Saturday, April 7, 2012

God Bless Stall Brook. To hell with Rush Limbaugh.

Breaking news: Today absolutely nothing happened!  Students at Stall Brook Elementary sang "God Bless the U.S.A." on key and with no lyrical mishaps.  You heard it here first because none of the crusading media could be bothered to follow up and report anything about it.

I now return you to the original blog...

A while back I setup this blog with the intent of discussing a topic that interests and concerns me both as a software engineer and as a citizen.  My theme is the way that humans are able to process information properly only when it is presented within the proper context.  This was around the time that Andrew Breitbart got Shirley Sherrod fired from her job by convincing people that she had said the exact opposite of what she actually meant.  I never got around to keying those thoughts into cyberspace, but it would have been a great blog.  You'll just have to take my word for it.

Today I feel compelled to write again because I find myself in the middle of a story that has proven everything I always suspected but had no direct proof of.  It's the kind of story that can make a person want to give up on the human race.  That is until you look around, talk to people and find that almost everyone you talk to feels the same way.  If America is so full of raving lunatics, where are they?  They're ranting to the media and getting far more attention than they deserve, but they're not the majority, no matter how loud they are.

Let's backup to the beginning.  A few days ago my wife got into a conversation with fellow parents of students in my daughter's elementary school because of a decision that was made which didn't seem right to her.  In 2012 when you start a conversation, where do you go?  The internet of course!  The conversation point was a touchy subject: the "G" word.  More precisely, the topic was the removal of the "G" word from a well known (but not so popular) country music song from the 80s.  She had heard from another parent that the students were going to sing this song at an assembly, but with the chorus modified to "We Love the U.S.A."  This was confirmed by our daughter who really didn't understand why it was changed, but wasn't fazed by it at all. 

This discussion prompted a few comments from parents who were convinced that this was a case of political correctness run amok.  However, a couple of parents had the courage to proclaim their atheism and explained how uncomfortable it was for them in school when they were told to recite or sing things with references to God or religion.  The other parents were respectful of that, but still didn't feel that changing the lyrics to the song was the right answer.  A number of people felt strongly that out of respect for the original author's work, the words to a song should not be altered.  The general consensus was that if the school had an issue with the lyrics, then they should have simply picked a different song.  Everyone, both heathen and non-heathen were in agreement that this was the simplest solution and really shouldn't be a major issue.

After hearing from the parents the next day, the school decided to drop the song from the assembly.  That wasn't what the parents wanted, but at least everyone's voice was heard and the problem was addressed.  My wife and I didn't feel that was the best possible solution, but it was good enough.  A couple of parents had commented that the whole discussion was exceptionally civil, polite and constructive.  Personally, I had a warm fuzzy feeling that for once, people were able to work out their differences the way they are supposed to - through open communication.

But not everyone was satisfied.  A woman who I shall not name was determined that the children must sing the song with the original lyrics intact.  Against the wishes of the other parents, this woman contacted the local Fox news affiliate and tattled on the administration of Stall Brook Elementary School.  The headline proclaimed that parents were outraged and implied that they were lining up to tell their story.  Against our wishes they showed video of a private email exchange between the parents which included words written by my wife and referencing my daughter.  It was only a tiny fraction of what was said in that discussion, but it was a good sample to represent the "outrage" that was supposedly prevalent.

From here on out, I will have a hard time telling this story without pausing periodically to remind you that this is not a work of fiction.  A few months ago a rabid fox was loose in my neighborhood.  It was tracked down in my own yard by the police and animal control.  The fox was shot and the story was reported on local news.  We thought, if that makes the news, it must really be a slow news day.  Little did I know that my town would later be invaded by Rabid Fox News when they had a slow news day.

Once the story was aired on the local TV news and published on their web-site, the feeding frenzy began.  Todd Starnes of "Bitter America" fame caught wind of it and decided to make it his pet story.  Over the next couple of days articles spread all over the country.  Lee Greenwood himself fanned the flames by saying he did not and would not give permission for anyone to perform his song without the word "God" in it.  We now have the perfect recipe for a great story - a hero, a villain, a pseudo-celebrity and a vaguely credible plot line.

