Thursday, April 15, 1999

deep springs essay 2a

From the Archives
Another horrific college application essay

2.) Kindergarten teachers have taught generations of droolers: “You are special,” and “There is no one else on earth exactly like you.” It is that philosophy that has been responsible for modern man’s hubris; the excessive pride that can lead to one’s downfall. This is quite common in today’s society, probably even more so than it was in Ancient Greek drama, which used this motif in practically every play to define the tragic hero. This theme of an inflated ego can be seen in Euripides’ Medea, where the questions of “What is love?” and “What is its’ purpose?” are asked. This play is evidence of the correlation between love for another and love for one’s self.

It is the story of Medea, a bitter, side-lined woman on the verge of insanity, who’s husband, Jason, has left her for a princess. Because of this, she seeks vengeance by hurting her husband through killing his loved ones; she is still reeling from her husbands betrayal. Through Jason’s and Medea’s relationship, Euripides throws upon us the responsibility of defining love. Originally, Medea fell in love with Jason because she was in love with herself. Say what? She was so in love with herself and had such a huge ego that she needed someone else to verify her greatness by that person also being in love with her. This is where Jason fits in.

Jason satisfies Medea’s yearning for reciprocity and Medea serves the same purpose with Jason. The love that one experiences for another is really unconsciously in hopes that that person will satiate their appetite for self-worship. So one might ask about sex and lust, and how they can exist if one just loves one’s self, but these are merely primal instincts that we have created to serve as a facade and to continue the illusion that we are high and mighty beings; full of morals and compassion for others. But the truth is we’re not. We are like any other species, our primary concern is for ourselves, no matter how much volunteer work and “selfless” service one does to deny this basic principle. In agreement with Ayn Rand, nothing we ever do is really selfless: people do community service not to help other people, but they do it because of the compassionate feeling they obtain from helping other people.

Medea is the personification of these statements, her primary concern is to look out for herself. When the king hears of Medea’s plans, he gives her a day to leave town. In that one day of asylum Medea is given, all hell breaks loose, starting with Medea sending her kids to poison the princess. Both the princess and the king die to the lethal toxins that were unleashed upon them by innocent children (a wonderful example of irony). And yet, Medea feels no regret because she is blinded by revenge; instead of fleeing the town, she remains there due to either a lack of fear or a plethora of madness. Or a combination of both:

“The men of old times had little sense; If you called them fools you wouldn’t be far wrong. They invented songs, and all the sweetness of music, to perform at feasts, banquets, and celebrations; But no one thought of using music to banish the bitterness of life. Sorrow is the real cause of deaths and disasters and families destroyed. If music could cure sorrow it would be precious; but after a good dinner why sing songs? When people have fed full they’re happy already.” (p.23)

Medea has definitely not “fed full”, because she’s still not happy, even after killing the king and the princess. This foreshadows the further trouble that she’s going to cause. And the reader can also deduce that it’s going to be a big action that’s committed because “if music could cure sorrow it would be precious;” this means that music can not cure sorrow, and so Medea will probably have to resort to another act, like murder since “sorrow is the real cause of deaths . . . and families destroyed.” This is even more significant, foretelling of the possibility that she may kill her own family.

Medea is not the shy, passive woman that Greek women are supposed to be; she is the “wild woman” that Clarrisa Pinkolas Estes writes about. Medea lives outside the bounds of society, she disregards conventional wisdom and instead follows her instincts, much like the wolf simile that Estes uses to describe the “wild woman”.

Yet still, the curtain has yet to be pulled back, to reveal her most “wild” aspects. To infuriate Jason even further, Medea does an act unthinkable to most mothers: she kills her two sons. Her ego could no longer handle the fact that Jason no longer loved her, it was a blow to her hubris. She didn’t want to kill off her husband. No, that would have been to painless; she wanted to make her husband suffer the worst kind of suffering: loss and betrayal; the same feelings she experienced when Jason left her, except now on a much larger and more painful scale.

