It is as if the Enlightenment never happened.

Francis Wheen over at the L.A. Times has a great little rant on how modern Americans tend to be an overly credulous lot incapable of reasoning their way out of a wet paper bag. There’s nothing said that I’ve not said a hundred times myself, but it’s said well and worth a read.

When Reason Sleeps, Mumbo-Jumbo Frolics

Over the last 25 years or so, after two centuries of gradual ascendancy, Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and scientific empiricism have come under fierce assault from a grotesquely incongruous coalition of radical deconstructionists and medieval flat-earthers, New Age mystics and Old Testament fundamentalists.

The space vacated by notions of history and progress has been colonized by cults, quackery, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of gibberish. A Gallup poll in 1993, for example, found that only 11% of Americans accepted the standard scientific account of evolution, whereas 47% maintained that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Another poll revealed that 49% of Americans believed in demonic possession, 36% in telepathy and 25% in astrology. It is as if the Enlightenment never happened.

There have been astonishing scientific advances in the last quarter-century, exemplified by the creation of the Internet and the mapping of the human genome. In spite of this — or, more likely, because of it — millions of Westerners now seek consolation from mumbo-jumbo merchants and snake-oil vendors.

Alas these days I feel that folks like us are just howling into the wind for all the good it does. Yet I keep on howling just the same.

29 thoughts on “It is as if the Enlightenment never happened.

  1. Could it be that because of all the technological advances of our age, which may be too overwhelming to comprehend and keep up with, we are more comforted by older, traditional beliefs?  (I use “we” very loosely here, mind you.  Most of the present company excluded.)

  2. Susan Jacoby coverd some of the same ground in her new book Freethinkers. I don’t recall that she got into any discussion of new age idealogies. Her main focus was on the success of the evangelical right in blurring the distinction between scientific and religeous concepts.

    I’ll take a chance at suggesting some other contibuting factors.

    1)Echos of the Viet Nam war—distrust of authority, and some counter culture ideas that hung on.

    2)The notion that the ideas of dead white men aren’t relevant.

    3)Indifference to learning anything not related to a specifc career path.

    4)Indifferece (for whatever reason) for learning much of anything.

    5)Commercial television being, well commercial television

    6)The attention span of the general public and the need to communicate in sound bites.

    7)The religeous right and more recently the political far Right in rewriting history, and, with some success, pasing it off as fact.

    Further the radical right has been all to successful in portraying anyone who presents a reasoned arguement countering what they wan’t people to believe as being an elite. (I cringe every time I hear the President use the term ‘common sense.’) I have to agree with the Democrats when they say that the far right doesn’t want a well informed electorate.

    I too share Phil’s concern.

  3. Every time I think about the sleep of reason, I see this monstrously scaled, pissed off owl hanging off the edge of the Chicago Public Library.

    I’ve been living in Los Angeles for over a decade, but this bird still haunts my dreams.  I like to think of him/her as the avenging spirit of the Enlightenment.  I like to imagine this (overly-stylized) bird o’ prey nippin’ the noggin off any passersby who ‘hear a calling’ to wreak some havok for the god of their choice. 
    Ah, I can dream, can’t I?
    (Er, with your permission, Mr Ashcroft?)

  4. I will not attempt to determine a reason,
    but will merely state how pathetic it is that people belive in dillusional rubbish known as organised religion.

    I would be embarressed if people thought I believed in the bible or the Torah, or the Koran.

    Who seriously belives that Noah built a boat and sailed around the world distributing marsupials and elephants?

  5. Here is a nice joke that I received sometime back.

    History of Medicine
    2000 B.C. – Here, eat this root.
    1000 A.D. – That root is heathen, say this prayer.
    1850 A.D. – That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.
    1940 A.D. – That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.
    1985 A.D. – That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.
    2003 A.D. – That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.

    Some points to note with regards to the comments by VernR.

    Distrust of authority:
    I would not claim that this results from Vietnam. Vietname may have aided such form of thinking but this distrust of authority actually goes further back and is part of the Judeo-Christian mindset.

    It is Christianity’s doctrine of personality and the insistence upon the individual (soul) that gives rise to rejection of absolute power. This mindset has thus an impact in the way government is set up. Lord Acton once said ‘All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ In fact in the Middle Age, Locke has already mentioned that a good government must be limited by law.

    Contrast this mode of thought to what is viewed as Asian values or utilitarianism in practice where greater trust is placed in the hands of the government and sacrifice of individual liberty if it serves the greater good is not inherently bad.

    Specific Career path:
    Actually this has more to do with statistics than anything. By specific career path I would presume one refers to getting an education that leads to a particular profession such as medicine, law, engineers, etc. Basically, people with an education in the specific path make more money than those with general degrees. So to the extent that one seeks to make as much money as possible seeking a specific career path seems logical. But to the extent that one seeks something other than mere monetary rewards for their jobs, then indifference to specific career path would not be the path one takes.

    Commercial Television:
    Not too sure what exactly are you referring when you mentioned commercial television. I would assume the focus is on the word ‘commercial’ rather than television as a whole. Of course this then brings up the concept that anything monetary or commercial is ‘bad.’ Big business is bad or people having “high-priced cars and expensive homes with manicured yards,

  6. I almost have to wonder at the premise, though—not that people (a) decline (or refuse) to think, or (b) believe all sorts of clap-trap (read: anything I don’t believe, or doesn’t match the premises and experience that I choose to acknowledge), but that this is a new phenominon, or significantly worse than any time in the last couple of centuries.

    I suggest that if the ratio of Evolutionists vs Creationists (and I’ll hasten to add that I am firmly in the former camp, at least as the terms are usually bandied about) used to be any higher (which strikes me as a big if), it was not because of sound reasoning and erudite research into the topic, but because the figures of authority that they took their cues from were of a like mind.  Which may be more correct, but isn’t any more enlightened.

  7. VerneR – great discussion list.  Here at the university we have a class called “Foundations of Inquiry” and you could use that list as the basis of the class – they’re just right for getting a class fired up.

    PopTarts said: “…this distrust of authority actually goes further back and is part of the Judeo-Christian mindset.”

    Distrust of authority is part of the Judeo-Christian mindset???  That would be news to the Catholic church and its victims over the years.  Or ask any number of fundies about “the authority of scripture.”  And as a kid in the early ‘60’s in a Methodist church (neither fundy nor liberal) I remember being told to respect authority. Acton and Locke aside, authority has always been the hand-job of Christianity.

    You are right that Asian religions tend to de-emphasize the self or regard it as an illusion, which is mighty useful for totalitarian governments.  As is the doctrine of the self (when promised eternal paradise) in Western religion.  Either way it works out pretty well for dictators.

    Commercial TV: I do think commercial culture skims pretty shallow.  Wouldn’t want anyone questioning the importance of owning a new car when the old one is running fine, or just drifting away from the TV becaus so much of the programming is inane and predictable.

    Career path: working at a university I see first-hand lots of kids who don’t want to learn anything that isn’t directly related to being a business manager or whatever.  This dovetails perfectly with commercial culture – it makes for nice manageable consumers/voters.

    Science and religion: should be “science and superstition” as rejection of cloning and genetic research comes from the common denominator of irrationality.  The popular Euro press just cracks me up – the “threat of GMO” and so forth. Though The Economist and New Scientist – both ‘Brit mags – take a more rationalistic view.  NS even entertainingly makes fun of the anti-GMO crowd.

    My decrepit theory is that schools have become so politically correct and boring that love of learning is just not on the agenda anymore.

  8. [A]uthority has always been the hand-job of Christianity.

    Damn, DOF, you’re good.  May I quote you?

  9. That makes for uncomfortable mental imagery

    Sorry ‘bout that Les, I apologize [this from a guy who described nasal surgery in another thread – I’m still recoiling and shaking my head from that image…  hmmm got to stop thinking so graphically]

  10. Responding to Pop Tarts on 05/26 at 10:02 AM

    Distrust of authority: You caught me out. I have had exactly two history courses, both mandatory. The one in high school was the standard (mid west) course in American History, and the one I took my freshman year in college was titled The United States and World Sea Power. Neither of these provided much of a world view.

    To the topic. When we talk about religious authority doesn’t that mean distrust of someone else’s religious authority? Did England’s emerging merchant class realize that the feudal system need not persist because of independence of the soul or because of some other factor? I vote preset, I don’t know. Sure distrust authority was already there. But, it was the mantra of the 60s protest movement.

    Specific career path: I think you may have misinterpreted what I said, or, perhaps, I didn’t say quite enough. I went into engineering because, as a kid, I always wanted to know about technical things, and I didn’t see myself doing the kind of jobs available to a high school graduates. (There were a lot more blue collar jobs then.) Even as an avid reader, I just wasn’t interested in going deeply into anything non-technical.

    Commercial television: I was referring to channels that you can still get on VHF—ABC, CBS, and NBC. For reasons pretty much beyond the control of their news department’s, these networks are not doing the same job of informing that they used to. In an interview on The News Hour last night, the producer of 60 Minutes provided some insight as to why that has come to pass. (1) Most people get the news from the radio during their commutes and already pretty much know what to expect during the evening news. (2) They pretty much all cover the same stories that they probably got from other sources. (3) They spend some of their air time hyping the network’s latest reality show. (4)And, they can’t compete with the channel change button on their viewer’s remote. Beyond that, with media consolidation, the commercial networks aren’t likely to report on stories that are against the interests of their current corporate owners.

    I didn’t mention a couple of the cable news channels. Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch who uses his network to promote his right wing agenda. David Smith, the CEO of Sinclair, controls the stations that blacked out Nightline a few weeks ago. He wants his network to be like Fox. O’Reilly and Hannity ranting about elites sure doesn’t encourage their audience to think much about the enlightenment.

    Bottom line. With a few exceptions, television isn’t the place to go to get truly informative news.

    Sound bites: Attention span or best medium? Probably a bit of both. Information overload (something GM got at in her post) probably plays. Also, many adults are probably encumbered with the subconscious baggage that comes with a job or jobs.

    Better media. In pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times, top to bottom, our citizenry was more literate than that of any European country. Correspondence, newspapers, and pamphlets were the primary means of exchanging ideas. The Rights of Man, The Federalist Papers, and The Anti Federalist Papers were widely read and discussed. In the nineteenth century the occasional visiting circus and the occasional lecturer were major draws. Today we have entertainment of some sort at our fingertips, and too little time for reflection.

    Perhaps oversimplifying (and leaving out fiction), print media, the spoken word (in person or via radio), and the visual media engage, in the order stated, less of the rational mind and more of the emotional part of the brain. Whatever the source, people have/make time to work at getting useful, reasonably undistorted information.

    Right: I believe I found this URL in one of the SEB threads last November. (Don’t know if the page is still up or not. The URL crosses to an IP address, but the page didn’t load when I tried just now.)

    It’s a twenty question test that measures on two dimensions. Government should control people’s behavior or not, and government should regulate business or not. The score places the respondent in one of four quadrants: conservative, liberal, libertarian (let people and business alone), and a name that I can’t remember. By the right I implied someone deeply in the conservative quadrant. (The sight produced a graph that showed your score and everyone else’s.)

    I probably should have gone further and said radical right—meaning folks that are not overly concerned with the truth and who communicate using slogans devised by pollsters. These are the pols that have succeeded in reaching out to the Evangelical Christians.

    decrepitoldfool, Thanks

  11. Right-wing: In Sterling’s column “View” (June WIRED) titled “Suicide by Pseudoscience” he talks about the Bush admin’s attitude toward science, and its worldwide effects.  Briefly, they’ve thrown a lot of money at science while carefully undermining research that would go against the admin’s agenda.  Scary.

  12. VernR, even if you had taken ‘world history’ you will quickly find out that the American version of world history is much like their version of the World championship for the various sports, that is the world consist of US and maybe some Canadian cities.

    Actually, whether one likes it or not, distrust of authority does indeed first arise under Judeo-Christian mindset. St Thomas Aquinas stated that ‘if on any point a law is in conflict with the law of nature, it at once ceases to be a law.’ Natural law is thus seen as “god’s law.” The distrust of authority relates to man-made law. This idea of natural law later evolve to form the basis of bill of rights or the constitution. Which is by the way where I learnt about this rather than history class. And subsequently, the idea of rejection of absolute power gave rise to the separation of government, executive, legislative, judiciary.

    I would like to point out the often ‘cultural bias’ or simply lack of understanding when one talks about Asian values or utilitarian form of development. It does not per se state that a dictator is good. Furthermore the emphasis of society over self came also be seen in Kennedy’s ask not what your country can do for you speech.

    And there is another closely linked idea to the Asian values. And that is the ‘mandate of heaven,’ or put it in more proper terms, legitimacy of government, or if one is British confidence of the parliament, or to a certain extent a lameduck president.

    Generally speaking a for a country to have a high standard of living or be seen as ‘developed,’ there is a need for there to be 1) Democracy and 2) Economic development. The utilitarian model of development simply states that to reach a ‘developed’ status, the key is economic development and that some parts of democracy and individual rights may have to be sacrificed in the short run. The so called Western model instead focuses on democracy first and believes that only with democracy can there be sustain economic development.

    The Asian model can be seen in countries such as S. Korea and Taiwan where up to 1980s the country was run by a military dictatorship but now these countries are proper democracy. The criticism of the Western model is that an abrupt change in mode of government when the people cannot handle it can lead to instability. And furthermore, it is similarly difficult to claim that countries in the West developed in the manner put forward by the Western model. And that democracy comes over time as institutions are slowly created and people educated. To a certain extent, China and Russia represents an experiment in both models.

    Revolutionary Times:
    I have always wondered were the population more well read or simply the people who are remembered and recorded seemed more well read.

    Another point to be made is that in times of hardship, there is more focus on the spreading of ideas and literature. For example, there are a number of prominent authors during existence of Soviet Union and Apartheid in S. Africa, yet today when both are free, the amount of prominent authors seems to have dried up quite significantly.

    As for the point relating to the occassional circus visiting, I am wondering whether how much of this is dependant on the fact that there was not much entertainment and that the people were interested in seeing something different. Much like those crappy commercial programs where a visitor walks into a lost tribe and the people congregate around that visitor.

    Specific Career Path:
    Vern, please further illuminate. What is wrong with you or any person furthering their education or taking engineering?

    By the way, I do not consider business programs to be a specific career path even an MBA. My test for specific career path is that without that particular piece of education there is no way you can do that particular job/career. One can be trained as a doctor or a lawyer and still become a business manager. But one cannot take a course related to a business manager and become a doctor or a lawyer or engineer.

    As for education in school, I believe it has less to do with political correctness and more to do with a lack of funding.

    Commercial News
    I think perhaps one is seeing too much into the conspiracy of the news. What I see is business. News is business and that like any business it needs consumers. So what they do is to target their news to their consumers. Fox may promote a right wing agenda but perhaps that is their business model, providing news to people on the right. This is why there are multiple versions of CNN. The two that comes to mind is the more international version and the more US version. Their take on the same piece of news is different and that is because they cater to different crowds.

    A hark to the past
    By the way, I notice that the article seems to adopt a ‘the past is glorious, the present is decadent and decrepit’ argument, which also happens to be quite popular with the religious fundamentalist who is complaining about the moral decay in society. Actually, there is another set of statistics that is required. Either on prior to 1993 or another one that is much more current. Do you realise that Gallup poll is more than a decade old? The second set of statistics is needed to show whether those who believe in scientific account have increased or decreased overtime. The more I think of it the more fishy this is given the 1993 statistics. By the way those who can access the full article, are any other statistics provided?

    Don’t mind me I am testing the various new options with the titles of each section.

  13. Fantastic thread.  I wish school kids could spend time reading this instead of the junk that passes for textbooks now*  It might prompt them to go find a bigger picture though I’m sure it would piss off their parents.

    …whether one likes it or not, distrust of authority does indeed first arise under Judeo-Christian mindset. St Thomas Aquinas…

    You can find the seeds of distrust of authority in J/C philosophy, but the church kept right on standing behind the political authorities, which kept on standing behind the church.  Even today in the US we struggle to keep the two separate – they’re like codependent abusers.  It just takes a different form than it did in medaeval europe. 

    What philosophers do usually takes a long, long time to filter down to ground level.  In the future maybe the church will start standing up for individual liberty but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  All the church has to do is claim to speak for God, which it has always done.  And the secular authority that used to yap about the “divine right of kings” now just quotes bible verses like Romans 13:1-6 about how God put the secular authorities over our simple heads to protect us and guide us.

    Furthermore the emphasis of society over self came also be seen in Kennedy’s ask not what your country can do for you speech.

    Yeah, that’s always bothered me a little bit.  He said that with lofty goals in mind while we were gearing up to draft a whole bunch of people for Vietnam.

    The criticism of the Western model is that an abrupt change in mode of government when the people cannot handle it can lead to instability.

    And a valid criticism it is – that has me worried about Iraq.  I just don’t see how they’ll make the transition so we’ll have succeeded in making a contained enemy into an uncontained enemy under a different leader.

    Another point to be made is that in times of hardship, there is more focus on the spreading of ideas and literature. For example, there are a number of prominent authors during existence of Soviet Union and Apartheid in S. Africa, yet today when both are free, the amount of prominent authors seems to have dried up quite significantly.

    Sure – they got the hell out of there as soon as they could.  Times are plenty hard right now in former SoviUnion but first-rate minds are free to leave.

    As for education in school, I believe it has less to do with political correctness and more to do with a lack of funding.

    We’re spending lots of dough on our schools (not enough in poor areas, for sure).  But teachers aren’t allowed to offend anyone or push the kids at all.  *Take a look at The Language Police by Diane Ravitch.

    Commercial news: I hope anyone who really wants to get a different perspective will try to get hold of magazines and broadcasts from other countries.  In particular, from countries that are critical of the US.  They may not be any more “fair and balanced” than our own news but at least it’s light from a different angle.  For example I wish PBS would carry a feed from Al-Jazera but of course that would be politically untenable.  Sigh. 

    What’s causing the decline of rational thinking?  I’m not sure it was ever that common in the first place.  Superstition was just easier to explain in years gone by.  The light of Reason seems pretty cold to people who like to think of themselves as part of a cosmic plan with a happy ending guaranteed by a benevolent God.

  14. Hmmmmm! I clicked on “go”, to read decrepitoldfool’s post, and got the message:

    “Error: Unable to delete the following file: 45afefe00777f1044797f8d0de758463”

    I swear I had no intention of deleting your post, decrepitoldfool, but if it disappears, someone else must have had.

    Still, it’s cool to know I have that power, or almost had that power, or, well… I would use it wisely.

  15. decrepitoldfool, Thanks for jumping in. Pop Tarts opened up some topics where I don’t feel particularly qualified to make a usefull reply.

    This is pretty much off the subject of the thread, but, when someone flagged this to my attention, I felt the need to fling down a post.

    A high school teacher in New Mexico was coaching a poetry club. One of his students read one of her poems at the local Barne’s & Noble, and then later she read it over the School’s TV system. The principle and a ‘school military liason’ person declared the poem un-American. The teacher was subsequently fired. There’s more.

    Presumeably the ‘school military liason’ person has something to do with an ROTC program. If so then this person’s oath of office included the phrase ‘uphold and support the Constitution.’ Way to go there pal.

    I do want to get back to the discussion, but I’m falling behind in my job as email curmudgeon (and yard worker).

  16. That’s interesting. I copied the URL from an email, where it was an active link. It came in as an active link rather than text.

  17. Brock, you didn’t hurt anything. That’s error is related to the cache used by EE to keep database access down to a minimum. I’ve seen a couple of references to it on the support forums so it seems like there may be the odd occasion where the cache system trips over itself.

    VernR, EE has the option to auto-link URLs entered into comments which I currently have turned on. MovableType had a similar option, but it only worked if you didn’t allow HTML in the comments (for reasons I never understood) whereas in EE it works regardless.

  18. Hmm, somethings does not look right with regards to that report. So I did a little checking.

    According to the ACLU New Mexico site,
    there is a similar case that occur in 2003 but it does not involve Bill Nevens or the Rio Rancho High School. Instead the ACLU case relates to Rio Grande High School and incident in question relates to “Carmelita Roybal and Allen Cooper, and APS Guidance Counselor Ken Tabish, in retaliation for posters, artwork, and other materials in their classrooms and offices that expressed opinions about the war on Iraq.”

    The ACLU NM site does not mention the Bill Nevens case AT ALL, which would be odd if ACLU does represent Bill Nevens.

    Further googling turned up this interesting bit of information, which seems to sort of support some of my suspicion. One may question the truth of it since I could not find the following produced in a main media source. It also has a letter by the student student Courtney. (thought for a moment Les’s daughter was involved, but anywho a whole other point relating to names and there is a thread for it.)

    Thank you for your e-mail to the Rio Rancho Public Schools.

    Recently, the Daytona Beach News-Journal published an editorial highly critical of Rio Rancho High School and some of its staff members. It was written by Bill Hill, a columnist for the paper and, he states, a
    friend of Bill Nevins, an untenured teacher whose contract was not renewed at the end of the 2002-03 school year. Mr. Nevins is currently
    engaged in a legal action against the Rio Rancho
    Public Schools.

    While we recognize the right of newspapers to engage in fair criticism, such criticism should be grounded in the facts. We are disturbed that
    neither the writer nor the Daytona Beach News-Journal contacted the school district for information or comment. This editorial, simply
    put, is rife with inaccuracies, misinformation, and outright untruths. Its publication constitutes a reckless disregard for the
    truth to such a degree that Rio Rancho Public Schools has asked its lawyers to review
    and evaluate what legal recourse may be available.

    Because Mr. Nevins’ case is in litigation and involves a personnel issue, Rio Rancho Public Schools has been limited in what it can say in
    response to the many misrepresentations that have
    appeared in the media.

    We are unable to discuss the reasons Mr. Nevins was not rehired. However, we can state the reasons have nothing to do with the exercise
    of free speech or free expression. This is not a free speech issue.

    The original lawsuit included three causes of action. Two of these claims, for breach of his employment contract and for retaliation, have
    since been dismissed by the federal court.

    We wish to assure the public that the teaching,
    reading, and writing of poetry are alive and well at Rio Rancho High School. The editorial’s
    contention that the school’s principal ordered an end to the teaching, reading, and writing of poetry is so ludicrous as to be almost

    While we cannot discuss a case in litigation, we can address some of the inaccuracies in the editorial that are not part of the case. The editorial describes an incident involving art
    students and teachers and “un-American” student posters. This incident did not occur at Rio Rancho High School or anywhere in the Rio
    Rancho Public Schools. It happened in a neighboring New Mexico school district and was widely reported by the local media. A cursory check of the archives of the Albuquerque papers would have revealed this fact.

    Neither the Rio Rancho School Employees, Union(the union representing most district employees) nor the American Civil Liberties Union are parties to the current legal action.

    The editorial states that the principal read a
    patriotic poem at a flag-raising ceremony and shouted “shut your face,” to those who did
    not share his opinion. There was indeed a ceremony held to receive a flag that had been flown in the war theatre and donated to the school. A poem written by a soldier serving in Iraq was read (not shouted), but not by the principal. The “shut your face” reference
    is part of this poem.

    The editorial states that Mr. Nevins was unable to go to work at another school because the principal wouldn’t forward his credentials.
    On September 11, 2003, the Rio Rancho Observer
    reported that Mr. Nevins was employed at a public charter school in Albuquerque. Procedurally, requests for credentials must be properly authorized by the employee and
    submitted to the Human Resources Department (not the principal). All such requests are promptly processed.

    The editorial describes a poem written by a student named Courtney, and states that her mother (described as being a teacher at
    the school) was ordered by the principal to destroy the girl’s poem or face dismissal. Not true. The student’s mother is not a teacher;
    however, she was and continues to be employed by the school district.

    She was never threatened with being fired, nor was she ordered to destroy the poem.

    The district stands behind former RRHS principal Gary Tripp and others who have been unfairly maligned in this editorial and in other media in
    the months since Mr. Nevins’ departure. We also
    regret that Courtney and her family have been subjected to unwanted public attention. About
    a year ago, Courtney wrote a statement that was
    published in two local papers as a letter to the editor. She has given us permission to share
    this letter with you, and we hope it helps you further understand this situation.

    Thank you for your inquiry and for giving us the
    opportunity to respond.

    We look forward to a resolution of this issue in the legal system.

    Kim Vesely
    Communications Officer
    Rio Rancho Public Schools

    Please feel free to share this response.

    To Whom It May Concern:

    This is the first and last time I will discuss
    publicly the controversy surrounding my poem, the Slam Poetry Club, and RRHS teacher Bill
    Nevins, the club’s sponsor.

    During the fall semester at RRHS I wrote a poem
    entitled “Revolution X.” I, along with other students, delivered poetry in the
    Performing Arts Center at the high school. We
    received praise from staff and students in the packed auditorium. Early in the spring term,
    I read my poem again on the school announcements.
    This poem is a social commentary. It comments on how our society claims to value education,
    but in actuality spends energy, time and resources on other things, such as war. A staff member, who has a military background
    and military mindset, complained about the poem, saying it was an anti-war speech.

    I can only assume that he cannot distinguish between a speech and a poem, or that he did not recognize it as an allegory. Due to the complaint, the administration asked for a
    copy of the poem. No one demanded that my parents “search my room” for the poem,
    as has been reported. I delivered it to the RRHS
    administrators when I got back from Spring Break because they wished to read it.

    They read it, looking for two things: profanity and incitement to violence. They found neither. I was not disciplined. My freedom of speech was not violated. It has been suggested that I was not disciplined because my parents are on staff at the high school. Let me assure you that’s not
    the case. In my years at Rio Rancho High School, I’ve been tardy to class and been busted for dress code, receiving my fair share of hours
    in after-school detention. Staff members’ kids are not given preferential treatment.

    When I asked the administration why Mr. Nevins was put on administrative leave, I was told that the reasons would not be discussed with me, but that they had absolutely nothing to do with me or my poem. I accept that. The administration at RRHS has been nothing but supportive of my poetry endeavors and continue to encourage my writing, even in light of all this nonsense. Will the Slam Poetry Club continue to function in the absence of Mr. Nevins? I don’t know. I don’t plan to participate because I simply do not have the time. I’m trying to make a good grade in Chemistry, maintain my GPA, choose a college for next year, and get on with my life.

    However, I am angry about two things. My poem has been put on the Internet. I did not give permission for anyone to print it or copy it. What makes it worse is that lines have been changed and added. My poem has been prostituted for the world to see. My freedom of speech has been violated because I chose not to speak, but now my words are under scrutiny despite my attempts otherwise.

    My family and I have been bombarded for weeks with questions about all of this by newspapers, TV stations, and even national publications. My family’s well-earned Spring Break was interrupted repeatedly. This has caused undue stress for my family and is not appreciated. I will comment no further on the subject. I will accept neither calls nor visitors wishing to discuss anything pertaining to this issue. Now that curiosity has been satisfied, I can only hope that we will focus on something more important, like bringing home everyone fighting in the war we insist on having.


  19. Ok, here is the main website for the people representing Bill Nevens.

    Let me try to dig on more stuff on this incident.

    PS: I am experiencing something odd. Half the time I hit the submit button, nothing gets submitted.

  20. Omigosh, VernR, that New Mexico story is amazing.  How some people can “not get it” on such a scale.  But i’m not sure it’s off-topic.  How can anyone develop critical thinking skills when they risk such a dire outcome?  How can teachers teach it?

