How tragic that an artistic composition — one that explores the timely theme of “what it would be like to live in a world where culture and personal expression are forbidden” — has been censured in a way that so drastically alters that theme (“Farmington High band, accused of playing politics, marches on,” Sept. 8). To force the Farmington Tiger Marching Band to replace “RESIST” imagery with that of “UNITY” in a dystopian story inspired by “The Hunger Games” and George Orwell’s “1984” is akin to switching the murder scene in “Macbeth” to a scene of reconciliation. Students are not stupid. Do you really think they are not going to understand what happened here?
Several things about the marching band story are deeply troubling.
First, Farmington High School Principal Dan Pickens said he believed band directors when they said the program was not meant to be a contemporary political statement — that is, a criticism specifically of the Trump administration. If that is true, his decision to cave to the bullying of clearly political groups such as “The Deplorable Housewives of the Midwest” is hypocritical. He did his students a disservice. What’s more, at what time in history have young people not questioned, even resisted, authority in general terms? It is through art and literature and peaceful protest that these questions are safely expressed. Have we really become so fragile; is our president so thin-skinned that anything even resembling political expression must be silenced? And if so, can we even call ourselves a democracy? How are we to hear what our young people have to say?
Which brings me to my second concern. Where are the voices of the Farmington students in all of this? We haven’t heard from one. Let’s just imagine for a minute that the resistance image in the program was meant to be a political statement. How do we know that it wasn’t coming directly from the students? Perhaps Farmington marching band members, like students all over the country, are beginning to find their voices. Students are uniquely affected by policies of the current administration in Washington — gun violence, climate change and a ballooning deficit they will inherit, to name some of the most obvious. If even a few of these band students hoped to express a point of view in what once was a free and democratic society, they have been shamefully silenced by a school administrator who should be promoting intellectual freedom.
Which brings me to my final concern. We, as American citizens, should be political individuals. It is our constitutional right and obligation. Students and even teachers should not be shamed for having and expressing political opinions on public forums such as Twitter or Facebook. The idea that a group such as “Deplorable Mothers” would run a seek-and-destroy campaign against two devoted public school employees with the explicit goal of changing school program content should send chills up the spines of every public school teacher, counselor and administrator.
Perhaps, in this case, you are politically aligned with the conservative “Deplorable Housewives” group and you consider this a victory. You should not. The country used to be a democracy in which free speech was protected. It is clear that has changed. Keep in mind that someday the unpopular opinion that gets suppressed could be your own.
Patricia Rasmussen lives in Wayzata.