The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education."...  ... Plutarch.

Commentary of the Day - May 17, 2005: Hellfire and School Assemblies.  Guest commentary by Beverly Carol Lucey.

When I was in grade school, the whispers would start and spread around the school population faster than the whoosh of Miss Butler's ruler hitting Louie on the hand for doing yet another Louie-like thing, thus interrupting our rhythmic recitation of the times table.

"Did you hear?  We're having an assembly.  No geography today."

"Did you hear?  The Duncan Yo-yo Guy is out in the back playground doing all kinds of tricks.  I hate that we have second recess."

"Did you hear?  Some assembly's happening fifth period but it's optional so we have to talk Old Wetmore into it.  You do it.  You're good at it."

No matter what it is, most kids of all ages like a break in the routine.  Everyone wants to go.  Just to see.  Unless it is a pep rally when the geeks beg for a pass to the media center, the creative types head for the art room, and the stoners slip outside.

During an assembly, you might be able to sit with your friends and act up more than whoever was on the stage.  If the storyteller, the historical impersonator, or the musicians are good enough, they might be able to hold the attention of a really tough crowd.  Is there any lounge act in Vegas who has had a worse experience than a corny performer in front of eight hundred media savvy high school students?

As a high school teacher, I was forced to attend, no matter what.  To keep order.  I remember the one-man band with cymbals strapped to his knees, horns attached to his hat, sitting at something much like a drum set, whose one 'special effect' was a pop up plastic winged creature to provide a visual for a bad calypso rendition of Yellow Bird.

I remember Up With People.  Cleanest kids in the world, hyping their nighttime show, which would cost you.

The military bands were quite good, even though some members of the faculty protested their presence on campus.  Also, some kids wondered if it could be really true that if you joined the service, you could play trumpet for four years to earn college money instead of being sent to Cambodia.  The recruiters hinted at the strong possibility.

Sometimes we'd have wheelchair basketball.  One time our vice principal booked a barbershop quartet.  That did not go over very well, and he had to interrupt the performance to whine, "Now you all behave or I'll send you back to class right now."

One of the most terrifying things we ever witnessed occurred after one of the early school shootings that garnered quite a lot of publicity.  We were having an all school end of year field day.  After noncompetitive games and tie-dye workshops, plus free hot-dogs and Friendly ice cream we were all lolling on the back fields while knots of students slunk off early.  Suddenly the sound and sight of a helicopter filled the air.  Six squad cars arrived with dogs.  The helicopter landed in the middle of the field and our vice principal came out of the whirlybird with what looked like a machine gun.  Piling out behind her?  A hulking S.W.A.T. team.  Our vice principal at that time, a former nun, did not inform any of the faculty about the finale.  The stunt was meant to show how safe from harm we were with all this talent just moments away.  Lots of kids had seen the movie "Red Dawn" on VHS. Many times.  It was one of their favorites.  This day was not a shining moment in planned entertainment and edification of teenagers.

Motivation, Inspiration, and the Separation of Church and State

Somewhere along the line the entertainment-enlightenment tide turned and a Great Beast that spawned Motivational Shows began to spread across the land.  Whatever kids were doing in their off time, it was probably a good idea to remind them what a bad idea it was.  Preferably with humor and 'their kind of music.'  Except you do not want to imagine four middle aged women from the local battered women's shelter showing off a self written rap number about date rape.

When alleged Humanists were urging values clarification a few decades ago, people became outraged at the idea.  Situational ethics felt immoral to many.  Exploring our ideas of good and bad/right and wrong threatened the absoluteness of many doctrines.

Now, with the shift toward Federal Funding of Faith Based Everything, sex education means abstinence only.  If you want federal money for your program, that is.  Teaching values, certain values it seems, is just fine.  No teacher, after all, would encourage drug use.  Unless they are urging parents to medicate their ADHD, possibly bipolar with Asperger's tendency, children.

Assemblies are now for Character Building.

Mark Rothstein is a jump roping wizard.  He advocates all kinds of good things: teamwork, goal setting, fitness.  No problem there.

A place in Tennessee called The Mobile Ark will bring all kinds of animals to your school for an interactive program on endangered species and habitat destruction.  Respect and understanding for the environment and its inhabitants IS character building.

But get this.  It happened in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but the group itself comes from Minnesota.  The article is from The Lovely Citizen, a charming name for the local newspaper.

