.A.R.E. program will be going away because keeping children away from drugs is propaganda and is not a beneficial subject to children’s learning. Health classes will be changed because subjects like STD’s, rape and sexual conduct aren’t germane to adolescents and it’s not like they are having premarital sex and are at no risk of catching STD’s because sexual relations isn’t primarily a health issue. The funny thing about this revolutionary speech is that 75% is already widely instituted throughout every school district in America. You would be hard pressed to go to a school and not find a dress code. All U.S. schools are taught in English for the majority of the students with only a small portion being enrolled in E.S.L. classes. I am not sure about the age of this principal or whether he or she has been teaching since the 1970’s be schools are no longer allowed to segregate students by race or ethnicity. I am not even sure how school’s honor students races or ethnicity, unless you consider Black history month to be and carte blanche pass. Profanity in schools is generally prohibited and outlined in the student’s handbooks and it is up to the teachers to enforce it, and while most have problems with the students saying some of the more foul words, words like shit, hell, damn and ass are generally considered O.K. because the FCC tends to allow them on television.
What Dennis Prager did not mention in his 6 points is the horrendous drop-out rate in America and what needs to be done to correct it. He also doesn’t touch on subjects like bullying, fighting or drug use among students. He makes a cute list that highlights topical issues that remind people of the “duck and cover” days of the 1950’s and 1960’s without doing anything to fix the underlying problems of our educational systems. Why isn’t there a section on how to keep students from trafficking drugs in schools or what he plans to do to curb the drop-out rate? Is cursing a bigger problem than in-school violence or drug use among 6th graders? Why is there nothing in his list about requiring more parent involvement? Dress-code violations could be moved further down the list so that the school leaders could focus on more important issues like student poverty or dietary improvements in school lunches. While the majority of these “important changes” have been made, the ones that have not been made will likely never be changed because they are important to the educational system. May be it is time to teach our children about condom use instead of following Bush’s abstinence only sex education curriculum. May be now in the “Post-Columbine” educational system self-esteem courses and school therapists are needed in order to keep our children safe. Maybe these “selfish” identity based afterschool clubs exists to give students an identity and to help them connect to a broader group of students instead keeping to themselves.

Marty Nemko said...

Trevor, look up the term "reductio ad absurdum." That's the problem with your missive. There also are logical problems--e.g., re the Scopes trial.

Jamshed G said...

"If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere."

Does this mean that school will be open on Christmas , Good Friday, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?

I am not a Christian, but I attended a Catholic (Jesuit) high school where I recieved an excellent education. One of the reasons why the school fostered such a rich learning environment is that the diversity of the student population was never ignored or suppressed, but emphasized and celebrated. Crucifixes hung in every classroom, but no one objected because the administration never forced Catholicism down anyone's throat or made any of us feel less than adequate for being a "non-believers."

Marty Nemko said...

Jamshed,

In my school, I would have no mention of religion, except perhaps the secular part of Christmas--e.g., some secular carols in music class. Christmas in the US has a secular component.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in a high school where f**k and n*gger are two of the most often-heard words, and I see more male underwear than the stockboy at Macy's (due to SAGGING), I applaud much of what's in the piece. As a teacher of Entrepreneurship, I can vouch for its place and importance, but what I don't see is students caring about their own success.

I actually poll my students to see who thinks he or she will be a millionaire by age 30. About 70-80% raise their hands. Other than a few who are convinced they'll be rappers or pro athletes, not one has a plan or any idea how they'll get there. They just assume it will happen. Thanks, Kim Kardashian and the rest of media-land.

Sadly, the following has a lot of truth to it:
http://www.theonion.com/video/in-the-know-are-tests-biased-against-students-who,17966/