File under: Shameless reposting of a locally reported story

by Yule Heibel on April 24, 2008

An article in our local paper just caught my eye: Belmont student’s edgy speech sparks complaints, by Louise Dickson. Now we all know that the official paper never does what the bloggers do (ow!, where’s my tongue? heck, I think I dislodged it!), and naturally all headlines are to be taken at face value …sure. But as the Times-Colonist is not the National Enquirer, I had to click through on this one because there had to be some kind of story there.

Apparently, a smart, creative 17-year old named Brandon Rosario, full of all the usual energy that comes with that age, competed at one of our area schools, Belmont High School, for the post of class valedictorian. A day later, Brandon Rosario was called to the vice-principal’s office — and yowza, one has to wonder if VPs don’t have enough to do these days.

His speech had become an object of inquiry: was the boy giving offense? Could someone — anyone? — be offended …by his humour?

Thank gods for Youtube, because of course his speech is viewable here: Valedictorian Nominee — Brandon Rosario, so you can decide for yourself.

(An aside: I went to see a play called The Violet Hour at the Belfry Theatre last week; one of its many facets is that it’s about an early 20th century publisher who, together with his assistant, is given books from the future to read — courtesy of a strange machine that arrives uninvited. At some point in the play, the publisher and his assistant begin to “assume” the manners and speech of the future, often stopping themselves self-consciously to wonder, “where did that come from?” The best example is when the assistant gives a little speech about being “offended,” which he announces is the highest form of late 20th-century moral outrage…)

So Brandon Rosario was called to the vice-principal’s office because …why?

“As I understand it, [his speech] had racial slurs and some homophobic type of conversation,” Warder said. “And the school is investigating whether or not there needs to be discipline.”

“Some of it is biting. It’s attacking,” Brandon said. “I don’t think people understand satire these days. But investigating? Like I’m a serial killer or something?”

In his speech, Brandon tells his classmates he doesn’t have much going for him in pursuit of the valedictorian nomination. [Times-Colonist article]

I’m guessing the paper printed this good story to stir the pot — there are more people out there than not who will side with Brandon. The question is whether the conversation will do anything to rein in the sort of over-cautiousness exemplified by “managers” or “rulers” of voices-within-the-box.

Seriously, at this point I think prison inmates have more rights to, and expectation of, free speech than school pupils do — perhaps because it’s at least publicly acknowledged that the former are in jail, while we pretend the latter are free.

Update: Be sure to view the Facebook Group, Support Brandon Rosario’s fight for Free Speech.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Parker Lang April 25, 2008 at 1:18 am

Hey, I go to Belmont Senior Secondary, and I’m a friend of Brandon’s. I’d just like to point out that this thing has been blown WAY out of proportion. It was a speech for our class of ’08 and he didn’t realize it would get out to the world. Most of the people in the bleachers knew that he was simply playing the humor card; those that didn’t likely don’t know him, or are far too up tight. He legitimately admits he went too far with the comment about a former Belmont Staff member, and apologizes. Other than that one statement he totally meant his speech to be comedic.

Parker Lang April 25, 2008 at 1:19 am

P.S. I was actually mentioned in the video, as the person who pees sitting down. I was singularly called out, and I think the entire thing was bloody hilarious.

Yule April 25, 2008 at 8:09 am

Hi Parker, thanks for taking the time to comment. I can totally see how Brandon’s speech could get skewed in the media (and I hope I’m not contributing to that skewing …too much!).

It was a very funny speech and it was not offensive by any stretch. The comment about the teacher was inappropriate / disrespectful, but it was just one small comment in a larger story, and “disrespect” is relative insofar as everyone should have a healthy dose of skepticism with which to view just about anything, including authority figures.

I thought the video conveyed a great sense of maturity, actually — you guys are your own people, you’re not sheep, and you have your own voices. (I’m pluralizing because I hope that Brandon isn’t some kind of freak anomaly at Belmont.) FWIW, my son just turned 17 two weeks ago (and he’s scrambling to finish high school so he can continue at UVic this fall), and he thought the video was very funny, too. There are so many hoops at this point in school, which you guys still have to jump through, that I think it’s great Brandon had the energy to create this mock valedictorian speech. A good laugh is just what’s needed at times of high stress.

