Speech isn't free if it's critical.
May 20, 2004 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Poetry isn't free speech for these students. Bill Nevins, a New Mexico high school teacher was fired last year and classes in poetry and the poetry club at Rio Rancho High School were permanently terminated because he refused to censor a student's poetry that was "un-American."
posted by agregoli (39 comments total)
Is this for real?

And what the hell is a "school military liaison"?
posted by orange swan at 8:11 AM on May 20, 2004

I can't imagine anything more un-American.
posted by eyeballkid at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2004

Any links to news stories on this incident, rather than editorials written by friends of the teacher?
posted by mw at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2004

And what the hell is a "school military liaison"?

posted by reverendX at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2004

A few years ago, when Bush got into office and revamped federal funding for schools, a little-remembered rider was added to the bill used to provide federal funding to schools. The rider requires all public schools that receive federal funding to allow military recruiters access to students, as well as to provide the military with student-directory information, like their phone numbers.

Now that Rumsfeld is running out of bodies, I suspect we'll see more military/school issues in the news.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:30 AM on May 20, 2004

posted by JakeEXTREME at 8:33 AM on May 20, 2004

posted by Postroad at 8:42 AM on May 20, 2004

Actual poem in here.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 8:42 AM on May 20, 2004

Isn't America special?

*adds New Mexico to the list of crazy states*
posted by The God Complex at 8:44 AM on May 20, 2004

is it any wonder that Iraqis are less than thrilled about us bringing them our brand of 'freedom'?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 8:45 AM on May 20, 2004

"'That was a real uncertain time,' Nevins says as he restlessly tugs at the ends of his curly silver hair that rests on the nape of his neck."—Abq Trib
WTH? I think that J.M. Barol, the reporter who authored this piece, might have a "thing" for Mr. Nevins. I'm just sayin'.

I have an old friend whose two daughters probably attend RRHS. I'll need to ask him about this. He's conservative, though, so who knows what he'll tell me. But, damn, as an (expat) Albuquerquean and American, I wonder what the hell has gone wrong. This thing's gone off the rails.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:47 AM on May 20, 2004

Thanks for the links. Some of those are more balanced. (I skipped the Indymedia one for reasons similar to the ones that would cause most of MeFi to skip a NewsMax or Fox News link.) It seems the teacher was placed on paid leave and then, instead of being fired, his short-term contract was not renewed for (according to the school) taking the kids to an event without the proper permission. The girl in question read her poetry unhindered to two separate audiences. Some claims in the original editorial (e.g.: "The girl's mother, also a teacher, was ordered by the principal to destroy the child's poetry. The mother refused and may lose her job.") appear nowhere in the other stories. All in all, "censorship" seems a pretty harsh word for what happened, even if Nevins' opinion of why his contract was not renewed is true.
posted by mw at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2004

mw: Why assume this is a case of dismissal over a clerical error? Nevins' lawyer said he filled out the proper paperwork. Other claims, such as the "shut your faces" remark made by the principal, allegations that the principal witheld Nevins' credentials to prevent him from obtaining other employment, allegations that the principal directed antiwar art projects torn down, and the fact that the principal barred all students from reciting poetry lead me to believe that this is in fact censorship, and the accounts that follow the Albequerque Tribune article suggest that it may be pervasive.
posted by alphanerd at 9:20 AM on May 20, 2004

A couple of things: in that SPLC write-up, it's mentioned that the Asst. Principal told Nevins (two months after attending one of the Club's meetings) that the "classroom activities were not meeting instructional goals."

Since when are clubs meant to be instructional? When I was in high school (and it wasn't that long ago), clubs were glorified excuses to hang out. Sure, we created and completed projects in "Senior Class Club," but mostly: we ate lunch inside, chatted a bit, and maybe did some homework.

Second thing: I get that a military liason has to do with the ROTC program on campus, but why would that person have any say in non-ROTC-participating-students' behaviour?
posted by sarajflemming at 9:27 AM on May 20, 2004

is it any wonder that Iraqis are less than thrilled about us bringing them our brand of 'freedom'?

Yeah, those mass graves they had being filled up daily under Saddam were nothing compared to an isolated case of someone (possibly) being refused employment unjustly (and when the injustice is claimed, being able to sue with a good chance of winning). Good Lord.
posted by mw at 9:27 AM on May 20, 2004

Good Lord.

With the Good Lord, anything is possible.
posted by The God Complex at 9:29 AM on May 20, 2004

MW -- why try so desperately to spin this as a non-story? It doesn't help the president, it doesn't help the Republicans, it doesn't help anybody if the first amendment isn't being upheld, and authoritarian principles are menacing teachers and students. There is no difference between being fired for saying something [that some idiot thinks is] culturally insensitive and for saying something [that some idiot thinks is] un-American. Let's attack both, for consistency's sake.
posted by Hildago at 9:45 AM on May 20, 2004

The girl's mother, also a teacher, was ordered by the principal to destroy the child's poetry. The mother refused and may lose her job ...

But more was to come. Posters done by art students were ordered torn down, even though none was termed obscene. Some were satirical, implicating a national policy that had led us into war. Art teachers who refused to rip down the posters on display in their classrooms were not given contracts to return to the school in this current school year ...

Meanwhile, Nevins applied for a teaching post in another school and was offered the job but he can't go to work until Rio Rancho's principal sends the new school Nevins' credentials. The principal has refused to do so, and that adds yet another issue to the lawsuit, which is awaiting a trial date.

Is this legal?

