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half a million bucks for showing a kid a movie!

First, I have to give credit to the inspiration for this rant. Please read:

http://teacherseducation.wordpress.com/2007/05/14/yes-and-no/

Now for the Rant:

Background: someone made a stupid decision, and showed a group of middle school kids the movie BrokeBack Mountain. Apparently, one of the kids parents were so upset that they felt they had to sue for a half mil in damages.

What the hell are this kids parents thinking? Do they really think any court would actually give them a half mil for letting a kid see a movie? are we really supposed to believe that this kid has never heard of homosexuality? Sure, her parents may think that homosexuality is a bad thing, not OK, etc., but if the kid actually lives in America, chances are almost certain that she is aware that homosexuality exists, and that in a lot of our country is an accepted lifestyle. The only way this child could be completely sheltered from the knowledge that homosexuality is a part of our culture would be to raise her in fairly complete isolation – obviously not happening, because she attends a public school.

So what is the real issue here? I supopse it *is* possible that the parents actually believe that showing their little darling this movie has caused enough psychological damage that their little darling will need counceling for the rest of her life, and has no real chance of surviving in the modern world without an infusion of a half million dollars. Of course, I’d respond to that by pointing out that teaching her that a significant portion of our society (homosexuals) are Evil will probably cause her more damage than showing her the movie ever could, but hey, every parent has the right to screw their kids up as much as they want. The much more likely issue is either: A) mom and dad see a way to some easy cash, or B) mom and dad think that sufficient publicity will cause harm to a movie that has ideas in it they don’t like.

A) mom and dad see a way to some easy cash: Well, mom and dad are about to learn a lot about the American Legal System. First, lets take a look at what *should* happen:

Lawyer for mom and dad: “the Evil School showed my kid this movie with Bad Stuff in it”

Judge: ” The “Bad Stuff” was homosexuality?”

Lawyer: “Yes”

Judge: “and you actually think that your child has never heard of or seen homosexuality presented as an aceptable lifestyle on TV, in a movie, or discussed with her freinds?”

Lawyer: “Absolutley your Honor. My Clients have sheltered their daughter from any exposure to such Evil Concepts as Homosexuality.”

Judge (speaking directly to parents): “is this true?”

Parents: “Of course your honor. Homosexuals are sexual deviants and are the root of All Evil.”

Judge: “O.K. I’ve reached a decision: the parents are going to pay all of the defence legal fees, all of the costs of having this trial, and an additional $100,000 for wasting everyones time. In addition, the parents and the child involved will undergo complete psychological evaluations to ensure that the parents are not causing any lasting damage to this little girl. Case closed.”

Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that anything like this will happen. Our society encourages people to file stupid lawsuits like this. It is unheard of (and probably illegal) for judges to actually hold the folks that file these insane lawsuits accountable. A much more likely outcome will be that the local schools are forced to pay a bunch of legal fees, and will probably end up settling to simply cut costs – it will probably be cheaper for them to settle than to actually go to trial. One would hope that the school will actually stick it out, and either make a non-cash settlement (an apology and some sort of disciplinary action to whoever decide to show the movie without parental consent should be appropriate), or take it court. Of course, if they take it to court, the school should counter-sue the parents for the full cost of defence – whats good for the goose, and all that…..

B) mom and dad think that sufficient publicity will cause harm to a movie that has ideas in it they don’t like. Unfortunately, this is about as possible as option A. Any parent that would start this sort of stupid lawsuit is probably the type of parent that supports Banned Book lists (Scarlet Letter, Harry Potter,  Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, etc see: http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bbwlinks/100mostfrequently.htm for a more complete list), censorship, and any public discourse that doesn’t agree with their own narrow view of “right”. America has a long history of suppressing controversial or unpopular dialogue – not just on social issues, but also in efforts to suppress simple fact. The unfortunate truth is that a small well-funded minority of people can make it almost impossible to teach anything that they don’t like. There are currently school districts in the United States that do not teach the Holocaust because it might offend students who are taught at home and at home that it never occur.

Take a good look at Intelligent Design (creationism) and the continuing lawsuits that are cropping up about teaching evolution on schools. The reality is that a sufficiently well funded group of nuts can make it insanely expensive to actually teach something that they don’t like in a public school. I chose to use creationism as an example because I used to be a research biologist. When I attended international meetings, non-americans frequently asked me to explain how it was possible that the american schools could seriously consider not teaching evolution, or teaching creationism as a viable alternate. Most of the folks that need to have this explained to them couldn’t understand why the parents that did not want their kids taught evolution didn’t simply enroll them in a private religious school, where they would be taught whatever fiction their chosen religion chose. The concept of a fringe minority controlling the teaching of facts in public schools was completely alien to them. Lets face it folks, we’re the laughing stock of the first world on this issue.

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One Response

  1. I imagine that we’re the laughing stock of the first world for a lot more than this issue, and I would further add that it’s well deserved. The way we behave – and the way we allow the groups of vocal fringe nuts to control our educational system (among other things) – is shameful.

    I really wish there were more information on this story than the paltry bits we’ve been thrown. There’s GOT to be more to it than we’re getting – did the substitute show the film on the instructions of the primary teacher? Were there permission slips sent out? Did the teacher just go rogue and decide that it was her duty to enlighten the kids about this story? I just can’t figure how that last idea could be true; no substitute walks around with a DVD of that film in a briefcase, just so that if the opportunity to get into serious trouble presents itself, s/he’ll be ready.

    I’ll keep following the story – and keep checking back in the comments to the bit I wrote; I’m expecting someone, whose opinion on such things I respect quite a bit, to weigh in soon…

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