Lindsey Sims April 25, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Hi, I’m a student at Belmont and I was lucky enough to hear Brandon Rosairio’s speech and I would just like to point out that everyone is being so ridiculous. Like really? This was a high school speech. People these days are way too touchy and get so worked up about innocent things. The school board is just upset becasue Brandon stepped outside of the box and said things no one else had the balls to say. Brandon was simply pointing out the obvious. (Apart from the “Parker Lang pee’s sitting down like a girl” bit, I never knew that) Everyone knows that Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, and Jerry Seinfield are funny, and most people know that they are also jewish. Secondly, in many many many rap videos, there are voluptuous black woman shaking their ‘hoonies’. And finally, Ms. Tenhove does have a nice rack, every male in Belmont knows that. This whole thing got blown way out of proportion.

Yule April 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Hi Lindsay, thanks for commenting. I guess if you shake your “hoonies” for money, it’s ok, but if you reference people doing that in a satirical speech, it’s “offensive.” Sounds crazy to me, too… 😉

Some day (probably by tomorrow?) this will be a case study at universities for how the mainstream media work, and whether or how social media (Facebook, blogs, etc.) counter this or amplify it.

I’m thinking they do both, in a way, although the key difference is that in the social media networks, the “objects” of media scrutiny get to become “subjects” who speak/ have their own voice, too. You can say what you mean to say, without worrying about being misquoted by the press.

BTW, FWIW, I don’t know of a single city councilor who hasn’t fumed at some point about being misquoted by the mainstream media (particularly the Times-Colonist), so you can bet your rack or hoonies or whatever other body part you might wish to offer up (sitting down or standing) that getting stuff “blown way out of proportion” is standard operating procedure for these outfits.

That’s why, at the end of the day, I put a lot of faith in social media. You still get a chance to set the record straight.

Alanna C April 25, 2008 at 5:32 pm

When I first heard this speech (I’m getting quite sick of that word, incidentally), I thought it was quite humourous except for the rack reference, which I found uncalled for, and the whole vomited-clothes thing, which I didn’t quite follow. When everyone started talking about it, I fluctuated between thinking it was rather funny and understanding the viewpoints of the people who are offended. A lot of what he said can be misunderstood, especially taken out of context. But really, it was an amusing speech, it’s over now. Perhaps he should apologize to Ms. ten Hove who will doubtless be embarrassed to stand in front of her classes now, but he’s had his fifteen minutes of fame and we can still chuckle about it while we go about our daily lives.

Yule April 25, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Good points, Alanna — for sure there is that “15 minutes of fame” aspect. I gather he did apologize to the teacher/ staffer, although referencing her by name all the time probably makes things worse…! Thanks for commenting!

Yule April 27, 2008 at 10:31 am

A PS on the “rack” question. I went to a grad ceremony 2 years ago where the male district superintendent, who happened to be exceptionally tall, made “humorous” remarks about the (male) principal, who happens to be rather short. The principal in turn made “humorous” remarks about the (male) vice principal, who happens to be even more “vertically challenged.”

Hmmm…. (scratches head…)

After the ceremony (at which my daughter, then 12, played piano), there was small dust-up about an unrelated matter, allegedly having to do with my daughter “disrespecting” the vice-principal with a casual remark (which she didn’t make, but that’s another story).

I am not making this up. Here were these grown men acting like …well, less than what one might expect, and the lowest on that particular pecking pole picked on a young girl.

I pointed out that if anyone had been “disrespectful,” it was the adults, starting with the tall district superintendent. And that maybe there was some anger around this, which was now being misdirected?

The “moral” of the story? Make this sort of thing a learning opportunity. The one thing I would encourge Ms. T. to do is to hold up her head (just as the “vertically challenged” vice principal had to), and — martial arts style — to turn the “insult” around against those who would wield it, turn it into a learning opportunity. I’d bet dollars to donuts that she will find many girls in her classes willing to make this into a discussion, use it as a way to talk about “objectification” etc., if she ever finds herself in front of any sniggering males in a class room.

The short vice principal took his issue to the teacher staff meeting and used it to talk about feeling disrespected by his peers (i.e., them), and what effect that might have on his ability to perform as vice principal.

Ms. T. could turn this into a discussion point among her male + female students, to talk about the same thing.

Neither person had anything to do with acquiring the physical attribute that became the object of mockery (for the vice principal) or speculation (for the teacher), so I’d suggest it’s better to turn that into the conversation instead of simply tut-tutting and censoring it.

anon April 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm

“The one thing I would encourge Ms. T. to do is to hold up her head (just as the “vertically challenged” vice principal had to), and — martial arts style — to turn the “insult” around against those who would wield it”

Big titties are something to be proud of, don’t see why she should have a problem holding her head high… that is unless they weight too much lol

