21 March 2009

The St. Louis Jewish Light Takes on the Burroughs Prom

Here we go again.  The famous quote of William Tecumseh Sherman comes to mind as I write this post:

I think I understand what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.

In my other life, I have given interviews to the press on several occasions.  Some reporters are neutral and fact-based.  Some are friendly.  Some are hostile.  Some are enthusiastic and some are indifferent.  The one constant is that you will not be quoted accurately.  C'est la vie.

The local newspaper and website, The St. Louis Jewish Light, has reported on the John Burroughs Prom theme, the subject of so much teen angst on this site.  The story tries to link to this blog, but the link contains an extra hyphen and thus doesn't work.  The statements attributed to me should be read with a grain of salt; for example, I don't think this is at all an issue of making fun of something serious.  That was some people's approach in the combox to the post, not mine.  I don't question the good faith of the reporter--like I said, just par for the course.  

With that in mind, I post the story for a non-Catholic take on the leading local issue of our day.  Remember, kids, keep the comments clean in the combox:

Private school prom theme stirs debate


Perceptions of religious insensitivity over this year's prom invitations at John Burroughs School have touched off a controversy, much of which has been chronicled on a local Web site, www.stlouis-catholic.blogspot.com. Dozens of posts debate whether the invitations, pegged to the prom theme of the Seven Deadly Sins, is an appropriate choice for the prestigious private school in Ladue.

For Catholics, the Seven Deadly Sins are "mortal sins," requiring the sacrament of confession or contrition to prevent eternal damnation. Some bloggers take exception to a pentagram used on one of the invitations, saying it is blasphemous, and note connections to Satan and devil worshippers. In Judaism, there is no equivalent to the Seven Deadly Sins, says Rabbi Daniel Plotkin of B'nai El Congregation (also a member of the Jewish Light board of trustees).

"When I first heard the choice (of prom theme), I thought it was goofy," said Kris Holmes, who has two children attending Burroughs, including a daughter who is a senior and plans to go to the prom. "But I have real respect for the faculty and administration. They must have had all the information to feel it was OK. Burroughs is really tight on values - they walk the walk. I am comfortable with the theme because of the school and its staff.

"Do I think it was the best decision? I don't know. Do I think it will be handled well? Absolutely."

For Tim, the Catholic blogger behind the blog on which much of the debate appeared, the Seven Deadly Sins theme was not particularly offensive to his religious beliefs. "I just thought it was completely inappropriate," said Tim, who explained that in the blogger-sphere, last names are not used. The real issue came when "self-stated Catholic parents" of students at Burroughs defended the school's prom theme in comments on his blog. "It just floored me that there were Catholic parents out there who saw no problem with making fun of what is a very serious issue."

"In no way am I saying Burroughs should embrace Catholic values," he said. "I'm really addressing the issue with the Catholic readership of my blog."

Typically, Burroughs juniors and their parents throw the annual prom for the seniors. Much of the controversy is centered on the invitations in which different images depict the various deadly sins. And then there is the invitation verbiage: "Calling all sinners . . . we request your presence in hell."

Burroughs parent Greg Smith thinks the so-called controversy is "much ado about nothing." He says the materials are not disrespectful, satanic or inappropriate but rather edgy. And while he respects the right of some parents and students to object to the theme, he hopes that doesn't stop the majority of the students who want the theme to go forward with it.


"The whole theme is, to any experienced Burroughs parent, the usual satirical view of things one can expect from young, bright people who are encouraged to think progressively, openly and with few boundaries. At worst, the whole thing is maybe a little sophomoric, but, hey, these are high school kids."


Andrew Abbott, assistant headmaster at Burroughs, says most of the controversy arose from the invitations, rather than the prom theme itself.

"The school regrets that the invitations went out," Abbott said. "Our students are given considerable latitude, but in this case we probably should have been more careful.


However, Abbott notes that the theme was "intended ironically," particularly because the proms are comparatively low-key affairs, held at the school.

"Certainly there was no anti-religious sentiment," he said. "This is truly an environment where all religions are valued. We have a long history of being a diverse community."

During a morning school assembly, administrators spoke to students about the incident. "The message was that we understand that the intent was to be creative and ironic and we don't believe that anybody intended to disparage any religion, however, we need to be very cautious and sensitive to all religions and that we regretted that we let the invitation go out," Abbott said.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Abbott,

How about a good, old fashioned apology, instead of the back-peddling, "Now that we are caught, we regret it." Yeah, and so did the politician who made fun of the Special Olympics.

Anonymous said...

Tim: You might have already seen this, but the Post covered the Burroughs issue in today's Lifestyle section, too.

thetimman said...

Anon, thanks, I just saw it and will post. Nice story in the Post.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Was that supposed to be an apology? "We're so sorry that some people were offended..."