Schools' overreaching, and mounting evidence of its civic damage, means Hazelwood will soon be a ghost of Christmases past



If it is true that "coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous," then America's young people have been handed a Christmas blessing that, as with so many blessings, comes disguised as a lump of coal.

It is difficult not to see divine providence in the confluence of Dec. 23 events that history will come to recall as the beginning of the end of the Hazelwood nightmare in America's schools. For on this date, current events came together to dramatize the consequences of 22 years of stifled discussion of political and social issues in America's schools.

The first event was the release of a candid assessment of America's civic well-being by the National Constitution Center. The study, which focused specifically on how the NCC's home base of Pennsylvania stacked up statistically against the rest of the country, looked at varying measurements of Americans' participation in public life. It concluded that remarkably few Americans work cooperatively in addressing local problems, attend community meetings, get involved in political campaigns or otherwise engage in civic life other than as spectators.

The second event, as reported by the Washington Post's education blog, was the decision of two New York City high-school principals to cancel the performance of a student-authored play because it comments critically on the policies of outgoing New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The play, a send-up of the classic Greek tragedy "Antigone," portrays Klein as an unresponsive despot intent on closing schools labeled as underperformers no matter the cost to the community.

Besides timing, what these events have in common is that they exemplify -- in strokes too bold to be ignored -- the toll exacted when public schools were unleashed by the Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier ruling to suppress discussion of controversial issues.

It is telling that the group identified by the NCC as running the greatest deficit in civic participation is the 18-to-29 cohort -- the first generation to be educated entirely under a Hazelwood regime. While it is too simplistic to lay all of the blame on any one factor, we do not have any more generations to waste as civic laboratory rats. The Hazelwood experiment has failed -- it demonstrably has not improved education, school safety, or the civility of discourse -- and as with all failed experiments, the time has come to pull the plug.

In a letter sent Friday in response to the Jamaica High School report, the SPLC urged Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein to seize the initiative to make New York the eighth state to repudiate the Hazelwood standard and restore balance to an educational system that has devalued student expression on issues of public concern to the point of -- borrowing from the president of the National Constitution Center -- "civic recession"

Tagged: censorship, First Amendment