Much has been made about the threats to free speech on college campuses. But a recent example from Vicksburg High School in Michigan has revealed once again that the assault starts much earlier than that.
As a high school teacher, I’m always leery about the value of all-school convocations. Once a staple in a school calendar, I’ve noticed an increasing trend to not bring in outside speakers to address the entire student body. I’m good with this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the convocations I remember being forced to sit through as a student were so patronizing, so silly, and conducted by speakers who were trying way too hard, that they were more an annoying interruption to my day than they were useful.
That isn’t to say there aren’t good ones or that there aren’t messages that all high school kids could benefit from hearing. But it’s a rarity these days for those events to end up being nearly as meaningful as the organizers so desperately want them to be.
Still, when a school invites a speaker to address their student body, they owe to that speaker a level of professionalism and honesty. The administration of Vicksburg High School should be publicly shamed and reprimanded for their utter failure in that regard.
Ryan Bomberger is an Emmy-award winning activist who, as an adopted child in a multiracial family of 15 and now an adoptive father himself, speaks passionately about a God-given purpose in all life. As the founder of the Radiance Foundation, his messages are entertaining, engaging, convicting, and life-affirming. In short, if you’re going to have a speaker come and do a convocation for your high school students, Ryan is the kind you want to go with.
From all accounts, the speech he gave at Vicksburg itself went well. The controversy came afterwards because of Google. After the speech had finished, several of the students began to look Bomberger up online and found out that he was, horror of horrors, opposed to legal child killing and that he also affirmed Biblical sexual ethics. Keep in mind, none of that came up in his speech to the students. The school had apparently done enough research on him that they had given him strict content guidelines for his speech, and as a professional, Bomberger confined himself to those guidelines.
But when passionate teenagers uncovered the fact that he doesn’t think like them on some hot-button social issues, they began protesting in the very fascist mindset they see regularly in our culture; the one that says "if you don’t believe like me, you must be a terrible person and therefore should be silenced." While disappointing, a "we won't tolerate what we deem your intolerance" philosophy is hardly surprising conduct from teenagers.
What was surprising was the reaction of the school administration. Perhaps to try to save face or to ingratiate themselves with the small mob of frenzied students in their building, the administration released a statement claiming that Bomberger did not adhere to the agreed upon content framework and thus no one should be mad at them. It was a lie of remarkable cowardice. And to his credit, Bomberger wasn’t standing for it:
I call out the school administration for lying. Blatantly lying. Here's the outline approved by the school. Here's the audio of the presentation given on Tuesday, in its entirety (minus 31 seconds where students sang a snippet of an Eartha Kitt song that could not be uploaded to SoundCloud). It's obvious that the approved outline was adhered to, and there was nothing "overtly political" in the speech. I was instructed not to use words like "abortion", "contraception", "prolife", "prochoice", or "LGBT" anything...and I didn't.
The school continued the dishonesty online: "We can assure you that the message that the High School had agreed to through repeated contacts with the speaker was one of inspiration, motivation, and unity. The actual content of the presentation was not in keeping with that agreement."
Actually, the school never contacted me at all until 24 hours after posting the Facebook statements. A local organization in their area pitched my assembly presentation (which was offered for free) and coordinated the whole event with the principal. Neither the Superintendent nor Principal were present at the event. Ironically, the school proved one of the points of my delivered speech...they allowed the emotion of activism to take over the truthful context of factivism.
I don’t blame Bomberger for being upset, but all this goes much further and much deeper than his unfortunate experience with dishonest school administrators. It depicts again the emerging trend in a community-organizing, civic-agitating, mob mentality that is embraced and taught to our young people as the way to get things done. Not to mention this particular offense at Vicksburg High School finds supposedly grown adults modeling capitulation to those who callously reject the content of a message and the ideas therein simply based on a personal hostility towards the speaker.
Surely we should be able to expect more of those who we entrust to train up our children in the way they should go.