Censorship at Big Sky High

by Pete Talbot

This is more than a promotion of the upcoming Missoula County Democrats monthly meeting.

What the heck is the Missoula School Board thinking? Here’s the skinny, from an email I just received:

Subject: Central Committee Meeting

Are we really back to banning media in our schools?…

Last Thursday The Missoula County School Board held a special meeting to discuss a film shown by a popular science teacher at Big Sky High School: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. The movie is about the impacts of consumerism and global warming on our planet.

A motion was passed by the School Board (4-3) that found the movie violated policy 2330 of MCPS. Essentailly claiming the film was biased and according to Lemm “full of untruths.”

Decide for yourself at The Missoula County Democrats next central Committee Meeting. We will show the film and discuss the School Board’s decision.

Who: You
What: Censorship and Science, Missoula Dems monthly meeting
Where: Missoula County Courthouse Room 210
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, February 10

This is the first I’ve heard about the school board meeting or the board’s ruling. I’ll try to get details and update this post. Comments that fill in the gaps would be greatly appreciated.

Until then, I figure that high school students can decide for themselves if the movie is biased and “full of untruths.” I mean, these kids aren’t kindergardners.


  1. Pete,

    Best I can tell, you can view this entire movie at StoryOfStuff.com:

    The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world.

    It was written by Annie Leonard

    Leonard has an undergraduate degree from Barnard College and a graduate degree from Cornell University in city and regional planning. She stars in The Story of Stuff, a web-based documentary about the life-cycle of goods and services. Ralph Nader called the film “a model of clarity and motivation.”

    Leonard is coordinator of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives[4] and serves on the boards of International Forum for Globalization and the Environmental Health Fund. She previously held positions with Health Care Without Harm, Essential Information and Greenpeace International, and is currently coordinator of the Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption. In 1992 she testified in front of the US Congress on the topic of international waste trafficking.

    So, she seems pretty qualified to speak on these issues. I would say that if the school board called her work “full of untruths” then they better have some cold hard facts to back it up. Just sayin’.

  2. Jodi

    I have been tracking this but couldn’t attend the school board meeting last week. I know (and love) this film, which presents well-supported facts and is hardly “full of untruths.” It does challenge the basic notion that we should extract all of our natural resources, mix them with poison, and turn them into garbage.

    My family watched it as a double feature with Wall-E. This made a particularly nice juxtaposition, and I recommend it.

    I want this sort of film shown in our public schools. Goodness know that we need something to “balance” all of the media that is otherwise thrown at our kids to train them to be Good Consumers. It might even spark some–gasp!–discussion, pro or con.

    But I guess some people find that sort of thing threatening. They don’t want our kids to learn to critically evaluate any type of media or to think for themselves. I guess those aren’t valuable life skills.

  3. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

    Pete, here’s the problem as I see it. Most schools are friggn’ BROKE! But not to worry. There are PLENTY of materials for the science curriculums, free of charge…………….FROM INDUSTRY! And I’m not joking. Industry KNOWS that schools lack slick videos, etc. SO, if you want some materials on say, stripmining at Coalstrip, NO PROB! Or maybe stuff on logging the shit outta the national forests! This happens all the time. Industry has TONS of money for stuff like this. Or, need credits for renewing your teaching certificate? NO PROB! Tour Coalstrip, and they pay for everything! It’s a gawddamn SCANDAL! You might want to mention this sort of thing to the bozos on the school board.

  4. klemz

    Lisa: Stop it Stop IT! Don’t you realize you’ve just been brainwashed by corporate propaganda?
    Janie: Hmmph, apparently my crazy friend here hasn’t heard of the food chain.
    Uter: Yeah, Lisa’s a grade A moron!
    Ralph: When I grow up, I’m going to go to Bovine University.

  5. Ayn Rand

    After watching the move (sic) myself, I predict there will be standing ovations at your uber party.

  6. Big Swede

    Ayn, looks like your avatar has an infection.

  7. Ayn Rand

    Bill Clinton ???

  8. Matthew Koehler

    What a ridiculous decision. Glad this configuration of the School Board wasn’t around when I was working in the Missoula County Public Schools.

    In 1999 I showed a similar movie, Affluenza (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1473370760428862272) in US History classes at Hellgate. Affluenza/over-consumption is a disease worth exploring in our public schools. After all, it’s the leading cause of the current economic crisis.

    Man, I wonder what some of these school board members would have thought about the presentation I arranged for a full auditorium of Hellgate students featuring a live, 45 minute long talk about these same issues with Julia “Butterfly” Hill while she was atop the giant redwood tree!

