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Posted at 1:41 PM ET, 12/23/2010

A student play blasting N.Y. school reform is banned

By Valerie Strauss

Fourteen students from two New York City schools -- Jamaica High and Queens Collegiate -- wrote an impressive play about school reform under Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, based on the classic play “Antigone.” They were rehearsing to perform the play -- complete with music, visual projections and lights -- when they were told that their principals had decided not to allow them stage it. The play, titled “Declassified: Struggle for Existence (We Used to Eat Lunch Together,” was banned.

According to a teacher who was working on the project with the students, the principals sent word that they were uncomfortable with criticism of Klein and Bloomberg, and they would not allow the Dec. 17 scheduled performance to go on in the Jamaica High auditorium.

It's hard to even fathom the thinking that went into the decision to stop the kids from performing a clever work that they created and that expresses their opinion of school reform that has affected their lives.

Eight years of business-driven reform under Klein were centered around standardized tests used to grade schools, and many of the troubled ones were either broken up into smaller schools or closed. Klein repeatedly pointed to rising test scores as evidence of his achievement, but recent revelations that the scores rose because the tests got increasingly easy to pass burst that success bubble.

The decision to ban the play shows a fear of upsetting authority -- not exactly the civics lesson you'd want kids to learn in an American school.

The students were inspired to write the play in part by a blog post by Jamaica High School teacher Marc Epstein, called "The Triumph of Academic Apartheid." It details how Jamaica High, a storied school, was slated to be closed (along with dozens of other schools) based on what Epstein explains were faulty data and assumptions.

For those interested in reading the work the kids wrote, here it is. It's not too long, and worth reading.

Declassified: Struggle for Existence (We Used to Eat Lunch Together)

Conceived of by students from Jamaica High School and Queens Collegiate High School in the Actor’s Workshop at Queensborough Community College


School Official
Student 1
Student 2
Office Assistant
Janitor 1
Janitor 2

Note: All lines in bold are taken from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Antigone.
Note: Newscast is pulled from a NY Times article from October 28, 2010.

Scene 1

Mom is in the kitchen getting food ready. Antigone and Ismene come home from school. Antigone arrives first, then Ismene, the younger sister...

Mom: Hi Antigone. How was school?

Antigone: I don’t want to talk about it.

Mom: Come on, it can’t be that bad.

Antigone: There were 42 kids in my math class. There wasn’t even a place to sit. Plus we don’t have enough text books to go around. It’s that bad.

Mom: Are you hungry?

Antigone: That’s another thing. We have to eat lunch at 10am while the kids at the new school get to eat at a normal time.

Mom: You mean Ismene’s school?

Antigone: Yeah. They get all the good lunch times. Not to mention better classrooms.

Mom: Well, try to understand. Part of this new school reform is investing in smaller schools.

Antigone: What’s happened here is that the judge has misjudged everything.

Mom: What’s that supposed to mean?

Antigone: Nothing. Just something we read in theater class.

Mom: Well, eat some food. You’ll feel better. I’m making stewed chicken.

Ismene enters

Mom: Hi sweetheart. How was your day?

Ismene: Mom, we have laptops. Can you believe it? I mean we can’t take em home with us, but still. And there was this one kid, Neil, he switched the keys on the keyboard so people kept typing the wrong thing.

Mom: So it was a good day?

Ismene: Besides the fact that now I have all these text books I have to lug around. Oh, and I need you to sign this paper. We are going on a field trip to D.C. next month.

Antigone: It’s not fair. These new schools are getting all the attention. It’s like we’ve been left out for the birds to feed on.

Ismene sticks her tongue out at Antigone. Antigone responds.

Mom: Please, no arguing tonight. I have to work.

Antigone: Again? But you worked the night shift last night.

Mom: Look after your sister. There’s plenty of food. Call if you need me. Bye.

Mom kisses the daughters and heads out to work.

Ismene: Well, I got homework to do.

Antigone: Whatever. Just don’t bother me.

Ismene goes to her room and Antigone turns on the TV.


Antigone sits watching T.V.

T.V.: The New York City Department of Education said Thursday that up to 47 schools could be closed for poor performance, a huge increase from previous years if all remain on the chopping block. The schools on the list include John Dewey High School in Brooklyn and Jamaica High School in Queens.

