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Scratching my head, again

Posted: June 12, 2017 4:38 p.m.
Updated: June 13, 2017 1:00 a.m.

I swear, one of these days I’m going to either scratch my head completely bald -- I’m already more than halfway there -- or just shake it right off my shoulders.

The latest thing to make me go “huh” was a story I read, I think on MSN.com, about a high school junior who was elected student body president of his school but because he made a “Trump-like” speech, the administration decided to remove him from office, as it were.

What happened, according to this story, was the kid made a speech in which he called his opponent a communist and said the opponent was proposing ideas and values from a rival school. He concluded by suggesting a wall be built between the two schools. 

Since this is the age of Outrage + YouTube = Absurdity, it wasn’t long before the kid’s speech hit the internet, causing the expected furor from the expected factions. Shortly afterward, the administration reacted pretty much as expected: they stated the student’s speech was not based in fact, violated official policy regarding insulting or demeaning language and as such, was a sound enough basis to disqualify the student from holding office.

The kid, while refraining from saying whether this happened because he sounded too much like the president, didn’t deny that was the reason either. What he did say was his speech was absolutely sarcastic and satirical -- indeed, one can apparently hear his audience of fellow students laughing -- and he never imagined anyone would think otherwise.

Now, as always, we don’t know the whole story. Perhaps there were ground rules in place – you know, like true rules of debate. Maybe this kid did, in fact, violate those rules and maybe the resulting actions of the establishment were logical, foregone conclusions. The story doesn’t really say one way or the other, leaving the rest of us to speculate. 

 Such things do make me wonder…

What I do know is kids love sarcasm -- I was extremely fluent in sarcasm when I was in high school. To be sure, I can remember a couple of moments in my checkered career, which may or may not be similar in circumstance, which resulted in similar consequences. In one case, my senior year in high school, I wrote a pretty funny satire of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet -- indeed, it brought down the house -- OK, at least three of my friends laughed. The teacher was pretty amused as well; in fact, the only ones who were not at all amused were my parents, with whom I was already waging a pretty serious -- and losing -- guerrilla war regarding my educational future.

As I recall, my teacher’s comments, scribed neatly under the bright red D-minus on the first page, went something like this. 

I wish I could give you an A for satire. Unfortunately, that was not the assignment. Therefore, while it was funny and well written, you failed to follow the directions, hence the ensuing grade.

A few years later, in a college sociology class, I wrote a scathing review of the works of Emile Durkheim. Not that I knew anything about it -- in fact, I may have gotten through one book of Cliff Notes -- but at the time, I thought Durkheim was a lightweight thinker and a thinly disguised sycophant of Karl Marx, whom I found equally ridiculous. Unfortunately, the professor did not appreciate my views, however ill-informed, and I received a bigger and even brighter red, a positively blood-red “F,” on the front of my blue book. 

The thing is, I don’t recall receiving any helpful insights, verbal or written, into what I may or may not have missed in lectures or whether I followed the directions of the assignment. I only remember a curt, “I did my thesis on Durkheim,” when I asked for feedback.

Thus, my question comes down to differences in tolerance and motivation. Were they mad at the kid because he acted like Donald Trump on the campaign trail? Or did the kid just fail to follow rules and/or directions? 

In my first case, my teacher was amused, even somewhat encouraging of my renegade take on Gibran. The sin I committed was not in the language I used or the humorous attempt I made to convey whatever I was feeling at the time, but rather my inability (or more likely, my downright refusal) to adhere to the directions of the assignment. 

In the second case, my professor simply seemed offended that I would have the audacity to state out loud that I believed his sacred cow to be pretty much full of bull, as it were.

And this has become the crux and crossroads of virtually everything in America these days. To wit, are you disturbed and offended because I don’t agree with you, or are you just following through with a logical response for failing to follow reasonably and clearly defined directions?

Tune in next week for another dose of truth or fake news. 

Whatever you find, it’s pretty much up to you.

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