Medea killed off her own flesh and blood, not out of murderous glee, but because the kids were also Jason’s flesh and blood, a reminder of the man who had caused her so much pain. Yet, in a sense she killed off a part of her too, so it proved true that “sorrow is the real cause of deaths and disasters and families destroyed.” The final act of revenge that Medea committed was her refusal to let Jason hold or even see his kid’s lifeless bodies. She blocked the entrance to the door as he stood outside begging to be let in. There are a lot of sexual metaphors here; the closed door basically represents Medea’s closed legs, as she refuses to let Jason enter. This establishes a permanent break in the bond that once unified them. Jason has no one to go to home to; both Medea and Jason are stuck in a rut together with no one else left, including each other. Too much had happened between the two for them to ever reconcile, both of their hubris’s had led to their downfall.

“Yes, I can endure guilt, however horrible; The laughter
of my enemies I will not endure.” (p.41)

deep springs essay

From the Archives
Another cringe-inducing college application essay found in my lazy day of doing nothing

2.) A truly chilling book is Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. No its not the popular sort of thrill that fuels Stephen King’s and Dean Koontz’s book sales; nor does it involve the vampires or any other mythic monsters that are the basis for books by Anne Rice and Mary Shelly. It is the most frightening type of horror that we all must face; it is the thought that after death we may no longer exist, that there might be no soul and no heaven and no hell; that fear of not knowing what’s going to happen to us when we die.

Antoine Roquentin is an early-20th century French historian who is horrified by these thoughts. Unlike most novels of its’ time, Nausea is written in diary format in a style that is practically stream-of-consciousness as Antoine describes his thoughts and experiences at cafes, at his apartment, and at the Bouville library where he is researching the Marquis de Rollebon for a biography he is writing. At the library, Antoine encounters the Self-Taught Man, a quiet man, who as his name implies, taught himself. The Self-Taught Man spends practically all of his time at the library reading every book that he possibly can. The two become acquaintances (not friends) and occasionally meet in cafes to debate humanism and existentialism. The Self-Taught Man is a humanist and his ideological adversary is Antoine, who is an existentialist.

Much of Antoine’s time and thoughts are consumed by thinking about existentialism, particularly when he is overcome by the “nausea,” (the feeling of vast emptiness that overcomes him when he realizes that after death, he will no longer exist). Antoine describes his nausea by saying, “I have never before had such a strong feeling that I was devoid of secret dimensions, confined within the limits of my body, from which airy thoughts float up like bubbles. I am cast out, forsaken in the present: I vainly try to rejoin the past: I cannot escape,” (p.33). Nausea is quite different from most of the other books around that time, instead of relying mostly on plot and action, very little action takes place in the book; this book relies on intense, raw thought. This is also one of the few novels that so thoroughly explores the fear of death that is innate to every human.

Nausea explores the feelings that one experiences when they think about death and dying. Antoine literally gets so sick sometimes, thinking about death, that he can not even leave his apartment. Antoine’s too smart for his own good; it is his constant thinking about questions that can not be answered on Earth that is the cause of his misery. The saying “Ignorance is Bliss,” truly applies here where Antoine desperately tries to revert back to the past when he was “ignorant”; when he still believed that there was a heaven he would go to when he died. Antoine vainly tries to rejoin the past by getting back together with his ex-girlfriend Anny; he believes this will make things the way they used to be.

Anny is the antithesis to Antoine. Antoine, an atheist, understands that his life is going to be lived here on earth, but instead of seizing the day, he devotes his time to studying some person that is already dead, unconsciously hoping he may figure out what’s going to happen to him when he dies. While Anny is portrayed as cold-hearted because she does seize the day, she lives for the moment and doesn’t care too much about peoples’ feelings, she moves on quickly, while Antoine is still struggling to pick up the pieces and hopefully patch things up with Anny. Anny is constantly in the presence of other people, while Antoine spends practically all of his time by alone thinking; tormenting himself by trying to answer the unanswerable. He has no real friends either; all he has is an acquaintance and an ex-girlfriend.

In this book there are so many tragic characters. Anny is almost as foolish as Antoine, but she’s foolish because she’s so naive and ignorantly happy. Another tragic character is the Self-Taught Man. He is a walking contradiction; while he claims he’s a humanist, he has practically no interaction with the human species and probably wouldn’t even know what to do if someone besides Antoine starting talking to him. The Self-Taught Man spends all of his time cloistered in the library trying to learn anything that he doesn’t already know. But one day his sanctuary from the human species is broken when he’s caught fondling a little boy. The Self-Taught Man resorted to pedophilia because he didn’t know how to approach someone his own age; he knew so much yet he was still so stupid. Sartre capitalizes on the Self-Taught Man to give a warning against the dangers of intellectualism just for the sake of it. Well anyways, he was forever banned from the library. He cried and begged to be allowed to stay, but ironically the humanist was thrown out on to the street and forced to fend for himself amongst humanity.

