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goodbye to all that

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 17, 2005

Valerie Lyvers "slaps" Eva Timm during a play rehearsal at Adams High School on Monday. SB Tribune photo & caption.

Erected on a scaffold of compromises, public education used to honor an unspoken truce regarding religion. When discussion of particular religious practices was unavoidable -- as in history or literature classes -- a generally positive portrayal was the norm. The peculiar constraints of Jewish life, for example, were treated with affection in the stories by Malamud or Potok we gentiles were given to read. Most of us realized that within every tradition an edgier, more acrimonious critique existed, but it was understood that -- as with ethnic humor -- those inside the family were given wider license for criticism than those outside, and the public schools honored this distinction by passing over the subject in silence.

The good will, tolerance, and courtesy that made the truce work are casualties of the culture wars, witness this chirpy article in the South Bend Tribune. A public high school in Indiana is staging a play called "Catholic School Girls." It's billed as a comedy, but that tells us nothing about what we're meant to laugh at, and the religious theme in and of itself shows that the old taboos have been broken. A light-hearted spoof might have been acceptable within the terms of the earlier truce, but is this a light-hearted spoof?

"I think it's kind of interesting how it sort of reflects on past Catholic Schools and the rigid structure of religion and how everything else was kind of sub-class," Alba Tomasula, who plays Theresa, said. "Religion is the main thing, it seems to me."

OK, that's a freshman speaking, and we can't put too much weight on her remarks, but Googling around the "Catholic School Girls" neighborhood is not reassuring. The playwright, Casey Kurtti, taught a course called Writing for Social Change at SUNY last year, and a positive if tendentious review of the play in question makes it plain we're not dealing with a Flannery O'Connor:

In the early grades, the girls are subjected to relentless dogma piped down their gullible throats, with the resulting bigotry and intolerance toward all non-Catholics. Myth, miracles, and superstition intermingle in the malleable minds, and get regurgitated in comic diatribes against all the unfortunate uninitiated, often prodding deep philosophical questions with their unfathomable answers given a distorted simplification by the little girls.

As they grow up, they begin to question their gobbling the gobbledygook, and, with impending puberty, gnawing doubts begin to poison and pervert their minds as their bodies develop with the profound changes harbingers of shameful longings. The mystery of menarche looms, and, with it, the impending demise childhood versus impending womanhood, and what to do with it vis-à-vis the male population.

I'm not especially horrified by the potential of "Catholic School Girls" to warp young minds -- young people have considerable powers of resistance in these matters -- what concerns me is the disposition of the "educators." Whether or not public high school students understand that Kurtti is "writing for social change," or understand the particular social changes she wants to effect, the educators who chose the play have to know a line has been crossed.

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  • Posted by: Sir William - Nov. 17, 2005 11:04 AM ET USA

    I thought we had some sort of strict 'separation of Church and state? Uncle Di, let US create a play about the indoctrination of public school children into a perverse and unrealistic 'relentless dogma' of self-indulgence, sexual exploitation by teachers, selfesteem-at-the-expense-of-discipline, the culture of death run amok, the illiteracy & ignorance of graduates. We wouldn't even have to exaggerate; simply pull things from daily headlines. Except, it couldn't be billed as a 'comedy'.

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