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The Politics of a High School Education

By Steve Miller | November 18, 2002

I am a senior at Santa Monica High School. We have student assemblies run by the school Activities Committee and the administration, at which guest speakers come to address the students. In my experience at the school, these speakers have all been members of the political left. It was last March that my friend, Chris Moritz, first came up with the idea of inviting David Horowitz to speak to our school. In December, we had invited widely celebrated ABC radio host and best-selling author, Larry Elder, to address students. As far as I know, he was the first libertarian ever to speak at Santa Monica High, and yet the school authorities stipulated that if he were to come he would have to be balanced by a left-wing speaker. The school administration failed to make any such demand for the left-wing speakers that both preceded and followed Mr. Elder, many of whom attempted to recruit students for their causes.

Our motivation for inviting Mr. Elder was our desire to offset some of the left-wing bias at our high school. Not only are all the speakers invited to campus left-wing, but several teachers impose their leftist views in the classroom and recruit students for demonstrations such as the October March against the war with Iraq. Union organizer Dolores Huerta was a speaker at our school and recruited students to march on union picket lines against a localDoubletree Hotel, adjacent to our High School campus. Police were already present on the picket site because of the ongoing threat of violence. This is certainly not the only time students have been led by their teachers onto the picket lines, escorted by administrators -- as though this is part of their educational curriculum.

It was our hope that hearing Larry Elder might inspire some students to rethink a few of their assumptions and perhaps even be induced to supplement their education with conservative texts. And that is exactly what happened. On visiting our high school, Larry Elder saw firsthand how ill-informed students were about a wide array of political issues, and how hostile many are to conservative viewpoints. Although a number of factors contribute to this, the overwhelming factor is the active indoctrination of students in the classroom by left-wing teachers with the support of the school administration.

When we invited David Horowitz, the administration claims that at first they did not know which David Horowitz we had invited, apparently thinking he was the consumer advocate. But then two days before his scheduled appearance in May, discovering he was conservative, they abruptly cancelled the permission that was required for him to speak. Their explanation? They said it would distract the students from their studies. Recruiting them to march on picket lines where violence might occur apparently would not.

If the school had let Larry Elder speak, why you might ask, would they resist David Horowitz? From the schoolÍs perspective, LarryÍs assembly was probably a nightmare. Students suddenly became more cognizant of the ideological bias in their school. Leftist teachers and students complained that Elder was allowed to speak at all. Moreover, the administrationÍs absurd request to have him balanced put the school in a negative light. This was a very public light because Larry invited Chris and myself to come on his radio show and tell our side of the story. To add David Horowitz to this mix was obviously not something they would be looking forward to.

Over the summer, new administrators were hired and the command structure was reorganized. Hoping that these changes would work to our benefit, Chris and I again asked the administration if David could come and speak as soon as school resumed. Little did we know that this minor request would trigger massive resistance on the part of the school. A local Santa Monica paper was sympathetic to our plight and many articles were written about the schoolÍs behavior. Larry Elder invited me on his show several times to talk about the schoolÍs distressing conduct. I had previously discussed the schoolÍs indefensible cancellation of the scheduled May appearance of David Horowitz, and this had resulted in considerable criticism directed at the school administration. The effect of this adverse publicity was that the school administration adopted more subtle tactics, causing endless delays in getting final permission rather than just denying the permission altogether.

First we asked if we could re-submit the application for HorowitzÍs assembly from the end of last year, a request that was denied. When we asked for a new application we were told they were unavailable. As soon as one became available, we filled it out and turned it in. The application was short and simple, and considering that we had already gone through this procedure very recently, we figured it should not take very long to process. Yet, we waited and waited, and no response came. Finally, we were told that before they could approve Mr. Horowitz, we would have to submit a club charter, something that had not been asked for before. We did this right away. Then we were told that we needed to submit our application for Horowitz's appearance all over again. So we did. But this didn't end our trials.