Then of course there’s Antoine, who is also a very lonely and sad character; in some respects much like the Grinch who stole Christmas. He believes humans are foolishly happy and blithe; their happiness brings Antoine down even more. So like the Grinch, he would like to see that happiness taken away from them; he hopes for change just in hopes of seeing people lose their tranquillity. In one instance, Antoine said, “One morning people will open up their blinds and be surprised by a sort of frightful sixth sense, brooding heavily over things and seeming to pause. Nothing more than that: but for the little time that it lasts, there will be hundreds of suicides. Yes! Let it change just a little, just to see, I don’t ask for anything better. Then I’ll burst out laughing even though my body may be covered with filthy, infected scabs which blossom into flowers of flesh, violets, buttercups,” (p.159). For someone that is mainly thought of as a philosopher, Sartre has decent style of writing. Though his writing is probably second-rate to the ideas presented.

This book is not wonderfully written. Sartre is not the most eloquent of writers, but the power of this book lies not in its literary value, but in its ability to make the reader think. To make a person laugh is simple, to make a person mad is easy, and to a make person cry is just as simple a thing to do, but the ability to make a reader examine their beliefs and think about the ones being presented is a noble achievement. If a mere sheet of paper and the ink printed upon it have the ability to actually make you think, or even better, if it can alter the way you think, it has a far greater power than that of those books which are deemed classics.

deep springs essay 1

From the Archives
Another college application essay found on this disc of random stuff from 12th grade, all of it so cringe-worthy. This, especially.

1.) Self. What a difficult word to put into words, especially in this stage of my life when I’m trying to figure out exactly what “self” means.

I’m the artsy, drama geek you always thought was gay. People form this opinion because I don’t try to emulate the Britches models who attempt to assimilate the youth of America into preps, so they can yield a larger annual profit margin to attract more investors. People who just mindlessly follow the herd of society and take what’s spoon-fed to them, drive me crazy. I like people who think for themselves and question our society’s beliefs. I am one of these people; I think for myself and definitely question our society’s beliefs.

As a kid I pontificated about life’s great mysteries, and would ask my parents questions like: What’s that thing on your chin (referring to my mom’s mole)? What’s going to happen to me when I die (a question I still wonder about)? And from the backseat, in chorus with my sister, “Are we there, yet?”

As I went through puberty and the loss of innocence that accompanies it, I continued in Socratic method, but the focus of my questions changed. Instead of wondering, “Are we there?,” I began to wonder: Where is there? Where do I want to be and what do I want to be doing when I grow-up? When I first asked myself this question, I wanted to be the next Hulk Hogan, and since then I’ve wanted to be everything from the president to a street vendor in Jamaica, from a reporter to an actor, and from a plain old millionaire to a hobo just riding the rails.

Questions permeated practically every part of my life. I began to question the doctrines of the Catholic church; then later I began to doubt the validity of any religion. I came to the realization that religions were established for the sole purpose of easing man’s innate fear of dying. Besides having questions about religion, I also began to have questions about my sexuality (something I’m still struggling to figure out). I found myself attracted to men and women; though I still consider myself straight, it’s a very hard thing to come to terms with and its an even harder thing to try and explain. Right now, I consider myself in a stage of exploration, where I’m trying to figure out exactly what I am. Are these things just a temporary stage in my life, or what? Am I gay? Straight? Bisexual? Catholic? Atheist? What?

In my freshman year of high school for Lent, I decided to give up eating meat. My worried parents made me research this because they thought I would get sick, “not getting enough proteins.” While researching vegetarianism, I read about the many benefits of going vegetarian and the many evils of eating meat. When Easter came and Lent was over, I decided not to eat the ham as an act of conscience, and haven’t eaten meat since. I just can’t eat meat anymore, it’s such an immoral act. Some carnivores, in an attempt to justify their diets, claim that they didn’t kill the animals, so it’s okay. But it’s supply and demand; carnivores are demanding by purchasing the product, so the meat industry continues to supply. By being a purchaser of animals, one is basically a hitman, not committing murder, but still responsible.

