Freedom of speech or just bad judgement?

By Reade Brower | May 29, 2014

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” — Thomas Pynchon, writer, (b. 1937)

I don’t consider myself prudish by any stretch of the imagination but I did a double-take a few weeks ago when considering the book assignment to the freshmen class at Gilford High in New Hampshire. It was entertaining and interesting to watch the YouTube video of William Baer getting arrested for his outspoken remarks and “objectionable behavior” at a town meeting when he voiced concern over what he considered a pornographic reading assigned given to his 14-year-old daughter by her English teacher.

The book in question is “Nineteen Minutes,” by Jodi Picoult. The story takes place in a fictional town and is about a school shooting. It has been part of the curriculum at Gilford High School for about five years. However, this year school officials admitted, after being pressed, that they “forgot” to send out the memo to freshman parents alerting them to the books sexual content.

At the public town meeting attended by Baer, the school board moderator told the audience it was an “oversight” but never apologized for it, nor took any real accountability or responsibility for it. Since the incident and the heat generated by it, the school board has created a new policy of “opt in” instead of “opt out” on books that might be perceived to have a “R” or “X” rating.

The concern can be best understood by reading page 313 of the novel which contains some very “romantic” language that one might label as “X-Rated” and perhaps inappropriate for a 14-year-old daughter like Baer’s.

I read page 313 and found it quite titillating, so much so that I will not reprint it like did because I am not sure that Courier newspapers are a proper forum for a steamy romance novel depiction of forced and aggressive sex between young teens. I will offer you the following link and you can decide for yourself where common sense might fit into this discussion. also posted the video of Baer’s arrest and some of the events leading up to it. Follow the link below to watch this interesting 10-minute clip.

I found the video intriguing on many fronts. Common sense suggests that sending freshmen home with this book, without any “heads-up” to parents is just plain wrong and also, just plain dumb.

The school board did themselves another disservice by invoking the “two-minute” rule and not allowing discussion, rather opting for parents to share comments, with no feedback from others or the board itself.

Watching the video put it into perspective. Baer was fairly calm throughout and he used his training as an attorney to keep his self-control and not be bullied by the “rules."

In the end, he did deserve to get arrested for his civil disobedience but his somewhat calm demeanor won me over and earned him my respect for a parent standing up for his values and his desire to protect his daughter.

I also found myself feeling a lot of empathy for the officer. He was put in a very tough position after Baer left him no choice but to arrest. In fact, Baer demanded it when he refused to leave after several reasonable requests by the officer.

It put the officer in the midst of potential fire storm and I thought he did an excellent job keeping his cool and not furthering the situation by putting any gas on the fire.

On the other hand, the school board moderator was pathetic. One of the more interesting parts of the video to me was when Baer asked her to read aloud both the memo and some of the highlighted passages on page 313. She refused saying the forum was for comments only.

It would have been quite effective if Baer had regrouped and asked parents who hadn’t spoken to tag-team and read what he considered the objectionable page. To catch that on video would have brought his point home.

The other piece that bothered me was the reporter following the arrest with his camera crew. The officer politely asked them to “back off” and the rude reporter decided to be a jerk by continually asking the officer to tell him exactly how many feet the law stated he needed to be behind the subject. The officer’s continued patience was admirable to me and the reporter went from jerk to ass as he continued to demand the exact number of feet he needed to back off and continually tried to instigate and inject himself into the story, instead of following it like a reporter should.

In another related video, Baer’s daughter stood up and addressed the school board right after her father was led away in handcuffs only to be rebuffed and interrupted during her “two minutes” by the school board asking her for her street address, even though while introducing herself, she gave her town origin and stated that her address was the same as her dad’s.

While I understand the challenge in running a meeting like this, lack of common sense in dealing with this nonsense was laughable at best, sad at worst. While I do understand why Baer had to be arrested, and think he should have been, invoking a two-minute rule and not taking any responsibility was at the root of the real issue.

The situation could have been diffused if they had called a special meeting to discuss this issue specifically. In the end, parents wanted to say their piece and the “two-minute” rule is not the right recipe.

When we do not follow a path that includes being heard, we fail, and things intensify rather than dissipate.

Turn the Page. Peace out; Reade

Reade Brower can be reached at:

Comments (1)
Posted by: Kenneth O Frederic | Jun 01, 2014 08:16

Thank You!  I don't doubt 14 year-olds will find and read such books and it may well be '19 minutes' has 'redeeming' value such as illustrating how insanity and anti-social mindsets can be detected and why they should be. Even if that's the case, surely another book could have been found to achieve that educational purpose.  

Censorship is nothing new and in my youth books and movies were legally banned and 'blue laws' were just one of the tyrannies of the 'blue noses'.  And today's censorship is just as troubling and just as wrong.  Back then, it seemed to me, folks were terrified someone else might be having fun.  Today, it seems to me, folks are terrified someone else might hear valid arguments and substantiated viewpoints that expose flaws in their own economic, social, or political ideology.

If you wish to comment, please login.