The following piece appeared on the BLOG Political Party Poop.com.
Valedictorian Complains of ‘Hollow’ Public School Education
Snoop June 29th, 2006
By Kate Monaghan
June 29, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - The valedictorian of a Blue Ribbon-awarded high school in New Jersey has left teachers and administrators with a sour taste in their mouths after using his June 20 valedictory speech to describe his education as “hollow” and one filled with “countless hours wasted in those halls.”
“I felt like the most important questions were not asked.” said Kareem Elnahal, the top rated student at Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, N.J. “Things like ethics, things that defined who we are, were ignored so in that way I thought it was hollow.” he told Cybercast News Service Wednesday.
Mainland High School was ranked 403rd among the nation’s top 1,200 schools in Newsweek Magazine’s “America’s Best High Schools” report from August 2005.
But at the June 20 commencement, Elnahal told his audience that “the education we have received here is not only incomplete, it is entirely hollow.”
“[It is] grade for the sake of a grade, work for the sake of work.” Elnahal added, according to a transcript of the speech posted on the Press of Atlantic City website.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of intellectual thought is lost,” Elnahal said. “I know how highly this community values learning, and I urge you all to re-evaluate what it means to be educated,” he concluded before leaving the ceremony without collecting his diploma.
Elnahal told Cybercast News Service that teachers refused to discuss certain topics because they were too closely tied to religious views. In his valedictory speech, he argued that there is a connection between a person’s faith and that person’s power of reasoning.
“Is there a creator? And if so, should we look to it for guidance,” Elnahal asked the audience gathered at the high school graduation ceremony. “These are often dismissed as questions of religion, but religion is not something opposed to rationality. It simply seeks to answer such questions through faith.”
Elnahal said the reaction to his speech from fellow students was the most dramatic development on the night of June 20. “I think the story really is not me or what I said but what the reaction was. If you were there you would have seen the kids stand up and clap,” he told Cybercast News Service.
“The reaction from the students to me has been overwhelmingly positive.” he continued. “For some reason, I don’t know if for the same reason, I think they were all disappointed in some way or unfulfilled and I think that’s what the school should be thinking about.”
Daniel Loggi, superintendent of the Atlantic County, N.J., School District, said he was not troubled with Elnahal sharing his thoughts, but disagreed with the manner in which he chose to do it.
“I don’t have any problem with anybody speaking what they feel.” Loggi told Cybercast News Service. “But there are certain parameters when you have a graduation or any kind of ceremony where you prepare for it. I don’t believe the way he did it was appropriate.”
Loggi added that the student did not give school administrators the chance to either approve or disapprove. “Who knows whether the Mainland administration would have approved it or not. Maybe they would have, but he didn’t give them that opportunity.”
He also defended the quality of education at Mainland Regional High School. “I know Mainland is one of our top high schools in this county.” Loggi said. “They’ve been a Blue Ribbon school and received a lot of awards. The education [Elnahal] received there is permitting him to go on to Princeton.”
Elnahal said he would have chosen another occasion to say what he thought, but that his graduation seemed to be the only one available. “Had there been another venue I would have used it, but there really wasn’t,” said Elnahal. “So I felt I had to do it there. I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Had he not chosen to speak out, Elnahal said, the opportunity for change would have been lost. “I felt like nothing would change. I felt like it had to be said and if this was the only time I could say it, then I should.”
Quote of the Day
"I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive. "--John W. Gardner