Late at night, in bed, I come to these conclusions, thinking about issues running the entire gamut from alien-life to communism to all the people who have held the same penny. To let my mind release, I get out of bed, walk carefully reaching for the light switch, flick it, then grab a cheap spiral notebook and thumb to a blank page. There I write poetry, manifestos, notes to myself, and indistinguishable doodles. These are my free psychiatric sessions.

Other things that ease my mind and make me wildly happy are John Waters’ movies, old cartoons from when I was a kid (ex. The Simpsons and Inspector Gadget), and a radio that emits funky tunes. In addition to these selfish methods, as trite as this sounds, I take satisfaction out of helping others.

Throughout high school I’ve helped Key Club tutor kids, collect blood, and distribute food for the poor. Over the summer I volunteered with Meals on Wheels, and saw first-hand the disturbing conditions in which some of our elderly reside. In one instance, I was overcome by a feeling of melancholy as I entered a dilapidated house with musty, stale air that reeked of cats and choked me the second I entered her house. She was an elderly woman confined to a bed with the happiest look on her face that someone actually came to visit her.

At that moment I was deeply saddened by an old woman’s misfortunes, but as bad as this sounds, I usually take pleasure out of other peoples’ misery. If I see someone fall, or spill a drink all over their nice clothes, I will burst into wild, spastic laughter that borders on cackling. That’s why I like shows like Jerry Springer so much, and even own a copy of Jerry Springer: Too Hot for TV.

But, just because I take some odd sick pleasure from Jerry Springer doesn’t mean I’m a Philistine. In fact, quite the opposite. Living so close to Washington, D.C., I get a wonderful exposure to the arts: hop on the subway and in half an hour I’m looking through all the different art museums and galleries, staring at works by van Gogh, Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Warhol, or listening to one of the many concerts that are continually taking place throughout DC. There’s also a thriving literary scene with poetry readings and slams constantly taking place, along with book signings. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Rita Dove and my favorite author, Irvine Welsh.

Theater, though, is probably one of my favorite art mediums. I’m a Thespian and also very involved with the school theater, participating in many of the plays. Some people, though, think that I’m a bit too dedicated. For example, last year in The Music Man, my character was a middle-aged, balding man, so I shaved a bald spot in the back of my head. My parents both were stunned, and when they regained consciousness, I explained it to all them.

I also often get the chance to go see plays in DC, and being my cheap self, I’ve found a way to see just about any play, free. I don’t know why, but I am quite a penny-pincher. I have a well paying part-time job at the library, so it’s not a of lack of money. It’s just another one of those sick, odd pleasures I get out of life. I love shopping at thrift stores - that’s another essay in itself - there are just so many interesting things to do there and so many random items to find. I frequent yard sales, flea markets, and, of course, dollar stores.

A description of my “self” would not be complete without mention of my personality. I make bitter, sarcastic comments as an old, scratchy-voiced grandmother might. I question authority; I like to know why things are the way they are. Recently, at the library we had a staff meeting and my boss said, that if we saw people looking at inappropriate material on the internet we should tell someone at the information desk. I knew she was probably referring to pornography, but I asked her anyways, “What do you mean by ‘inappropriate material’?” She sat there, confused I would ask this, trying to think of an “appropriate” way to explain “inappropriate material.” I stared at her, waiting for her to reply. She said, “Well, if you see someone looking at pictures of naked girls.” Upset at this instance of censorship, I asked, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” She looked even more startled and the staff burst out laughing, thinking I was kidding. If they only knew.

another college application essay

From the Archives
Okay, this one's real cringe-inducing, but you know, whatever.

Sixty-dollar, Nike running shoes sheltered my then size ten feet. I now loathe the idea that I once strived to be cool, like everybody else. My main goal in middle school was to fit in; take the bus to school, make it through the day with as little interaction with people as possible, get back on the bus, sit in the middle (not too close to the front so I won’t be a geek and not too close too the back with the cool people either, the middle’s just fine for blending), hurry home from the bus stop, and repeat, day after day for two hideous years. About every five months I begged my mom for a new, expensive pair of Nikes. They were mass-produced shoes with no personality that every person and their mother wore. That’s why I wanted them, because they weren’t loud or dorky—perfect for assimilation. I tied my laces so taut, I had to tuck the excess string into the inner side of the shoe, so there wouldn’t be the chance of tripping and embarrassing myself in front of the peers I emulated.

