NCAC urges Superintendent to reverse his decision to ban student play
On February 25, school board members in La Grande, OR voted to uphold Superintendent Larry Glaze’s decision to censor a student production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, ignoring spirited and articulate appeals from the High School principal and drama teacher. It was yet another disturbing case of school officials catering to the more censorious voices in their community. Prior to the board meeting, NCAC urged Superintendent Glaze to reconsider his decision.
February 24, 2008
Superintendent Larry Glaze 708 K Ave. Suite 100 La Grande, OR97850
Dear Superintendent Larry Glaze,
We are deeply concerned about your recent decision to cancel the scheduled performances of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at La Grande High School. It is our understanding that you reviewed the script after complaints from parents about sexual references and ‘simulated’ drinking, and that subsequently you ordered the play be canceled. It is true that the characters in the play, Einstein and Picasso, drink— the play takes place in a bar. It is also true that the Picasso talks about his relationships with women. However, the mere presence of these elements in a work of art or literature such as “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” does not amount to promoting certain behavior. A ban on plays containing references to sex and alcohol would preclude performances of most Shakespeare plays, Death of a Salesman, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, and countless other works that are performed each year by high schools students across the country.
Students at a high school level have both the intellect and maturity to engage with works of contemporary drama such “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, which uses humor to explore themes of art, science, and philosophy. Any parent concerned about the play’s content could simply keep his or her child out of the production and the audience, or protest in other ways. Unfortunately in this case they pressed for cancellation, so that no child could participate in or see the play. Not all parents in the community object to the play, and those who do have no right to impose their views on others or to demand that this production reflect their personal preferences.
Justice Jackson observed half a century ago that the attempt to “eliminate everything that is objectionable…will leave public education in shreds.” McCollum v. Board of Educ., 333 U.S. 203, 235 (1948). Students are better served by exposure to “controversial” material than by misguided – and unrealistic – attempts to shield them from it. We encourage you to engage with the students who have already invested their time and labor in this production, and to reconsider your decision to cancel the performances. Please let us know if we can be of any help in this process.
Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship
Click here for a student-produced report on the incident.