Recently I had the opportunity to speak with the mother of a very unique high school student that for some reason nobody has heard about.
Tasked with writing a satirical piece by his AP English teacher after reading Jonathan Swift’s A modest proposal Connor did what any advanced student would do and fully embraced the statement the piece was trying to make and how it related to learning about satire. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, satire is when you write something provocative, ridiculous or crude as a form of comedy and generally to make a statement about the failure of certain groups to properly handle real issues being faced by the world. Swift did this by addressing the issues of the poor in Ireland by writing a piece suggesting that the poor sell their babies (because they had a lot of them) to the rich as food, therefore making money for the poor lifting them out of their poverty while alleviating the population issue, it was an obscene piece and that was the point. In any writing you will learn about rhetoric, it is a very useful skill when you are trying to convince someone of your argument and one of the ways to utilize rhetoric effectively is to invoke satire, Swift did this by eliciting pity from the readers for the Irish by taking the side of a barbaric and unfeeling Englishman.
Connor thought he would put his piece into a context but still keep the spirit of Swift’s piece in tact, perhaps asking himself “what would swift write if he were alive today, how would he change his ideas?” Connor decided he would use the recent racial tensions as his inspiration for the piece and wrote as swift did about the Irish, but instead about blacks in the United States. His essay, once again I remind you was satire, suggested that the way to fix all of the racial tensions in the United States would be to take all of the blacks and send them to Africa where they would have a nuclear device detonated and thus solving the problem of racial strife in America. His piece got it’s point across and it’s the opinion of this author that his suggestion is just as ridiculous and full of rhetoric as any “legitimate” suggestions we see in modern America today, the difference is, he wasn’t being serious. Unfortunately while writing his piece another student took a picture (without his knowledge) of his writing and posted it on twitter and the resulting firestorm and mismanagement by the school district has put a poor family in a stressful position and challenged the faith of a stellar student in the education system from which he thrived.
Initially through the emails that I have received the school principal Julie Cares made a lukewarm attempt to handle the situation, she did provide the context of the assignment and said that she understood some people were upset by what the student wrote, unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough since the community at large had become involved and of course people finally saw their chance to become victims and stoke the fires we watched burn St. Louis, Baltimore, and most recently Mizzou. Connor’s home address and work address were leaked onto social media by a group of agitated students who were not controlled by mindful parents or a concerned school, he began receiving death threats through social media and even at one point within the school itself. He requires 24 hour police presence to ensure his safety and instead of handling the situation like professionals and realizing that the person you are inciting a lynch mob for was a child the school decided this was their time to shine as a bastion of multiculturalism and progressive thought, and like most governmental institutions it did this by creating a largely racial bias and creating an enemy for everyone to join hands around to ultimately stone to death.
Connor was indefinitely suspended by the school and had to miss three of his advanced placement exams, exams he paid for himself. The school has made themselves and their minority students the victims and has done nothing to calm the tensions in the school, nor have they had a conversation about mutual understanding or how sometimes incendiary statements like this are what start a realistic dialogue about a social issue, you know, the original lesson they were assigned. Instead, a random person posts something on social media, a community wanting so bad to be part of a movement, and a school that would rather be part of the mob instead of the logical and measured institution it should be has resulted in a young man having his entire life turned upside down and threatened, a mother who must constantly worry what is next, and a community that ultimately learned one thing and one thing only, watch what you say or the Anne Arundel county schools will come for you and they’ll bring their mob of ignorant cronies with them. It has been a sad day for education, a sad day for freedom of speech, but ultimately this author’s thoughts and prayers go out to Connor and his family in hopes that they stay strong and Connor keeps being a damn good writer and an all around scholar, instead of allowing fear to stunt his ability to ask the hard questions and ultimately find the true answer.
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