Classes were aborted last Wednesday morning for about 335 Eureka Springs school children seated on the high school gymnasium floor while a group of men and women in black blasted them with near-90-decibel heavy-metal music featuring what the school superintendent, students and faculty described as "religious, right wing" messages.

The purported content of the compulsory assembly was characterized by the performing group, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (YCRBYCH), as "drug and alcohol awareness" but the program's actual content addressed a much broader list of concerns.

The music was so loud a concerned staffer distributed literature detailing the threat of permanent damage to children's hearing ability, including that of about 135 7th and 8th graders bused in from the middle school.

Assembly rules waived...

Some students and teachers walked out.  High School principal David Childers intervened when two teachers ordered students to return to the assembly and allowed them, and others, to leave.

Following the musical assault, lead speaker Bradlee Dean, founder of Minneapolis-based YCRBYCH, spoke about his life as a reformed cocaine addict.  Speaking at a blistering pace while writhing from one foot to the other, Dean shouted about homosexuality, abortion, divorce, single-parent families, liberal politicians, the news media, gun control, the Kennedy assassination, creationism, Christianity and the sanctity of virginity.

Dean said pornography increased by 97 percent when Bill Clinton was President and opined that "blaming Columbine on guns is like blaming spoons for Rosie O'Donnell being fat."

After two hours in the gym, the boys, girls and faculty were divided into separate groups.

Dean faced immediate opposition from some of the teachers corralled in the EAST lab.  Teachers' initial comments included: "This is propaganda;" "I was completely offended;" "Faith based nonsense;" and “You shouldn't even be here."

One teacher asked Dean what the "Jesus song had to do with drug awareness?"  He responded, "There is nothing in our Constitution or founding documents about separation of church and state," and characterized evolution as just a theory.

English teacher Cathy Remenar explained the difference between evolution and creationism, saying "one is scientific theory and one is religious theory," and added that it is the school's obligation to teach the former but not the latter.

Dean sped into a rap about the need for more corporal punishment and too much free speech and permissiveness in schools, adding that Dr. Benjamin Spock's son committed suicide.

In the girls' assembly, Amy Deitchler walked out when a female YCRBYCH staffer told the young ladies they would be serving "leftovers" to their husbands if they lost their virginity before marrying a "God fearing man."

Walk-out Kristen Cuypers, said, "They're selling us propaganda.  I don't think I should be told how God affects my life."  Allyson Pokrzywinski, a junior, said, 'I don't think this is legal.  This is a violation of our rights.  I believe in separation of church and state."  Ashley Smith said, "They're trying to create fear by stereotyping."
Easy pickings...

The men and women in black drove a $100,000 rig out of town after the revival.  They're banking on receiving $2,700 for the three-hour rave to be paid by the Eureka Springs School District with federal funds distributed by the Arkansas Department of Education.

The YCRBYCH web site makes no mention of the group's ideological bent but does list its corporate sponsors.  Among the corporations with local ties are Best Western, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Super 8 Motel and Holiday Inn.

According to a June 16, 2001 article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press covering reaction to a YCRBYCH assembly, more than 60 parents petitioned their school board "to investigate possible malfeasance by an administration that turned the other cheek while Dean humiliated our children."

-- Vernon Tucker
Lovely County Citizen

The link on the group's web site to corporate sponsors no longer is active, perhaps owing to complaints from angry parents.

Something tells me I would not like the feeling of being required to attend such an assembly.  Something tells me I might have caused a little trouble, had I been there.  Something tells me that many school administrators still are not thinking about the appropriate reasons for canceling classes in favor of enrichment.

"I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down and the flames climbed higher
And it burned, burned, burned the ring of fire
The ring of fire."*

Something tells me that the current resident of the White House would not see the problem as I do.  Do you smell something burning?

©2005 Beverly Carol Lucey
*From the song "Ring of Fire" sung by Johnny Cash with words and music by June Carter and Merle Kilgore.  Beverly Carol Lucey is a freelance writer and former high school teacher from Arkansas who publishes several ezines (

The IP comments:  First, with regard to the group "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide", it seems to the IP that it has its own character flaw.  Namely, is seems to the IP that when the group hides its fundamentalist religious orientation from the public it is being dishonest.  High school students in general are not stupid.  They see through the subterfuge pretty quickly.  Second, the whole idea of using school assemblies to teach character most likely is a waste of time and money.  While a highly motivational program may excite the students momentarily, the effects are bound to wear off quickly.  Like any other kind of education, character education is best taught on a daily basis through example.

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