Finally it was over, and with my new, cheap, twenty-dollar, blue Converse Chuck all-stars, I walked into high school. High school. At the time it sounded so cool and mature. My shoes landed on the dull, gray, tiled floor without effort or determination ,as I strolled from class to class. After all, these were walking shoes, not running shoes. The blue color of my shoes reflected the mood I was in, in those days when grunge and Nirvana were it. I began to have many questions about the world that either were left unanswered or weren’t answered to my satisfaction. Also during this time I went through puberty and the accompanying loss of innocence. The laces on my shoe were no longer so tight, in fact they were loose, so I could slide my shoes on and off without having to retie them. No longer was it necessary to tuck the shoelaces into the side.

I continued to wear the blue chucks, which were now size eleven and a half, because they were one of the few shoes that weren’t made of leather, as I was now a vegetarian. But they soon got trendy and with that, retailers knew they could charge more; the price went up to around thirty dollars. After three years of blue Chucks I decided it was time for yet another change.

On the first day of my last two hundred and fifty or so of high school, beige Converse Jack Parcells softened my feet as they walked across the same gray, tiled floor that I’ve looked at way too many times and have determined that they must have been the cheapest tiles because they certainly aren’t the prettiest. Confident, and finally walking with determination, I now revel in my awkwardness.

New College Application Essay

From the Archives
The essay that I sloppily wrote to make the New College application deadline on why I want to attend NC. Cringe-worthy, indeed.

As cheesy and as typical college-essayish as this may sound, there are many reasons why I would love to attend New College. I only wish I had found about the school earlier so I could have mailed in my application much earlier. The school’s unconventional approach to education greatly appeals to me. For example, the fact that there are no grades is a system I like very much so. Working and cramming to get a solitary letter seems like a vain struggle to me; I would much rather be intrinsically motivated and learn for the sake of bettering one’s self.

Many of my friends think New College is a joke school since it doesn’t have grades but I tell them (one of the other reasons I want to attend) that au contrair, it in fact is an excellent school with well-respected academics, particularly in the humanities and liberal arts, an area in which I plan to study either English or political science, possibly both. As if that weren’t enough, New College also offers much smaller classes compared to some of the large public universities to which I am applying. I think I’d learn a lot better in this environment since all the focus is put on undergraduates at this relatively small-sized school.

But, besides all these academic reasons, there are also other more social reasons why I would love to attend New College. I’ll come right out and say it, I won’t repress one of the reasons: the Florida climate. Plain and simple. Practically all of the other schools to which I am applying are up in the frigid north, and New College just looks so darn appealing, particularly now as I write this and snow steadily falls as I glance out my window about every thirty seconds, thinking of what else to say. Another social aspect that appeals to me is the absence of a frat scene, in which identities are lost and a line is drawn between the cool and socially awkward aka geeks (me). New College also seems liberally inclined which appeals to my super-leftist political views. But, that’s not to take anything away from the academic reasons, it just adds to them, and makes New College I school that I would ever so much lovvvvvvvve to attend.

Thursday, April 1, 1999

WPHS International Banquet

From the Archives
Our senior year, Rachel Herman and I decided to audition for the Int’l Banquet at school, and sang the German version of “99 Luftballons,” even though neither of us knew German or even half the lyrics. We danced, improved, and tried to sing the parts we did know in the audition, all to the appalled looks of the foreign language faculty. Needless to say, we were not selected to perform. I was also mad about what was selected to perform. Stupid-ass people from my Spanish class singing in sombreros, so we organized a mini-protest and wore signs at the Int’l Banquet and passed out signs to other people, hoping to cause some trouble. Well, we did. The Mount Vernon Gazette published my letter as an opinion article, the county conducted an investigation, and I got called down to a nervous prinipal’s office all the time, who was worried that I would sue the school or something. As a result, Ms. Coile, my Spanish teacher hated me the whole year, gave me a D, and I had to deal with hostility from the dumb boys in my Spanish class that I critiqued every fucking day. Fast times at WePo High.