Antigone: Ismene, quick, come here!

Ismene enters.

Ismene: What!

Antigone: Just get your butt over here.

Ismene: What is it?

Antigone: Here’s what has happened. There’s a general order issued and it hits us hardest.

Ismene: Can you stop talking like you’re in that stupid Greek play and talk normal!

Antigone: Just watch....

TV: In the eight years since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has used school closings as a cornerstone of his school reform strategy, 91 schools have been shuttered and replaced with new schools. Nineteen of the schools were to close last year, but won temporary reprieves because of a lawsuit brought by the teachers’ union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The schools face a potential “phase-out,” a process in which the school stops accepting students and loses one grade per year until it ceases to exist. Simultaneously, new schools open in the building.

Antigone: That’s where your school came from.

TV: To reduce the shock and anger that closing announcements met in past years, the city has a new process to explain its thinking before making a final decision.

Antigone: Yeah, they better explain.

TV: The efforts at dialogue respond to the broader issues raised in the lawsuit last year, which found that the city broke the law in how it informed and involved the community in the school closing process. The city’s final decisions on elementary and middle schools is expected by the end of November, with decisions on high schools by mid-December. Then the official, legally mandated closing process, involving additional public meetings and a final vote by the mayoral-controlled Panel for Educational Policy, begins.

Newscast ends. Antigone clicks off the TV.

Antigone: This is so messed up. We have to do something.

Ismene: If things have gone this far what is there we can do?

Antigone: Well, I’m not gonna let them close my school without a fight. And you’re gonna help me.

Ismene: It’s not my school. What do I care?

Antigone: You have friends that go to Jamaica, don’t you?

Ismene: Yeah, so? Besides, you know if you do anything to get into trouble again mom’s gonna flip out. She’s already so stressed out since dad left.

Antigone: Are we sister-sister, or traitor-coward?

Ismene: It’s not that simple.

Antigone: Fine. I don’t need your help anyway. I’m gonna save my school, even if I have to do it by myself.

Ismene: Easy now, sister. Think this through for a minute.

Antigone storms out, leaving Ismene sitting there alone.

Ismene: I fear for you ,Antigone.


The following week in school Antigone is hanging posters that say “Save Jamaica High School.” After hanging them for a while, she is approached by a school official.

School official: Hey you. What are you doing?

Antigone: Uh, nothing. Well, I’m hanging these posters up.

School official inspects the posters.

School official: I’m sorry young lady but you can’t hang these in this hallway. This hallway belongs to the new school and you’re not authorized to hang anything here.

Antigone: But it is all the same building. And besides, this is important- the city is trying to close our school. Don’t you want to help save it?

School Official: I’m sorry, but we must do as we are told.

School official starts to leave.

Antigone: If these men weren’t so afraid...

School Official: What did you say?

Antigone: Nothing.

School Official leaves. Two students from the new school approach.

Student 1: Did you hear they’re going to close Jamaica High School?

Student 2: I guess they deserve it. I heard their graduation rate was like really low.

Student 1: I don’t know. It doesn’t seem fair. I mean we get all this new technology in our classrooms, and they get shut down. Hey Antigone, What are you doing?

Antigone: I’m trying to hang these posters up so that students know about how to help save our school. Maybe we can get a big protest going.

Student 2: Do you really think that will make a difference?

Antigone: Maybe not. But it still has to be tried. Hey, I know, maybe you can help me. I’m not allowed to hang any in your part of the building. But since you both go to the new school, maybe you could....

Student 2: Oh, I don’t think so.

Antigone: Just a few on your way to class.

Student 1: Well, I guess we could do that.

Student 2: No way, I’m not getting in trouble for Jamaica High School. You all hate us anyway.

Antigone: That’s not true.

Student 2: Anyway, maybe Jamaica should be closed. I mean, if you can’t get your act together.

Antigone: Look, we lost 30% of our teachers and we don’t have enough resources to handle all the students we have. It’s not our fault.

Student 2: Whatever.

Student 1 leaves. Antigone is flustered.

Student 1: Here give me some of those. I’ll help you.

Antigone: Thanks.

They continue hanging the posters together.

Student 1: Hey, do you remember when we used to eat lunch together?

Antigone: Freshman year. That was the year.

Student 1: Yeah, why did they change that?