  9. Pronghorn

    Info here http://www.mcps.k12.mt.us/portal/SchoolBoard/ContactTrustees/tabid/130/Default.aspx for contacting trustee Drake Lemm (“full of untruths”). Better yet (they meet next week):

    E-mail written comment to publiccomment@mcps.k12.mt.us. Comments will be forwarded to all trustees via email, and provided in a packet of information for their monthly meeting (second Tuesday of the month), or any appropriate meeting that is scheduled sooner.
    MCPS Board policy 2330:
    INSTRUCTION2330 Controversial Issues/Academic FreedomThe District shall offer courses of study which will afford learning experiences appropriate to the level of student understanding. The instructional program shall respect the right of students to face issues, to have free access to information, to study under teachers in situations free from prejudice, and to form, hold, and express their own opinions without personal prejudice or discrimination. Teachers shall guide discussions and procedures with thoroughness and objectivity to acquaint students with the need to recognize opposing viewpoints, importance of fact, value of good judgment, and the virtue of respect for conflicting opinions. The Board encourages and supports the concept of academic freedom, recognizing it as a necessary condition to aid in maintaining an environment conducive to learning and the free exchange of ideas and information. In the study or discussion of controversial issues or materials, however, the Board directs the teaching staff to take into account the following criteria: • The issue involved should pertain to the subject being taught and the course objectives. • The nature of the instruction and the teaching methods used should be adapted to the maturity level of the students. • Differing points of view should be considered. • Opportunity should be provided for the development of critical thinking, the ability to detect propaganda and the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. • The legitimacy of honest differences of opinion among individuals looking at the same evidence should be established. • One’s right to change his/her opinion should be respected. • Pupils should be encouraged to withhold judgment until thorough study has been completed. • Emphasis should be placed on the right and necessity of forming independent judgments based on reasoning and the full use of all available information. • Teachers must approach controversial issues in an impartial and unprejudiced manner and must refrain from using their classroom position to promote their own or any partisan point of view.

  10. Tana Man

    It’s sad, but we keep forgetting that even though we’re in Missoula, we’re still in Montana.

  11. In Missoula? Wow. I thought Missoula was more evolved than that.

  12. i doubt if drake lemm even believes in evolution patia- he’s from the bitterroot…

  13. Tana Man

    Yeah, Patia, it’s hard to take in sometimes. Gay people get the sh*t kicked out of them in broad daylight in this town. Homeless people get shot and stomped to death when no one’s watching. The police gang-up on the citizens after the bikers leave. And the schools still let a few noisy ignorant parents scare officials into censorship that defies both science and the principles of public education. Sad, but Missoula is still Montana.

  14. hate and ignorance. you rarely see one without the other.
    and a good education is enemy to both….

  15. Lizard

    Sadly, Montana is still America, and public education nationwide is pathetic. Without exerting much effort, I got great grades in high school, but didn’t really learn much of anything useful. My wife, on the other hand, went to a private school, and received a much, much better education.

    In the above policies posted by pronghorn, I especially enjoyed this one:

    Opportunity should be provided for the development of critical thinking, the ability to detect propaganda and the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion.

    It would be wonderful if that was an actual priority, but somehow I doubt it.

  16. JC

    Missoula is still part of Montana? I thought we were excommunicated years ago.

  17. I mean no offense, though I’ve no doubt I will be chided for it, but censorship at a Montana public high school should be about the least of our worries right now.

  18. There are 4 members of the school board whose seats are up for election this year. Click here to see which ones.

  19. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

    Lizzard, the other thing that is happening is that the old teachers are dying off and retiring. I mean no offense, but the newer teachers don’t know shit. They just don’t have the life experiences necessary. My teachers were all WWII vets and such. They were no nonsense individuals who had lived through the depression, the labor wars, WWII, the Civil Rights Movement and the sixties. They were tough hombres who actually KNEW shit from shinola. The newer crop thinks that shinola is some kind’a computer program! Technology and gadgets have replaced teachers and critical thinking. (OK, fire away!)

  20. Lizard

    I think that is a more than valid point, Wulfgar, because an issue like this too often becomes the kind of unproductive culture class that breeds comments like it’s sad, but we keep forgetting that even though we’re in Missoula, we’re still in Montana.

    reducing the impact of the economic shit-storm that’s looming will require cooperation from lots of different people, and reinforcing the notion that rural Montana is willfully ignorant, and urban Montana–well, just Missoula, right?–is liberally enlightened, really gets us no where.

    access to quality education is a class issue. maybe folks should try and remember that before they slide into easy stereotypes.

  21. Lizard

    Larry, I think that is an excellent point. (and I hope by saying fire away you aren’t assuming I’m trigger happy or something :) )

  22. Lizard

    damn it, should be clash not class

  23. goof houlihan

    “It’s sad, but we keep forgetting that even though we’re in Missoula, we’re still in Montana.”

    “In Missoula? Wow. I thought Missoula was more evolved than that.”

    “Sad, but Missoula is still Montana.”

    I like reading that. Maybe the next letter demanding “your fair share” of highway taxes could incorporate this attitude. Something like, “although it sucks Missoula has to be in Montana, we should get our fair share of highway taxes, because we are far more evolved than the cretins in the rest of the state”.

    It’ll work. Try it!

