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Voices In Conflict: the Empire strikes back September 1, 2007

Posted by Jeff in "Reality has a well-known liberal bias", "Voices Of Conflict", Drama in Wilton.

As the dog days of summer wane, high school students shop for clothes and supplies, bus drivers plan their routes, teachers prepare lesson plans …

… and in Wilton, Connecticut, the superintendent of schools and his flunkies get into character by lying like a GOP senator caught in an airport bathroom.

In March, Wilton High School principal Tim Canty refused permission for the Theater Arts II class to perform a play based on the letters of Iraq War vets, and threatened students if they tried to perform their play off-campus. The issue was first brought to international attention by this New York Times article.

In June, the students, directed by their teacher Bonnie Dickinson, performed their play at various theaters in Connecticut and Manhattan. For an overview of the saga to date, read my blogpage and the official VIC site, and I especially recommend this Los Angeles Times article.

Barbara Alessi, the mother of a WHS junior from the Theater Arts II class whose older brother is serving in Iraq, added fuel to the controversy by filing a complaint with the school district against Bonnie Dickinson. At a Board of Education meeting on April 12, superintendent Gary Richards announced that a committee headed by Deborah Low, Canty’s predecessor as WHS principal, would investigate the complaints.

In June, shortly after the first public performances, the Playgoer blog posted an e-mail from Richards:

We have received a number of emails expressing support for Bonnie Dickinson and concern over potential disciplinary action. I wish to clarify the situation. In April, we received a complaint from a parent about Ms. Dickinson. After receiving the complaint, we followed an investigative process that included administrative review of the complaint, an opportunity for both parties to be heard, and examination of the facts. After a thorough review we found no evidence that would justify disciplinary action against Ms. Dickinson. We consider the matter concluded.

On a separate note, we congratulate the students on their successful off-campus performances of the revised “Voices in Conflict” project.

Gary G. Richards

I recall being a little concerned that the committee’s report hadn’t yet been made public, but I was told by a couple of my sources that most people thought Dickinson was off the hook – that following the acclaim of the public performances, they wouldn’t dare go after her.

Two months later, the newspaper reporters and video crews have gone home, and almost half the VIC cast has graduated from WHS. This morning, I got to read several excerpts from the committee report (below). Contrary to Mr. Richards’s June statement, the committee has in fact sustained several of Alessi and Canty’s allegations against Dickinson. I work for a labor union, and if this isn’t a notice of disciplinary action I’ll shop at WalMart.

Although the Low Committee recommends that Dickinson (right) not be terminated from employment, their report raises objections based on Dickinson’s “inadequate sourcing of materials” before March 24. Followers of this saga know that the versions of the playscript that appeared online immediately after the cancellation didn’t carry citations – but they were rough drafts, very different from the final versions.

As the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Dramatist Guild pointed out in their letter to Richards, you can’t reasonably expect a rehearsal script to carry footnotes like a high school report. The implication that this could have led to plagiarism or mislabeling of sources is ludicrous. Nor was the school exposed to any danger of copyright infringement claims – this use of “found” material is protected by the fair use doctrine and repeated past practice.

In any event, by the time VIC was performed, I doubt any report written by any student in the history of Wilton secondary education was as well-cited. (I’m not making this up: during the performance the student actors were shouting out citations to each other’s monologues. Verfremdungseffekt lives — Bertolt Brecht would have been thriled.)

If I were Ms. Dickinson’s lawyer/union rep, these two paragraphs would certainly draw my attention:

4. Direct the high school administration to determine appropriate additional professional development for Ms. Dickinson about the writing or compiling of original projects with high school students before such original compositions are considered for future theater arts productions. (*** see below)

5. Direct the high school administration to develop a plan with Ms. Dickinson to ensure adherence to appropriate academic practices. Include review of program of studies, course syllabus, course objectives, unit outlines, and text and materials. In addition, for projects involving multiple disciplines, direct Ms. Dickinson to consult with department leaders from the other disciplines involved.

Nowhere else in the findings is there any reference to the “appropriate academic practices” that Bonnie Dickinson is alleged to have violated. And my understanding is that Dickinson was not allowed to call witnesses in her defense.

Could anyone outside of the Wilton school administration seriously argue that this would be happening if the Wilton school administration hadn’t been publicly caught out censoring and threatening their students?

The names and e-mails of the guilty parties are here. Just in case you want to help educate them about appropriate educational practices.

*** Please, someone reassure me that none of these bozos are English teachers.

Click on the thumbnail for a full page image.

Page from the Low Committee’s report on WHS theater teacher Bonnie Dickinson

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