Antigone: I don’t know. “Education reform” or something.

Student 1: Things are so divided now. I liked it a lot better when we where together.

Antigone: Yeah me too.

Student 1: Hey I gotta run to class. Will I see you later at QCC?

Antigone: Yeah I think so. If I can get all these posters up.

Student 1 leaves. Antigone continues hanging posters until the whole wall is covered.


In the office of the School Chancellor.

Office Assistant: Uh, Chancellor. Tireseus is here to see you.
Chancellor: Send him in.

Tireseus enters.

Chancellor: Tireseus, what are you doing here?

Tireseus: I had some time off from teaching and thought I’d check in on my old friend. You don’t look so good brother.

Chancellor: It’s all these letters I’m getting. Listen to this....


“Dear Chancellor Klein. We the undersigned students, parents, staff members and friends of the Jamaica High School Community urge you not to phase out or turnaround this 118 year old historical institution. Jamaica High School has been treated very unfairly by the Department of Education and deserves support rather than phase out.”

Holding up the letter.

Chancellor: Do you really think I’ve been unfair?

Tireseus: Sounds like your conscience is what’s doing the disturbing.

Chancellor: Don’t talk in codes.

Tireseus: You took away 30% of the school’s teaching staff which increased class sizes, and you gave half the space in the building away to new smaller schools. Would you call that fair treatment?

Chancellor: We can’t continue to invest in failing schools.

Tireseus: Do you really think closing schools is the answer?

Chancellor: The school is failing.

Tireseus: Or maybe you are failing the school. Why not give them what they need to succeed?

Chancellor: But schools must be held accountable.

Tireseus: And what about you, Chancellor? Who’s holding you accountable? The gods have given us the use of reason, but do we use it right? Do I? Do you?

Chancellor: Why am I standing out here like a target? Why is every arrow aimed at me.

Tireseus: Isn’t it your policy that is upsetting so many students and teachers?

Chancellor: Who’s got you in their pocket? Are you working for the teachers union now?

Tireseus: Honest advice is not a thing you buy.

Chancellor: All of you so-called seers: you have your price.

Tireseus: Rulers too have a name for being corrupt.

Chancellor: The decisions I take are not up for sale.

Tireseus: Are you so sure about that?

Chancellor: Get out of my office.

Tireseus: Fine, but know this: where you are standing now is a cliff edge, and there’s a cold wind blowing.

Tireseus exits.

Office Assistant: He’s gone, but his words won’t go away. Never in all my days was that man wrong. When he warned the city, the city new to listen.

Chancellor: Don’t you have some work to do.

Office Assistant: I’m just saying.

The Chancellor broods.


Antigone is at home looking sad. Ismene enters. There's a tense silence between the two.

Ismene: I heard you got suspended.

Antigone: Yeah. For hanging posters in your school’s hallway. Anyway, why are you home so early?

Ismene: I told my principal that I helped you do it.

Antigone: You did what?!

Ismene: Yeah, so I guess I got suspended too.

Antigone: I don’t allow this. Justice won’t allow this. You wouldn’t help!

Ismene: But I’m with you now.

Antigone: Too late sister. You can’t just pluck your honor off a bush you didn’t plant.

Ismene: But even at this stage, can I not do something?

Antigone: Well, there is one thing I was thinking of.

Antigone whispers to Ismene as the scene shifts. .


Two janitors are taking down Antigone’s posters.

Janitor 1: What do you think about all this?

Janitor 2: What do you mean?

Janitor 1: You know, this business of closing Jamaica High School.

Janitor 2: Well, I don’t know. It definitely don’t make sense to me. I mean why close a school. They got money for jails don’t they. Why not schools?

Janitor 1: I hear that. So why we taking all these posters down anyway?

Janitor 2: Just doing our job.

Janitor 1: Well, I just as assume leave ‘em up. And if the powers that be have a problem with that, well, they can take them down on their own time

The two janitors continue discussing their views on the school closing and the state of the world generally. Lights fade....


Mom is sitting at the table. She is tired from work. Antigone comes home.

Antigone: I can’t believe this. Ismene and I had this whole protest planned. It was gonna be big. But now this! (Holds up a letter)

Mom: Antigone, Slow down! What’s this all about?