Things are touchy in NM because you've got a lot of lab workers and career military folks mixed in with a lot of progressive free-thinker types, with little in between. There are probably plenty of flag-wavers ready to clamp down hard since UNM Professor Richard Berthold only got a reprimand for saying that "anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote" to his class on the morning of September 11 (he has since apologized, as he didn't know the full scale of the attacks or the motivation behind them when he made the comment.)
posted by whatnot at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2004

So why hasn't the wacko nazi Principal been fired for his behaviour? Is nobody holding him to account? Board of Governors? Parents groups? WTF?
posted by Blue Stone at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2004

I am about as conservative a Republican as you can find around here, and that story scares ME. Freedom of speech is one of the things that my military friends put their lives on the line for...
posted by konolia at 10:40 AM on May 20, 2004

mw, if you take a moment to stop apologizing for this un-American conduct you might see that it is in fact un-American and against everything this country is supposed to stand for. Or are you opposed to the first amendment? This type of thing is nauseating, yet in the current political climate seems like just more of the same. Vote in November.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:01 AM on May 20, 2004

btw MW - link

as of november (averages)-
saddam: 36 brutal deaths a day
Bush: 44 brutal deaths a day

Bush's average doesn't include the 600 some dead civilians in fallujah.

we got him beat. easy.


the majority of Saddam's fall into one of a few categories.

1. starvation deaths (UN sanctions)
2. Kurd chemical weapons deaths (supplied by US)
3. Iraqi soldiers killed in the gulf war (killed by US)
4. Iraqi rebels who rose up against Saddam under an agreement with US military officials promising ground support. We flaked and they were mowed down by Saddam's elite.

yes - saddam tortured and killed his own people, but killing people is expensive so he stuck to small numbers. we are much more adept at doing it en mass

there was a FPP about a poll done in Iraq... the majority wants us out and pronto. 88% see us a an occupying force. 68% atleast somewhat support Sadr.

...we're the bad guys over there... we're not the only bad guys, but we're not the liberating democracy bringers you might like to believe.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 11:27 AM on May 20, 2004

Please read what I wrote. Quick summary: I (1) questioned some pretty obviously slanted and sensational reporting on and reaction to this story and (2) responded to an outrageous comment implying that the incident shows how pre-liberation Iraq was freer than present-day America. BTW, where's all the indignation for that little gem?
posted by mw at 11:35 AM on May 20, 2004

I know it looks like Angel Soft paper,
But don't worry
It's a diploma
Do I look qualified?
You can take our toilet paper,
But you can't take our Revolution.

posted by clavdivs at 11:42 AM on May 20, 2004

awesome, clavdivs.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2004

mw - how many of these mass graves were from weddings? Were there any in soccer stadiums?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:16 PM on May 20, 2004

Wow, sometimes the people on my own side are intolerable. mw was raising some valid questions, you all are being reactionary as hell by jumping on his ass for it, and this REALLY doesn't need to turn into another "look how bad we are in Iraq" fest. Sheesh.
posted by TungstenChef at 2:21 PM on May 20, 2004

Yeah, this has nothing to do with Iraq. Focus, people!

I just posted this because I thought it was another important thing to bring to people's attention - another example of how rights are slowly being eroded in America.
posted by agregoli at 2:42 PM on May 20, 2004

agregoli, I think the only real question here is your use of the word "slowly". And there are already those righty war-blog types that are spinning this as an indictment of leftist thinking that this could occur. After all, don't we all know that schools are controled by homolefty activists?
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:51 PM on May 20, 2004

wow. after the first link, i was expecting the others to present a better picture, but the story just got worse and worse.

from edweek: In recent months, several New Mexico teachers have faced suspensions over anti- war sentiments that they or their students have posted in classrooms.

if you don't like the politics, i can understand (disagree with, but understand) discontinuing the access to the closed-circuit TV (which the school has done). but suspending a teacher and refusing to give out his credentials to other schools. well, fuck you too. it's scary as hell, and it's not an isolated incident.

as for the poem, maybe she has a great delivery, but i'm not a huge fan of the meter. it's a more than a little rough in spots.

is it good enough for inclusion in a high-school literary magazine? most likely. as for showing it on TV, it depends on the quality of the performance. i expect i would approve it. thank god i'm not a teacher.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:30 PM on May 20, 2004

I am about as conservative a Republican as you can find around here, and that story scares ME. Freedom of speech is one of the things that my military friends put their lives on the line for...

I'm not saying this to go "I told you so," konolia, but turn that fear into anger. Bush and his crew has hustled you and your (and my) military freinds and used you to his ends. As Malcolm X said: You been had.
posted by jonmc at 5:05 PM on May 20, 2004

There are a fair number of news stories about Bill Nevins-- but
I am surprised that there isn't more coverage in the national press, or that the teaching union isn't more involved. I would like to hear if there is another side to this. The dearth of strong opinions for and against this principal's actions is, well, un-American.

I would send an ironic appeal to Ashcroft asking him to defend the rights of the poor principal, but I have a terrible feeling he would actually do something.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:26 PM on May 20, 2004

As Malcolm X said: You been had.

It was way cooler when he said "bamboozled."

Just sayin.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:28 PM on May 20, 2004

Kanolia: I fear your seeming mistake may be in thinking of Bush & Co. as "conservative". They are not!
posted by Goofyy at 4:15 AM on May 21, 2004

Ok, so rights are being eroded quickly, not slowly. Does anyone feel any better?
posted by agregoli at 7:18 AM on May 21, 2004

Can we take New Mexico off the list of Crazy States? As another expat ('lo Bligh) I want to point out that Rio Rathole (uh, Rancho) is a highly conservative bedroom community with deep Mormon roots and is not politically representative of the state as a whole.
posted by Lazlo at 12:45 PM on May 21, 2004

Can we take New Mexico off the list of Crazy States? Or at least read the response from the Rio Rancho schools and the student who wrote the poem?
posted by whatzit at 7:15 PM on May 23, 2004

« Older If Picasso ever painted a library, it might look...   |   Ohio Wants God in Schools Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments