Saturday, June 23, 2012

School Principal Doesn’t Want Kids ‘Exposed’ to Conservative Speaker

After three weeks of preparation, research and numerous rewrites, Gerald Molen –a  motivational speaker, former U.S. Marine, and Oscar-winning film producer – drove ninety minutes from his home to Ronan High School in Montana last month to deliver a graduation speech. He was shocked upon his arrival to find that Principal Tom Stack had decided to disinvite him and cancel the speech. He was further stunned to learn the reason that he wouldn’t be allowed to address the students – it was because he is “a right-wing conservative.”

Molen has an impressive 25-year Hollywood résumé. He is the producer of such films as Rain Man, Days of Thunder, Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, the first two Jurassic Park films, Twister, and Minority Report. He has spoken at dozens of schools but doesn’t accept a fee. When one is offered, he asks that it be donated to the Shoah Foundation, the nonprofit organization founded by Spielberg and dedicated to Holocaust remembrance.
When speaking to students, Molen usually invokes the name of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist credited with saving 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust and the subject of the Oscar-winning 1993 film that Molen and Spielberg co-produced. He points to Schindler as an example of what courageous individuals can accomplish, and Molen had planned to do so again in his presentation at Ronan High School.

He had also planned to ask the students to “imagine your future is a movie. Forty years from now, you’re writing a script about your accomplishments. What would that script look like?”
Since my career had centered around the motion picture industry, I had set out to challenge them with the thought that they might each write their own movie script. A script that would have them as the writer, director, producer and star... Silly idea? Maybe. But of course we’ll never know.
We’ll never know because, even though his message to the students wasn’t overtly political, Gerald Molen is a conservative, and that alone is enough to incite censorship from the intolerant left. Apparently Principal Stack had received calls from some concerned parents who “didn’t want the kids exposed to that, despite not knowing what my message would be,” said Molen.

In a piece written by Molen himself and published in a Montana newspaper, The Daily Inter Lake, he reported that the principal
apologized for the inconvenience of being canceled and said the decision to cancel was his alone… No, he didn’t ask me of the content. No, he didn’t ask to read the speech for any clarification as to content. No, he would not tell me who the complaining party or parties were, nor would he give me any further explanation.
The principal could have simply ignored the unknown number of complaints and allowed Molen to proceed. After all, schools regularly now ignore parents who complain about the rejection of patriotic songs, the removal of the American flag, and similar assaults on pro-American culture. At the very least, Stack could have queried Molen about any political content of his presentation, and then reassured the complainants that they nothing to worry about (which would still have constituted caving in to them). In the absence of any more explanation from Principal Stack (and neither he nor Ronan School District representatives have commented publicly about the incident), one has to assume that since he took full responsibility for cancelling Molen’s appearance, he must agree with the complainants – if indeed there were any. Whatever the backstory, a school cancelled an apolitical speech solely because the speaker is conservative.

Some Ronan citizens are demanding answers. “I’m pissed off,” said school volunteer Chuck Lewis. “Why would a school dishonor a man who served his country?” Lewis, a former Marine like Molen, said, “They should have never censored him like that.” Molen wrote:
I served three years in the Marine Corps so that others might stand before their peers or even a group of students, but never did I think my voice would be stilled by some mysterious caller(s) on the notion that I might say something they “thought” would not be in the students’ best interests…
My intent was to inspire and motivate those looking for an encouraging word and message of hope beyond the walls of the institution they were leaving to the next chapter in their young lives. It spoke to the contributions and greatness of their teachers, administrators, parents and peers... But I guess I was wrong about teachers and/or school administrators.
He certainly was. And though his personal story is one of more overt censorship, there is a clear scarcity of conservative speakers for student bodies. A recent study by the Young America’s Foundation noted that the overwhelming majority of college commencement speeches were given by liberals – by a ratio of better than seven-to-one. Of the top 100 universities in the latest U.S. News rankings, 71 featured speakers from the left while only ten hosted conservatives. And of the top 35 schools, only one featured a conservative speaker. While no comparable study apparently exists for the political orientation of speakers at high school commencements, it’s difficult to imagine that the numbers are very different.

Still incensed about the cancellation, Molen asserted that in America, people have the right to listen to differing points of view. “I mistakenly thought that was part of an education. Evidently not in certain jurisdictions”:
Instead [the Ronan students] were indoctrinated with a sense of fear and mistrust that a fellow Montanan just might stand before them and say something some official school administrator deemed “possibly harmful.”
He closed his Daily Inter Lake piece by asking, “In America today, are our children taught or indoctrinated? Is there censorship? I’ll let the reader decide. Me? I now have the answer.” In an interview at Big Hollywood, Molen said, “This is not something that should be allowed to happen. I hope whatever notoriety comes out of this, that it will wake people up.”

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Magazine, 6/14/12)