Antigone: Ok, So the city decides it wants to close down Jamaica High School, right?! And I’m like no you don’t! We’re gonna fight this! So I start to talk to people, make posters. Some teachers, you know, they’re in the fight, getting petitions signed and all that. Then just as it’s heating up I get suspended.

Mom: Wait a minute. How come I didn’t know about this?

Antigone: Please mom, just let me finish. Anyway, we get suspended for hanging posters where I’m not supposed to.

Mom: We got suspended?

Antigone: Yeah, well Ismene too. But that’s a long story. She didn’t really do it.

Mom: Ismene got suspended!?

Antigone: Mom! Will you please just listen!?

Mom: Fine. Go ahead.

Antigone: So while I’m suspended, I got some time on my hands, right? So I start thinking, what if we get all the students together, included the students from the new schools that are supposed to be like our competition--cause like it shouldn’t be that way--and all of us together march from the school to the chancellors office to say no to closing Jamaica High School.

Mom: Now Antigone, what did I say about getting into more trouble -- you’re headstrong and self willed and you suffer for it.

Antigone: Don’t worry mom, before I could stir up any trouble, this letter came. So I guess it’s all over....

She hands Mom the letter, who reads it aloud.

Mom: Dear Parents and Students,
This letter is to inform you that the New York City Department of Education has decided
to “phase out” Jamaica High School. Beginning in Fall of 2011, no incoming students
will be admitted and the school will close by 2014...

Antigone: Word has come down from Creon. There’s to be no rest, No mourning, and the corpse is to be publicly dishonored.

Mom: Antigone, don’t take it so hard. I mean, is the decision final?

Antigone: It sounds pretty final to me. I guess we can still push back or something, but it just seems like we’re fighting against the odds, just to survive, just for existence.

Mom: Listen to me Antigone, those are the fights worth fighting, the ones against the odds. I’m proud of you. You may be young, but it’s the rightness that matters, not the age. I say keep fighting.

Antigone: Really? And you’re not upset that I got suspended?

Mom: Come here.

Mom gives Antigone a hug.

Mom: And give me one of those petitions to sign.

Antigone gets a petition out of her bag and hands it to her Mom who signs it.

Mom: Now speaking of fighting to survive, why don’t you help me with dinner tonight? I’ve been working so damn hard these past few days.

Antigone: Sure mom. Hey since we’re doing this whole fighting against the odds thing, how about I get to stay out past curfew tonight?

Mom: Don’t push it.

Lights fade. Projections of past Jamaica High School protests. Lights up and full cast enters the stage and joins in singing. After a short time lights fade again...

The end, for now

By Valerie Strauss  | December 23, 2010; 1:41 PM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  antigone, jamaica high school, joel klein, marc epstein, michael bloomberg, new york city schools, play banned, queens collegiate high  
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Next: The line between sacred and secular in school


"know this: where you are standing now is a cliff edge, and there’s a cold wind blowing."

Talk about a big chill.....if NY City high school students can't produce a play of protest without being banned.....?

"Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country."

Thanks Valerie.....hope the rest of the media pick this up.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | December 23, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Great play. Too bad the students weren't allowed to stage it. I guess the principal was afraid of what Bloomberg and Klein would do to him.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 23, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I think the kids should go striaght to Bloomberg and Klein and ask where they stand on the play being performed. Is they against it?

Would they retaliate against teachers in the school if it were performed?

On what grounds do they disapprove of the play.

I also think the kids should find another venue for the play and make sure that it is performed and advertised so and wide.

Posted by: efavorite | December 23, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Will Michelle Rhee, with her new organization, studentsfirst, stand with these students at the front doors to their high schools?

Just like she stood with the students of Central Falls High School who produced a brief demonstration last week.

Posted by: edlharris | December 23, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Read about all of the entities treated unfairly during Joel Klein's reign in my book, "The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive," available at, and, among other online bookstores.

Posted by: SAFBiblio | December 23, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Second efavorite's suggestion that the students find another venue for their play!

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | December 23, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

This thought is in my dreams but none-the-less... wouldn't it be great if the students could stage their play so that it broadcast on that super-size video screen in Times Square! But getting more pragmatic... maybe someone involved in the theater programs at NYU or Columbia could invite the students to perform! Here is more "food for thought".. imagine the repercussions for this teacher if there were no teacher's union???? I am sure he/she would be fired. This is where things are heading if Bloomberg has his way - NO MORE UNIONS - teachers living in fear of doing anything that might not be in accord with their principal.

