Conservative Correctness

I don’t imagine that I will be writing about my other passion–debate–too often on this site,but my experience this weekend was actually quite eye-opening. I often think that I live in a conservative state, but perhaps I should count my blessings. For all of our seeming conservatism, I think free expression–even for teachers–is still valued in Montana. This week, at the meeting to select the national debate topic, conservative pressure has led to the modification of three critical topics.

On a number of issues, the spectre of “going back to school administration” was raised as an argument to avoid some discussions. Two things about that stun me–that an administrator somewhere actually cares about the national debate topic, and second, that there are places in the United States where that kind of pressure still keeps educators and students from talking about controversial issues.

The examples are stunning. The AIDS topic was gutted, because some parts of the country cannot talk about HIV prevention programs. 20 years after the emergence of AIDS, after the deaths of untold millions, hell, after Tom Hanks played a gay man in ‘Philadelphia,’ high school students can’t talk about preventing the spread of a disease that is still ripping through their schools and lives? We ended up with a vanilla resolution that promotes research. Perhaps we need to research the attitudes that are causing us to ignore a silence, when silence ensures its spread.

We also stripped population control out of a resolution about Africa, and entirely changed the meaning of a proposed resolution about the War on Drugs. The author of the WoD paper was focused on ending the abuse of the ineffective war, and the proposed resolution we created ending up being: The USFG should substantially increase its regulation of illicit drug use in the United States.

The amazing part of these alterations is that the people who worked on these resolutions are hard-working, intelligent, open-minded people. And yet, among us, the fear of red state thinking was chilling. The Right can claim that “politically correct” thinking is oppresive, but it is nothing compared to the social weight that conservative thinking has on our schools and communities.

For a list of the resolutions on the ballot next year, check here.

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  • I guess that, in some states, the blind following of Bush has made some debate coaches forget the fact that there is a negative team in each debate.

    I’m not surprised about the AIDS topic, however. My wife was a teacher in Lubbock, TX- there was a district rule that said that the word “condom” could not be mentioned in any classroom under penalty of community stoning or something of that sort. However, teachers should feel free to mention “intelligent design” if they wish.

    And they call it the educational system down there. I’m glad I escaped.

  • What was interesting was the fear that adminstrators wouldn’t even let students debate topics like the prevention of AIDS, for fear of offending parents/communities. Aff/Neg debate issues didn’t even matter–just some fear of catchphrases.

    And, again, I don’t think it was the coaches at the meeting. It was their reasonable suspicion about how their schools would react.

    I don’t really have an appreciation for living in that kind of conservatism…and for that, I am thankful!

  • Yeah, I understand where many of the coaches are coming from- and I probably even know some of the coaches you are referring to. They’re good, reasonable people, but they know that if issues such as AIDS prevention are debated, it will play badly with administrators.

    And administrators only care about a national debate topic if it gives them a target; that way, they can appear “family-centered” without targeting something they really care about.

    You should be thankful. I’m happy to be in Montana now.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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