To: Foreign Language Department, Ms. Carma Norman, Superintendent Domenech, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mt. Vernon Gazette
From: Charlie Q
Subject: Ethnic stereotypes at the International Banquet (March 23)

I was in attendance at the West Potomac International Banquet on March 23 and what I saw repulsed me. I saw no celebration of culture, instead I saw numerous stereotypes of multiple ethnicities. One of the more bothering scenes was a quartet of non-Spanish students doing a grotesque imitation of “Spanish culture,” wearing sombreros and serapes while singing the alphabet and the days of the week. A good comparison to this would be if a bunch of white students were to do a minstrel show by performing with painted black faces. Few Spanish people wear sombreros anymore, that is a common misconception held by tourists and many Americans. My dad came from Chile and lived in Mexico for awhile; life was fairly normal with people dressing like most westerners do - no sombreros. These stereotypical misconceptions of other cultures only add to the ignorance of them that so plagues our already racially divided society. One would hope that schools might be an environment where students are taught the truth about other cultures so that the next generation might not be so racially divided. One should be outraged that students are being taught these almost bigoted misconceptions.

In addition to my outrage over that, I am even more so outraged that the school tried to stifle the voices of those who spoke out against these ethnic stereotypes. Many students were wearing paper signs taped their chest that read: “Fight Ethnic Stereotypes” or “Eliminate Ignorance At Its Root—speak out against ethnic stereotypes.” Students were simply exercising their freedom of speech by non-violently and quietly speaking out against ethnic stereotypes. Foreign language teachers told students to remove their signs. We should celebrate different viewpoints - not suppress them!

The foreign language teachers were outraged that they did not have an obsequious, homogeneous crowd of sheep before them. I, myself, probably had at least five different teachers separately come tell me that I should take my sign off. Many teachers went up to students and told them that the principal, Ms. Norman had said to take the signs off; that is the argument my Spanish teacher used when she accosted me and told me to remove my sign. But, in later talking with the principal, I learned that she had said no such thing. Ms. Norman told me that often teachers will say she said something just to get students to listen. This appears to be that type of situation since Ms. Norman never once said that students needed to remove their signs. The foreign language teachers telling students to remove their sign was a definite violation of our constitutional rights.

In the United States vs. O’Brien, 391 US 367 (1968), the Supreme Court upheld the centrality of political speech and said that it is protected. They made a distinction between speech and conduct. And for those that may argue this does not apply in schools, the Supreme Court has clearly said that it does in Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 US 503 (1969). In that case the students’ freedom of speech was reinforced as students were allowed the right to wear black armbands on their arms to protest the Vietnam War. This is very similar to our case and so it is quite distressing to see how our fundamental rights were violated. The Burger court expanded on this, in the case of Bethel School District, No. 403 vs. Fraser, 478 US 675 (1986). The Bethel decision permitted school authorities to discipline students whose speech in their judgment is offensively lewd and indecent.

Our speech was neither. And it does not matter what the county policy is, because the supremacy clause in the Constitution explicitly states that the federal law is supreme over local law. So, the actions of March 23 were definitely unconstitutional. I hope some action is taken against the foreign language teachers who violated our civil liberties. The cherished rights that we hold as Americans were raped. One might teach them what students’ constitutional rights are, so that hopefully in the future they will not try to suppress the voices of those who rightfully voice their dissent to things they oppose, like I now do in this letter.

What follows is the response from the County, written on May 10, 1999
TO: Robert E. Frye, Sr.
FROM: Daniel W. Jackson, Jr.
SUBJECT: International Banquet at West Potomac High School

This is in response to your inquiry about a complaint by student, Charlie Q, against the teachers and administrators in charge of the International Banquet at West Potomac High School on March 23, 1999. Mr. Q sent an e-mail to Carma Norman, principal, West Potomac; the foreign language department; Superintendent Domenech; the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mount Vernon Gazette. Mr. Q charged that the entertainment at the banquet promoted ethnic stereotypes; that Hispanic culture was demeaned by non-Hispanic students singing songs in Spanish and wearing sombreros and serapes; and that administrators violated free speech rights of several students who protested about ethnic stereotyping. He expressed the “hope that some action is taken against the foreign language teachers who violated our civil liberties.”