Yule May 3, 2008 at 11:56 am

“anon,” I’ve never held a comment in moderation for so long — you commented on the 28th, and I just let the comment through now. Normally, I don’t do that, but I thought I’d have the energy to write a cogent comment back. Since I’ve been knocked out by the flu since Monday, that hasn’t been the case. (One of the reasons I held your comment back was because your use of the word ‘titties’ suggested that you missed the point.)
Let me just attempt a response, however.
It seems to me that teachers are very sensitive about being critiqued or having their authority questioned. The few bits I’ve seen of Belmont’s vice-principal (who is in administration, but admins typically derive from the teacher levels) confirm that.
At the university level, on the other hand, no one blinks anymore at the fact that students evaluate their professors and that sites like abound.
I was a grad students when this was first initiated, and I had friends who were beginning university profs who had a hard time getting used to it. I also struggled with it when I started teaching — first at Harvard as a graduate teaching fellow, and later at MIT. You see, the students could rank us by number, and that number in turn affected whether or not one was in the running to win a teaching award.
You see the problem, right? If you were a strict teacher and had high standards (and didn’t dispense As like they were candies), your students might rank you low; if you were a push-over and handed out As to practically everyone, the students would rank you higher. Right?
Actually, no. It didn’t take the profs (at least the younger generation) long to figure out that you can really focus on the effectiveness of your teaching, and handle student criticism.
Where the real changes happened was at the student level. Students learned rapidly that thoughtful criticism was much more effective and empowering than off-the-cuff remarks about a teacher’s looks or wardrobe. (Yup, those happened of course because the written comments and the numerical evaluations were anonymous. And that sort of “objectification” happened all the time. Still does.)
Why did the students learn to modulate their feedback? Because they could. Because they were allowed to speak (write evaluations). I know high school courses are supposed to be evaluated by students, but the students can’t really say anything about the teacher, and their remarks are more about the course.
Teachers remain isolated from critique.
It’s because they are so isolated from real feedback that it’s possible to think that an off-the-cuff comment about a teacher’s body part will result in her having to go through “unnecessary hell,” as one of the commentors (John) claimed on my follow-up post on April 27.
“Unnecessary hell” because someone remarked on the teacher’s breasts? It seems to me that’s only possible in a hot-house atmosphere where teachers are artificially insulated from student feed-back.
When students routinely provide effective, written feed-back (which is valued in a real way — as ours was, since it affected how our departments evaluated us as university profs), the students can move past comments about breasts (or whatever), and if someone makes a comment like that anyway, it’s recognized as being of marginal value and is therefore ignored.
PS: Excuse the weird periods between paragraphs. As you’ve probably noticed in the comments above, line breaks get stripped out by the blog software in comments. I thought that hitting “enter” and “space” bar would be enough to make them appear, but it isn’t. Space bar, period, space bar seems to do the trick, however. Without breaks, the single block paragraph can be too overwhelming to read — so I guess the funny punctuation mark will have to be place-holder for a line break.

Anon June 29, 2008 at 1:03 pm

I just wanted to point out a huge difference between teaching at a High School and at a University or College. A University Instructor is teaching a class of adults who have, not only chosen to be there, but they have probably worked hard, paid money and jumped many hoops to get there. They obviously value education and will not interfere with the Instructor delivering the lesson to the class.

A High School Teacher, on the other hand, works in an environment of adolescents, many of whome do not want to be there. A High School teacher’s most difficult job is managing the classroom so that it is a place where the students who want to learn, can learn. A high school teacher must challange the bright, academic students and, at the same time try to motivate, trouble shoot and provide extra help to the students who find the curriculum difficult or do not yet value education.

The teacher has to provide a comfortable environment for all students, and this cannot happen if her authority is questioned or undermined. Students feel more comfortable and will learn more if the teacher is the authority and has controll of the class. You could call any public school a “hothouse atmosphere.” The teacher in question teaches at a school of grades nine to twelve – ages 13 to 18. It is not as easy as many people think, to keep the atmosphere of a group of thirty or more adolescents, positive and productive.

And teachers are certainly not isolated from critique (if you want to call it that). They hear criticism every day. However, most of the criticism is not of the thoughtful kind and is not from the students who want to learn. Criticism also does not come just from students. Many parents believe that they know more about how to run a classroom because they have been to school. It’s not only adolescents that believe that the world revolves around them. Many parents believe that the world revolves around their child as well.

If students are able to freely objectify female teachers publicly then the job becomes more difficult for any female teacher. Any time and energy that’s needed to maintain authority in the classroom takes time and energy away from those students who want and need help.

This is not meant to further criticise Brandon, who has apologized for that specific comment. This is only to point out to you, Yule, the difference between the job of a High School Teacher and that of a University Instructor. And also to point out that Highschool Teachers are far from insulated from criticism.

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