We waited some time for a reply and then a teacher on the Activities Committee told us they had never actually received our club charter. When we asked the administration what they did with it, they assured us they had turned it over to the Activities Committee. I went to the Activities Committee and was told that they did not have it and that the administration was not returning their calls. At some point, it surfaced, and our club was approved. The administration then told us that they had never been notified of the approval, and thus they could not clear him. Again I found myself talking with a teacher on the Activities Committee who explained that she had, in fact, notified the administration several times.

Weeks passed, and finally we were able to get them to acknowledge the clubÍs approval, so that we could move on to getting approval of the application. Yet no approval came. While all of this was going on we had to keep phoning Horowitz's office to get new dates put on his schedule when he would be available to speak. This whole situation was taking a ridiculous amount of time, and I decided to have a candid conversation with a teacher on the Activities Committee.

Up to then, I had left room for the possibility that all of these delays were simply the result of bureaucratic incompetence. But my conversation with the Activities Committee representative made it apparent that this was not the case. During our conversation I asked point blank: "Are all of the delays in approving David Horowitz intentional?" The teacher's reply was: "I take the fifth." I then asked if that meant the delays were deliberate and rather than issuing a denial, the teacher just continued looking straight ahead. This teacher (whose identity I am protecting) went on to admit that there was, indeed, a leftist bias at the high school, and furthermore, that the school was "nervous" about the prospect of Horowitz speaking. I began to be concerned that the school would never let this event take place. I was deeply thankful for the forum Larry Elder provided to voice these concerns over ABC radio, which I believe ultimately had the effect of pressuring the school into letting Horowitz speak.

After I went on Elder's show to explain the situation, the school was swamped with angry calls and letters and I was soon informed by that same teacher on the Activities Committee that although members of the faculty did not want David to give his lecture, the school was "nervous about not letting him come," and was "intimidated" by ElderÍs program. Next thing I knew, Horowitz was cleared to speak.

This was not the end of the ordeal in our attempt to have one alternative voice to balance the constant barrage of leftwing propaganda at Santa Monica High. Apparently the school figured that because they had technically approved the event, they could continue to delay it with impunity. Every time we submitted a new date for assembly, they would take so long to get back to us that the date would get taken by somebody else. I went back to the Larry Elder Show to air this to the Los Angeles public. I also talked to the local papers who gave us support. Finally Horowitz was scheduled to speak on November 1st, nine months after our first invitation the previous spring.

But before Horowitz was able to speak, the left, in an attempt to pre-empt the "bad" influence of conservatives, invited Blase Bonpane, a defrocked priest who had organized solidarity committees for the Communist guerrillas in El Salvador during the Cold War. The application for Bonpane's event was submitted and approved in two days, allowing him to speak before Horowitz. Bonpane told the student assembly that "no war was just," that Ariel Sharon was a "terrorist," that President Bush was "idiotic," that the United States was "the greatest terrorist state," that we were wrong to go into Afghanistan, that we should not go to war with Iraq, that we had killed 1.7 million Iraqis and on and on.

Horowitz spoke as scheduled on November 1. When we brought him onto campus he was met by the Dean of Students who said to him, "Welcome to Santa Monica High; we're glad to have you." To which Horowitz replied "No, you're not. You fought nine months to prevent me from speaking," and walked away.

Horowitz spoke to over two hundred students. Hundreds more showed up but were turned away because we could not even come close to fitting them all in the theater. Horowitz began by introducing himself, and by deploring the efforts that had been made to keep him from speaking. He said "If there's one thought I want to leave you with today, it's this: 'You can't get a good education, if they're only telling you half the story.'" A second and equally important point he made was "Look at what people do, not what they say." He gave the example of people who call America racist and oppressive. He said, "Look at you. You are America. And everyone of you is here because your parents or your grandparents knew that this is the best country, the freest and the one with the most opportunities for you whether you are brown or black or white or anything else. There is no exodus of people fleeing America because it is oppressive or racist. That tells you that people who argue that it is are selling you a bill of goods."