  24. the real montana deal

    Hmmm. This issue is close to home, as the school IS my home. Wulfgar, it’s a HUGE issue, as it threatens A.) Academic Freedom; B.) The 1st Amendment; and C.) the rest of our world as it struggles to survive amidst our megalomaniac production and consumption lifestyles…

  25. Tana Man

    Hey Goof, I didn’t say anything about highway taxes. In fact, I lived here back when we didn’t have a speed limit because we weren’t yet totally dependent on Federal Highway dollars. But I get your point–cultural separation is nice except when you want a piece of the state budget.

    The point I was making is that Missoula isn’t as evolved as we’d all like to think. Neither is Montana.

    But to take you to task on your point about Missoula accessing state highway funds, last time I checked it’s the MT DOR’s mishandling of our city’s budget forecasts that caused city council so many problems months ago when they were trying to figure out their own budget. Alot of potentially fruitful projects got axed along the way. Seems like people like Jason Weiner and Dick Haines both had very cogent–if disparate–strategies for reducing or balancing the budget, but the mayor’s hands were tied and couldn’t cut spending simply because the state DOR’s revenue jocks were so incompetent in their forecasting that the city couldn’t get its budgetary ducks in a row. Then you look at other local projects that intersect with the DOT–like the beckwith roundabout project, the reserve/I-90 intersection, russell street bridge, and other heavily congested areas, and you see major lulls in productivity all because the city and local developers have to stall their plans to accommodate various shortcomings in Helena Bureaucracy, namely the DOT. So, it seems, Missoula projects of the transportation variety that really need attention, are best put to seek private or non-state investors if they want to have any kind of productive timetable. In the meantime, just like with censorship at local schools, and gay folks getting beat-down in broad daylight, missoulians just have to sit and sigh…

    It’s Missoula, but it’s still Montana Goof.

  26. klemz

    He didn’t say that, Goof. He just said Missoula is unfortunately bound by a lot of the same political hangups and regressive thought that’s always stifled Montana.

    If you disagree, then explain why. However, the “free speech criminals of the state” cell is getting full. (note for those with no sense of humor, this is intentional hyperbole. if I weren’t in Montana, I wouldn’t have to add this note. just kidding. not really.)

  27. goof houlihan

    Interesting story by the Missoulian. Did the parent really “unleash his powerpoint”? No bias showing there.

    Good to see a parent involved in his child’s education though, right? I know I spent a lot of time countering the whole “noble primitive earth worship luddism ” message preached at the public schools, and replacing that with an enlightened pro western civilization message. When do we mandate “classical education for all”? You know, like the kind of education the founding fathers had that gave us the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?

    On the other point, I don’t share the mutliple posters’ antipathy towards Montanans and their values.

  28. i don’t either goof- in fact i need an occasional vacation from the rarified atmosphere of the zoo just to give myself a good dose of reality once in awhile. some of my close-by favorites just to chat and listen: coffee cup in hamilton, glen’s in florence, trixie’s in ovando, and pretty much anywhere east of ….gives me some perspective on points of view you don’t run into very often here.

    i thought the michael moore piece was excellent and covered the issue very thoroughly. nice work.

  29. Tana Man

    Goof, I see where you’re coming from, and it made me wonder what guns, populism, libertarianism, and good-neighborliness have to do with censorship, gay beatings, and snails-paced road projects. Perhaps I was really referring to something more specific than montana values… just not sure what.

    You raise a good point.

  30. klemz

    Well, I guess its hard to call racism and homophobia values.

  31. JC

    Unless that’s all you got.

  32. Today’s Missoulian has a story on the fiasco.

    Drake Lemm, Jim Sadler, Rick Johns and Kelly Hirning voted to censor the video….

    Sadler and Johns’ seats are up for this next school board election.

    Sadler represents Target Range and Bonner, while Johns represents the Hellgate School District area.

    Lemm’s seat is up next year, and Hirning’s in 2011.

  33. goof houlihan

    I don’t see racism and homophobia as values shared by most Montanans. We are a live and let live group, and that’s been my experience for thirty some years.

    Today’s Chronicle has a fine article on the subject.

  34. the red curl

    in response to:
    February 5, 2009 at 4:25 pm
    Missoula is still part of Montana? I thought we were excommunicated years ago.

    no. butte was. missoula was kept as a science project.

    and why didn’t mr. mark moe get criticized for his pbs video? because it was pbs?! mr. moe was a teacher when i was at big sky. in fact many teachers (in addition to mr. moe) at big sky used what some of my friends’ parents deemed “controversial”, but hardly anyone complained. why? we were such a different generation 10 years ago? no. but academic freedom was in a different generation then. our parents were the ex-hippies and free thinkers that protested government and war. with politics getting in the way of everyday life more and more, it’s sad to see those kinds of free-thinking ideas go out the metaphorical window. this is why people pay for education at sussex now.

  1. 1 i like my government without proselytizing thanks… « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] a missoulian that vote really embarrassed me…and trust me when i tell you, it takes a lot to embarrass a problembear. Possibly related […]

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