Letter: Parent objects to Darien High School teacher's walk-out position
The following is an open letter to Darien High School teacher Jennifer Ladd in response to her op ed explaining her reasons for walking out of class on April 20. It is printed here as per the author's request.
First, I would like to thank you for your profession. Being a teacher is in my opinion one of the most important professions of any advanced society, and I am the son of a 30-year (retired) public school educator. I personally have much to be thankful for because of people like you and my mother. However, I was thoroughly dismayed by your “Commentary” in the April 26, 2018 edition of The Darien Times. In the interest of full disclosure, I am the father of two sons, ages 20 and 24, whom I both sent to boarding school for reasons listed below.
I believe the role of the educator is to teach the youth how to think, and not what to think. It is not that the educator cannot have opinions of their own. However those opinions cannot and should not obstruct the open debate on any given issue, despite the emotionalism of the moment. Young people lack fully developed brains (a scientific fact) and the experience which only years can bring. They are both highly emotional due to hormonal changes (another scientific fact) and highly suggestible to authority, which you are in your role as an educator. The activist, by definition, is a person who attempts to persuade others towards their own point of view. This can be through agitation or other means and can often discourage fair and open debate by exercising the position of authority. And by your own admission you have decided to take on a dual role of activist and educator within a public school, which should be of concern to anyone with an interest in free speech.
I am all in favor of encouraging civil participation by our youth. However, I am more in favor of encouraging our youth to form their own opinions through their own research on a topic and holding fair and open debate. Would you, Ms. Ladd, be in favor allowing debates at DHS on the topics of abortion, illegal immigration, drug legalization, economic policies, religion, guns and the Second Amendment without administrative guidance? Alternatively, would you be in favor of allowing speakers from opposing sides to present their cases to students on such “hot button” topics? Would you be willing to debate your own activist ideals in an open forum, before your students, or would you prefer to keep them cloistered in your classroom so as to dissuade opposing viewpoints? We as Darien parents have placed a tremendous amount of trust in you as an educator of our youth. Are you willing to reaffirm that trust by living up to your standards as an educator by teaching our youth how to think and not what to think?
We live in an age of tremendous civil discourse. But it is not unlike what we have seen in other generations and certainly not something that will easily pass through some new law or regulation. Guns, along with so many other topics, evoke extremely emotional responses on both sides. And these responses certainly can be addressed through reason, logic and experience. In many cases today regarding some of those topics reason, logic and experience appear to be lacking in favor of heated exchanges between sides; no where is that more evident than on the college campuses where at times violence can shut down open debate. Is this the type of society in which we want to send our youth? A society where activist mobs, often fueled by social media, can overrule a minority, despite the laws of free speech? I believe that this is something which James Madison and the Founding Fathers warned us against, when they discussed the “Tyranny of the Majority.”
Further, we see it in your own demand for “common sense gun laws.” What constitutes “common sense?” No one likes violence, by guns or other means, but would you be in favor of “common sense abortion laws” for those who are of the mind that abortion is murder? We see it in other terms such as “hate speech,” and “social justice.” Even the term “illegal immigration” is inflammatory to some advocates for open immigration. Who is the final arbiter of such terminology, and would we do better to encourage open discussion about these terms rather than sending our impressionable youth out into the streets, demanding some kind of “action?” Activism in itself can indeed bring desired change, but it is not a goal in and of itself and can lead to unintended consequences over the longer term which can bring about the end of civilized society. I would point you to the Cultural Revolution, and the actions of the Red Guards as an extreme example of such activism.
In conclusion, I would ask you review your life choices. Can you separate your role as an educator from that of an activist? Are you able to put your own passions aside, and allow our youth to reach their own conclusions about sensitive topics? You say that you desire to give the youth the tools necessary to have their voices heard; but whose voice is it? I cannot answer these questions for you, but I made my own (expensive) choice in the lives of my own sons. I saw then, when I made that decision, that I would rather have my sons educated rather than incited to activism. And from what I can read in your “Commentary,” I made the correct decision.