Horowitz then gave the example of liberals who claim that they have the interests of poor people and minorities at heart and that conservatives don't. "Every inner city in America of any significant size," he said, "every failing public school system that doesn't teach poor children, mainly black and Hispanic, to read and write, and thus deprives them of a shot at the American dream -- every one of them -- is controlled by liberals and progressives and has been for fifty years. Everything that is wrong with America's inner cities that policy can affect liberals and progressives are responsible for."

Since they could not deal with these comments, many of the leftist students in the audience were rude, sometimes interrupting Horowitz's speech and applauding loudly for anyone who challenged him. During the question period one student even said in a fit of rage, "Why did they even let you come?" Obviously, the administration at Santa Monica High had taught her by their example. At one point, a black student berated David, accusing him of saying that only blacks and Hispanics where failing in school. David pointed out that he had only said that the problem was particularly severe for those groups. Two-thirds of Los Angeles public school students are Hispanic and half of Los Angeles public school students are failing. But the student had not come to learn. She and her friends got up and attempted to leave. To her credit, our new principal made them sit back down.

After the assembly was over, many students came up to Horowitz to apologize. More than half of them said that they were liberals themselves but they were ashamed at the rude behavior of the student leftists who had interrupted his talk.

The entire event was videotaped by students who were making a film for their video class. At present it seems that we will be denied a copy of the tape. Our requests have been rejected by the teacher of the audio/video class. This, despite the fact that we offered to pay for them. So the censorship continues.

That evening, on the Larry Elder show, I talked about HorowitzÍs less than courteous reception at the school. Around that time, the Superintendent of the Santa Monica School district left a message on my answering machine. He said that he wanted to speak with my parents because he was concerned with my appearances on the radio. "I didnÍt want it to have to come to this," he said, but he felt he had to take some kind of action against me. When my parents spoke to him, he said that he wanted to publicly challenge the picture I had painted of the school. In his opinion I had "misrepresented" and "mischaracterized" the situation with David Horowitz, including studentsÍ disrespectful conduct. My parents then asked him if he could be specific about comments I had made which he felt were inaccurate, but he could not. He confessed that he had never actually heard me on the radio. When my parents began talking with him about specific issues of leftist bias, it became evident that he was unaware of much of what was going on.

There is a good chance he is going to read this article and I want to let him know that I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He is fairly new to the district and I see no reason why he cannot work to reduce the political

bias at Santa Monica High School and restore a proper learning atmosphere. I discussed issues of leftist bias with him last year, but there might have been extenuating circumstances that prevented him from getting involved. Now that he has demonstrated a personal interest, it is my sincere hope that there can be some positive change. Only, rather than taking issue with me for being openly critical, I would implore him to take steps to correct the situation which I am rightfully complaining about.

I would ask him to see to it that the Pledge of Allegiance is recited five days a week in accordance with district and state policy but which is disregarded by the Santa Monica High School administration. I would like him to see to it that both left-wing and right-wing speaker can visit our campus without hindrance; I would like him to announce a policy that would dissuade teachers from using their classrooms as platforms for their partisan political views, from demeaning and attacking our President; from creating a hostile learning environment for students who don't share their political opinion. I would like him to encourage civics classes to have a balance of conservative and leftist texts; to see that his schools stress inclusive patriotism, rather than a multiculturalism that often seems directed at denigrating this country and its history; I would like him to see that texts reflecting the President's post-9/11 statement that America is a beacon of freedom and opportunity to the world be included in our reading lists and not just texts that depict our country as wicked and cruel. I would like to see him make the mission of Santa Monica High education -- and not indoctrination.

Stephen Miller is a Senior at Santa Monica High School. He is a strong critic of the left-wing slant in education and uses the mediums of radio and print to discuss issues of political bias. He can be contacted at