Bonnie Becker, equity specialist, Office of Equity and Compliance (OEC), investigated these charges by interviewing: Ms. Norman; Scott Turner, assistant principal, who supervises the West Potomac foreign language department; Gisela Carty, chair, foreign language department; Martha Abbott, coordinator, foreign language, Department of Instructional Services; and Don Sheldon, Area 1 Superintendent, all of whom were present at the banquet. Ms. Becker reviewed notes taken by Mr. Turner when he had interviewed six foreign language teachers (including Ms. Carty and Bonnie Coile) shortly after the event took place. Christian Braunlich, School Board member, also attended the dinner although Ms. Becker did not interview him.

The purpose of the International Banquet is to showcase the school’s foreign language department by giving the students and opportunity to demonstrate the language skills and cultural awareness they had acquired in the academic program. Skits for the after-dinner entertainment were chosen by tryouts in front of a panel of several foreign language teachers and Mr. Turner. Mr. Q himself tried out for the entertainment program with a presentation in German. His skit was not selected by the panel, because it was described as “not well prepared,” “painfully embarrassing” and “a horror show.”

One of the skits selected by the panel consisted of a medley of Spanish Level One songs sung by a group of several boys. These boys were not Hispanic but rather students in the Level One Spanish classes and studying Spanish as a foreign language. Ms. Abbott said that the songs are widely used in the beginning Spanish curriculum. The sombreros and serapes that the boys wore as costumes while singing these songs could be regarded as “folk dress” that reflected traditional culture rather than as stereotypes. There were no actions in the skits that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Hispanic peoples or any other ethnic groups. In fact, Ms. Carty said that the persons involved with the show had made adjustments in some skits, specifically to avoid cultural misunderstandings.

In reference to the alleged abridgement of free speech rights of the students, Mr. Turner remembered seeing students wearing signs at least half way through the banquet and said that no students complained to him about being made to remove their signs. Ms. Abbott, also, recalled noticing that a few students had sings fastened on their chests but that neither the students nor the signs appeared to be causing any problem. According to Ms. Carty, as people were arriving for the banquet, one of the teachers told her that some students were wearing signs. Among the slogans were: “Fight Ethnic Stereotypes” and “Eliminate Ignorance at Its Root—speak out against ethnic stereotypes.” Of the 350-plus persons attending the banquet, Ms. Carty said she saw about five or six students with signs. She told Mr. Q that his sign was inappropriate, because it had nothing to do with the purpose of the banquet and that she thought the students should not be wearing them. However, she did not make him take the sign off nor did she take any other actions on the subject. Another teacher, Ms. Coile, also told Mr. Q that the signs were inappropriate and told him that she “would strongly suggest that you remove the signs.” Like Ms. Carty, she not make him take the sign off.

While Mr. Q and the several other students who participated in this protest obviously did not personally approve of the presentation of the Level One Spanish songs, neither the songs nor the presentation violated FCPS policy or regulations. In approving this activity, school administrators had exercised reasonable care in selecting groups for the after-dinner program and chosen material that was specifically relevant to the academic program of the foreign language curriculum.

The letter from Mr. Q indicates that he researched court cases associated with student free speech rights, and he is to be commended for his effort. There is not question that the students had a right to express their opinions, and none of the teachers or administrators made the students remove their signs. The students apparently knew about the skit with the Level One Spanish songs prior to attending the banquet. However, they did not make efforts to let the program planners know of their concern before the night of the performance so that problems could be resolved while the show was still in rehearsal. What Mr. Q interpreted as a violation of free speech rights of the students was within the permissible behavior of teachers who have not only their own right to express opinions but also an obligation to give guidance to students about the public exercise of free speech.

The Office of Equity and Compliance concurs with the decision of the school administration not to take action against the teachers involved. The OEC will recommend that the principal remind the entire faculty about their ever-present responsibilities both to protect student free speech rights and to guide student behavior.

If there are any questions about our findings, please contact Bonnie Becker, Office of Equity and Compliance, 750-8485.

cc: Daniel A. Domenech, Don Sheldon, Carma Norman, Charlie Q