    I have no qualifications for anything at all, except maybe my preference for thin-crust over deep pan.  I’m the farthest thing in the world from an authority on any other subject. 

    I wish classrooms could have discussions like this where they try to figure out which facts are true (often in dispute, and rightly so as the press is never totally unbiased) and which opinions are supported by those facts.  That’s what is missing from education – all the fun!  😀

  21. PopTarts, good catch on the poem thing. (posted while I was writing my previous post!)  “Facts in dispute!”  I hereby press the “pause” button on my comments about the New Mexico incident. 

    Two of my kids were disciplined from time to time over the years in public schools for saying things the principals didn’t like.  It’s always bothered me that schools have to be “speech free” zones… or do they?

  22. Little more digging. Nothing much to report except:

    The facts that seem to be in agreement between both parties are:
    1) Bill(William) Nevins contract not renewed.
    2) “Anti-war” poem was read out by a girl Courtney. And there was a complaint.
    3) “Pro-war” poem read out by principal.
    4) Courtney’s poem was read by the school administrators as a result of the initial incident.
    5) The “Poem club” is no longer around.

    On a general level, it would seem that if freedom of speech allows for anti-war poem, then pro-war poem should also be allowed. Although some people could find fault with regards to the audience or reach of each poem.

    The ‘poem club’ apparently was created or brought back by Bill Nevins and the question is whether does his departure mean that the club have to close down. Was there no suitable replacement?

    It would thus seem that the issue falls on the employment of Bill Nevins as Courtney is not a party to the litigation. Some more conspiracy bound minds might of course think that Courtney is made not to complain since her parent works for the school and the way the school treated Bill Nevins was a warning to Courtney’s parent or Courtney herself. One may also claim that even the mere asking of Courtney to show them the poem, however nicely they phrased, is an attempt to warn her. But that seems less credible if you think about it, as the school have to investigate when a complaint is made. And it seems that after the investigation, Courtney was vindicated.

    There is a Bill Nevins suing the Rio Rancho school that is for sure. And that the case is now sent to Federal courts. Furthermore, it would seem that the ACLU is not representing Bill Nevins but the website which I posted above is run by the people representing Bill Nevins. That much from the court filling below.

    —Case Detail—
    Case #:  D-202-CV-200306305  
    Current Judge:  DIVISION EIGHTEEN
    Case Status:  CL FINAL CLOSED Status Date: 10/06/2003
    Filing Date:  09/15/2003
    Court:  Albuquerque District Court

    —Parties to this Case—
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  JERRY A. WALZ
    Attorney(s):  ERIC SIROTKIN

    —Register of Actions Activity—
    Event Date Event Description P Type P Num Amt
    10/06/2003 CLS: REMOVAL TO FED COURT  
    09/15/2003 SUMMONS ISSUED  
    09/15/2003 OPN: COMPLAINT  
    09/15/2003 ASM: JURY 6 PERSON P 1 100.00
    09/15/2003 ASM: CIVIL FILING W/ ARBITRAT P 1 122.00

    —Judge Assignment History—
    Assign Date Judge Name Sequence # Assignment Event Desc
    09/15/2003 SUSAN M CONWAY 1

    —Civil Complaints—
    09/15/2003 1 OPN: COMPLAINT 3 10/06/2003 TRANSFERRED
    Parties to this Complaint:
    TRIPP GARY D – 2
    TRIPP GARY D – 3
    PASS ELL SUE D – 4
    PASS ELL SUE D – 5
      Causes of Action:

  23. Opps, sorry, cancel point number 5.

    I am not too sure whether the “Poem club” is or is not around. And there is a dispute at least based on the article and the response.

  24. Actually, it was better than a good catch.

    I received the article in an email and only verified that it acually appeared in a news paper. I guess a clue that I should have seen was that the journalist was reporting on a friend.

    PT you did a better job in checking sources than the reporter. That last statement points back to something that I want to get into a bit in the main topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.