The administration clearly wasn't prepared to handle the pressure from the local news media, never mind the national media.  After a first attempt to end the debate, they backed down completely and gave the students the option to sing or not sing the song with the original chorus.  Yay!  What a great victory for the defenders of God, liberty and apple pie!  Aren't we glad we have freedom of speech and a media that fights for the little guy?

As you can probably guess, the story caught the attention of Rush Limbaugh.  And when Rush speaks, he manages to capture in a few sentences all the insanity that has taken hold of this country:
"the story is there's just some do-gooder in there that wanted to avoid offend (sic) people. I don't think that's the case. I think these people are all activists, and they have an objective in mind, and that's to take God out of as much as they can in this country. It's full secularism on parade, no doubt in my mind."
But here's the problem with Rush's certainty.  Nobody ever got the facts from the teachers who made this decision in the first place.  Nobody asked them why they changed the lyrics to the song.  Were they on a mission to eliminate the word God from public places?  Were they bullied by a radical minority of atheists who threatened to sue them over this song?  We don't know the answer, because we never heard from the teachers.  Perhaps the media called their homes and tried, but I don't blame the teachers for not wanting speak to them.   Not having any statements from either the teachers or the parents never stopped them from reporting the story.  Once the story is out, the commentators get to fill in the blanks with their assumptions about what happened and then it spreads from news site to news site morphing just a little bit at every step, until the entire country hears a myth that Stall Brook teachers are radical atheists and Stall Brook parents want their heads on a stick.  But none of it is true.

The truth is the system was working until the vultures swooped in to make a few bucks off the gullible by blowing the story completely out of proportion.  Todd Starnes claims that things like this show up in the news daily.  Oh really?  Then why has this one dragged on for days already?  Shouldn't there be another story already for you to yammer on about?  Why don't you go be an actual journalist and do some research.  Look around at your own news web site for a start, and tell me just how often these things really do happen in a nation with 99,000 public schools!  Then go deeper into those stories and find out just how many are actually what they appear to be.  A good reporter might have asked some questions that would have shed light on my questions.  Perhaps they might have asked someone "Do the students recite the pledge of allegiance every day?"  Yes, they do, and they even say 'under God' if they so choose.  A better reporter might have even tried to investigate whether there were ever any other incidents where religious speech was ever stifled or suppressed at this school before painting it as a bastion of militant secularism.

Fox News and their ilk have convinced the people of this country that their friends and neighbors, the ones who take little pay to teach their children, are their enemies.  They've done this by relentlessly beating a drum about how the "minority" has gotten the upper hand over the majority.  They're right about that, but the minority that has taken hold of this country is them!  They insist that the battle ground of this war against the majority is our public schools.  By doing this, they've made it more and more difficult for teachers to do their jobs and make rational decisions about what they say and do.  They must constantly worry that some extremist on the left or the right might drag them into court, or bring news cameras into their school.  Worse, they have to worry that people might start making threats, and that the local police might have to lock down the school and keep the children indoors for recess.  Does that sound paranoid to you?  Well, that's exactly what happened.

The administration already had addressed the needs of their community before the media ever got involved.  The school was forced to react to uninformed people outside of their community that have no business dictating the content of our school assemblies.  Nobody in Bellingham was ever bullied by anyone to sing or not to sing, until Fox News showed up and tried to defend us.  The same people that claim that a federalist liberal elite are taking over your communities are routinely barging into those same communities and forcing them to cater to their demands.  The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

This country was founded to defend its people from tyranny in all its many forms.  The newest tyrant is the media and the people who buy into their nonsense.  I reject this tyrant.  I stand with the folks that are presenting my children with facts, not advertisements.  I stand with the people who are willing to hear what I have to say and not broadcast it distorted without its original context.  I stand with the people who educate, not manipulate.  I stand with the good teachers of my little Stall Brook Elementary School.  God Bless Stall Brook.  To hell with Rush Limbaugh.