The Fairness Doctrine--School Edition
A New York Times report examines a few recent cancellations of Rent: School Edition by public schools across the country. These school administrators and parents feel that the frank discussions of homosexuality, H.I.V., and drug use are not age appropriate to be presented or viewed by high school students.
Reporter Patrick Healy reports:
The New York producers of “Rent,” who receive some royalties from the school edition, said they hoped it would become a new, revenue-generating staple of the high school musical landscape, as well as a teaching tool that augments sex education and draws teenagers to acting and theater with a more modern production than, say, “The Music Man.”
With all due respect to this wonderful Broadway play, Rent should not ever be viewed in order to augment sex education classes. The play certainly deals with, in dramatic fashion, the issue of sex and homosexuality, but that does not make it a valuable educational tool. In my opinion, it would be the same as Hugh Heffner creating Playboy: School Edition and hoping it would be used to educate high schoolers in their sex education classes.
Healy describes a recent Facebook video of Corona del Mar High School students using gay slurs and the theater teacher, Ron Martin's reasoning for choosing Rent: School Edition:
"This is the first time I’ve chosen a show for the high school because I had an agenda,” Mr. Martin said. “In this instance, having an agenda as a teacher didn’t give me pause. My job is to give my students life skills. Discrimination is wrong on all levels."
First, Mr. Martin is correct that discrimination is wrong. He is correct in his implication that homosexual students in high schools across this country face discrimination and pain. Yet, I can't help but wonder whether Mr. Martin and other theater directors have the same sympathy for the discrimination that evangelical Christians face on a daily basis. While I make every effort to correct students who call things they don't like "gay," can I honestly say that I correct students who use "Jesus" or "Christ" in an abusive manner. That is equally offensive. If Mel Gibson writes The Passion of the Christ: School Edition, will these same high minded directors have an agenda that includes that play?
In the end, I don't have an issue with such a play being offered at the high school level. I would have an issue with it if the drama teacher made the play mandatory for his students, or if a school made it mandatory for students to view.
Drama, like Rent or Dead Man Walking, has the ability to create dialogue. But when there is a specific agenda, an intent to indoctrinate, then these productions lose my support. The best dramatic presentions create dialouge, honest and accepting dialogue.
Recently, Ellington High School in Connecticut performed the adapted production of Dead Man Walking, and not only performed it brilliantly, but offered a forum for discussion on the controversial death penalty. When the level of discourse is raised by these productions, then they are truly successful.