Never Challenge Worse
Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. – Thomas Paine
“…and I’m never goin’ back to my old school.” – Steely Dan
Comedian Bill Cosby used to say, “Never challenge worse.” Words of wisdom that I really try to keep close as I walk through life and all of its wonderful nonsense. Bill would continue, “never say it can’t get worse because worse is rough,” and he was right. Anytime you challenge worse, it will turn around and punch you in the mouth. Worse isn’t just rough, worse can be downright mean, y’know?
Last spring, it came to my attention through a friend that a Tennessee state senator had his mug hanging on a “Wall of Fame,” located in my old high school. Maybe not a big deal, however, a student had read some statements by this man and became so offended that she began a movement to have his picture removed from this wall. Her efforts were rewarded with a lesson in hypocrisy and political obstinance.
The town where this takes place is Vestal, NY. Located near the Pennsylvania border, it’s a quiet, conservative burg with a glut of shopping centers and plazas surrounded by pleasant looking neighborhoods. The district is predominantly white middle class and for the most part, nothing really seems to happen here. The schools are above average with a high rate of students graduating. In fact, Vestal is where I graduated.
It’s also where Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield came from.
Campfield graduated from Vestal in 1986 and later left for Tennessee where he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2004. First up for Campfield after being elected was to become a member of the legislative Black Caucus, as a white person to prove some kind of point. Give his good ol’ boy conservative base something to snicker at.
In 2007, Campfield sponsored a bill to issue death certificates for aborted fetuses, as he wanted people to be able to find out how many abortions were being performed in Tennessee – even though the Tennessee Office of Vital Records already maintained that information. So let’s make an already agonizing and personal decision made by women even worse.
In 2008, the year that the Vestal Board decided to “honor” Campfield, he introduced his “Don’t Say Gay” bill and also asked that full time state campus employees be allowed to carry handguns at work. The anti-gay bill which forbids teachers from even referring to homosexuality in their teaching curriculum was defeated, but Campfield continues to reintroduce this legislation in one form or another. And it gets worse.
In the years since the Vestal Board has uplifted Campfield to a position of honor in the halls of the high school, the Senator has exhibited behavior that has caused folks to accurately describe him as a slumlord, a homophobe, a bigot and well, basically an ignorant, insensitive buffoon. With all due respect, of course.
Campfield stated on a right wing talk radio that AIDS is the product of an airline pilot having sex with a monkey and then spreading it to the gay community. He also feels that the bullying of gay students is highly overstated, and heterosexuals simply don’t get AIDS as long as they don’t have anal sex. Never mind the facts, let’s just appeal to the lowest common denominator. And it gets worse.
Now the Vestal Board’s favorite son has decided that if a child, whose family is receiving public assistance, cannot at least maintain a B average then there should be monetary punishment. If you can’t learn then you don’t eat. That’ll teach those mooching eight year olds! And their good for nothing family of “takers!” And yes, you guessed it. It gets worse.
Last spring, Vestal student Nisha Dalvie called Campfield’s sentiments “abusive” in an editorial for the school paper and began a campaign to have his image removed from the so called “Wall of Fame” which features former high school students who represented qualities and character that reflect positively on my alma mater. Petitions were signed, letters were written and the public was made aware of this deviate who shared a space of honor with doctors, teachers and even an astronaut.
In a very hot and stuffy board room in June of last year, a standing room only crowd and the Vestal Board of Education heard the impassioned pleas of openly gay teachers, students and other concerned tax payers, in an effort to remove the image of a bigot from the company of those alumni who had contributed something positive to their community. The board was also enlightened regarding the hateful positions of the senator. This was all an exercise touted by the board members to appear sensitive, open to alternatives and to do the right thing.
It didn’t happen.
After ninety minutes of pleas for justice and tears over injustice, the Board responded with a pre-prepared statement declaring that even bigots have a right to be displayed in a place of honor. They stated that even if they “disagreed with his statements” they would be denying Campfield’s first amendment rights by removing his image.
Nobody said he couldn’t be a bigot. We said he shouldn’t be held up in a position of honor. We said his image should not be there when, by the board’s own admission, his remarks and actions are not something they can endorse as honorable. But his smirking image still remains in that school hallway. Rather than admitting that they made a mistake and should have vetted Campfield a little closer (if they did at all) and vow to be more diligent with their inductees in the future, they doubled down on their mistake and continue to hide behind a perverted interpretation of the first amendment, so the image of this hateful person remains. And yes, it gets worse.
You may not remember the name Mary Sherlach but she too was a Vestal graduate. I played for her graduation ceremony in June 1974. I was a freshman sitting in the French horn section that day. I never knew her but Mary went on to become a school psychologist.
Until last December, she worked at the Sandy Hook Elementary School for 18 years. She was one of the six adults who have died in the Newtown school shooting that day. She is an alumni who actually deserves a place in the Wall of Fame.
She is truly someone to be held up as an example of what is honorable. Hopefully, the Vestal Board of Education will replace Campfield’s image with Mary’s.
That would be doing the right thing.
But based on the school board’s history, it could get worse.