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High school students mocked for speaking out

May 3, 2012

Two local students are under assault by an egotistical talk show host and a group of cowardly grown-ups this week. Their crime: daring to show civic engagement.

Walpole High School sophomores Matthew Brownsword and Ashley Waldron wrote a letter to the editor in The Walpole Times last week urging voters to support the proposed mammoth $3 million override on the June 2 town election ballot.

“As students of Walpole High School, we feel the effects of the deteriorating school system – a school system that could get even worse without an override,” the letter begins.

It was a simple enough letter – a written plea in the local newspaper that is becoming more frequent these days as the override battle heats up and the pro-override PAC Walpole Pride continues its aggressive letter-writing campaign in the Times to rally support for the tax hike.

But the students’ letter included a line that seems innocuous at first, but has generated intense backlash and open derision.

“The proposed athletic fee increase (without an override) could prohibit athletes from playing their favorite sport. The Declaration of Independence states that mankind is given the right of ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ which undoubtedly is being infringed upon if students are indeed barred from athletics because of financial reasons,” the letter read.

The students obviously fudged the reference to the Declaration of Independence. Someone’s right to “the pursuit of happiness” does not mean they should get to play sports at their school for free.

Even Brownsword admitted later that the “pursuit of happiness” part may have been a mistake, but it shouldn’t take away from the message.

“It may have been a flawed line but other than that the letter was respectable,” Brownsword said on his Twitter page earlier this week.

Indeed, the rest of the letter was well-argued even if one doesn’t agree with the point of it.

It is refreshing to hear an argument against high class sizes, for example, directly from the students who would be affected by it – not from helicopter parents who know nothing about the state of the modern education system.

“[In a class of 37 students] teachers will have a hard time grading kids on participation when there is only so much time in class for each and every student to participate,” Brownsword and Waldron pointed out.

Unfortunately, the cowards at the infamous online forum WalpoleWords – where grown adults under a cloak of anonymity regularly disparage and slam others who put their name on their opinions about the town – honed in on the botched reference to the Declaration of Independence and mocked the students who wrote it.

“Here is a hint, geniuses, raises in athletic fees do not stop your ‘pursuit of happiness’ anymore than you taking $300 a year out of my pocket so you can pursue your happiness,” one coward posted on WalpoleWords on Sunday.

Another coward wrote: “Walpole deserves an F for teaching history in its public school system.” Yet another said: “This is […] part of the widespread dumbness going on in our society.”

Egotistical WTKK talk show host Michael Graham, who has targeted and openly mocked Walpole High students in the past, took the liberty of continuing the open derision of the students on his radio show and blog on Monday.

Graham posted the letter verbatim on his blog under the headline “Attention, Walpole: Generation Cupcake Wants Your Money. NOW.” On his radio show, he laughed it up, ridiculing the students for suggesting that the “pursuit of happiness” entitles them to “a free bus ride” to school and free access to school athletics. He also jeered at another line in the letter where the duo wrote that people should be “repulsed by a 37-kid class.”

As a younger person myself, I take it personally whenever grown adults – particularly with pseudonyms on sites like WalpoleWords – trash young people who have strong opinions about the community (even if I disagree with those opinions, as in this case). Brownsword and Waldron should be commended for taking the time to write a letter in the Times expressing their view on a divisive issue. High school students should know that there is nothing wrong with speaking out.

I wonder whether either Graham or the WalpoleWords cowards would mock Brownsword or Waldron to their faces. Would a grown adult really be cruel enough to laugh it up in a high school student’s face and call them “dumb” and “part of the widespread dumbness going on in our society” for a botched line to a historical document? Gee, I hope not.

The reference to the Declaration of Independence was a flawed line, but who cares? The letter was reasonable and was intended to make a point from the perspective of students who would be directly affected by the override.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. James VS permalink
    September 18, 2012 4:22 AM

    I wrote a letter to the editor once about the conditions of the high school (before the expansion). I recall some people thought/accused me/assumed that either one of my parents wrote it or I wrote it under their direction. In reality, I did write it. My father only knew of my letter when I had it ready to hand to the editor.

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