Posted by: teachermd | December 23, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

And these are the kids - these bright, creative, courageous, savvy kids - that Obama/Duncan/Gates/Broad/Bloomberg/Klein/Rhee are so quick to sacrifice on the alter of China's PISA score?

Is there no one left in power who cares about democracy?

Posted by: kidswarrior | December 23, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Wow. These students deserve bouquets, not brickbats...and as other have suggested, more media attention and another venue for their play.

Posted by: mamapanda | December 24, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Powerful stuff. Thank you, students, for showing the way. I hope you find a venue for your play -- in fact, I hope it is produced by students across the country. You've made this old retired librarian very proud.

Posted by: richardguy1 | December 24, 2010 4:24 AM | Report abuse

Oops - I see that, among other errors, as my mind switched from the singular to the plural above, my fingers did not.

should be "the kids should go strAIght to Bloomberg and Klein and ask where they stand on the play being performed. ARE they against it?"

also, "performed and advertised FAR and wide."

I hope the students involved in the play are reading carefully here, typos and all, and making plans to get this play on stage.

Posted by: efavorite | December 24, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Publish the names of the principals who made the decision to ban the play.

Posted by: RC11 | December 24, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse


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Posted by: ppshopping011 | December 24, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Children speak the truth. Thank you for posting this play, and it is very nice to see all of the comments supporting the kids. I really do hope they will get a chance to perform it in another venue. The world needs to hear their voice.

Posted by: teachermomnj | December 24, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Zeig Heil!

Nazi pigs!

Posted by: veerle1 | December 24, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Jamaica High School Principal: Walter G. Acham. Tel: 718-739-5942 / Fax: 718-739-4826

Queens Collegiate Principal: Jaime Anne Dubei. Tel: 718-658-4016 / Fax: 718-658-5149

Posted by: anthonykrupp | December 24, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Contact information for the two principals mentioned in connection with the banned student play:

Jamaica High School Principal:
Walter G. Acham
Tel: 718-739-5942
Fax: 718-739-4826

Queens Collegiate Principal:
Jaime Anne Dubei
Tel: 718-658-4016
Fax: 718-658-5149

Posted by: anthonykrupp | December 24, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

This just shows that the ideas of the departing Chancellor must be weak. If public debate is being shut down in this way the strength of argument must be weak. If you have a good case you allow debate and you show the strength of your case. If you have a weak case you shut down debate so as not to expose the weakness of your case.
The Great Fire Wall of China is a good example of this thought process.
I hope that The Mayor and the new Chancellor see how this move undermines their case for school closures and instructs the schools to allow the play to be put on.
Or may be like the King they do not realize that their new clothes exposes them for what they are.

Posted by: stuarts-burgers | December 24, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

One thing that I've discovered about school administrators is that they tend to have very little tolerance for criticism and negative opinions of their own policies and decisions, especially when such criticism comes from students and subordinates.

Administrators to students and faculty: "WE'LL do the critiquing and evaluating around here, Baba Louie."

Posted by: labman57 | December 24, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Has New York moved south of the Potomac?

Those principals should be fired. Most principals don't have the brains of a toad and these two hit short of that mark.

Posted by: therev1 | December 24, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

These students should be applauded for their great work and critical insight. This is a tough lesson they've gotten about just how our nation works but also a greater lesson in what our civic duty is and how we must struggle to reverse this insidious authoritarianism. They ( and their teachers) can't allow themselves to be censored in this way and should be not rest until they've found a venue for their work. I invite them to submit their play to the 2nd Annual Democratic Education Symposium that will be held at MEdgar Evers College in Brooklyn on March 5. The Symposium is accepting proposals until January 15. Our goals are to acknowledge and empower students and teachers to be the voice of education and create a better understanding of what a Democratic Education entails. Presentation proposals should be no more than 250 words in length, and should include a cover page with name, academic affiliation (if applicable) and contact information. Panel proposals and alternative, non-paper presentations will also be given consideration. Please submit proposals electronically to, and don't give up the fight!!

Posted by: Lilitribuvalencia | December 24, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

When I was a senior in high school in 1968, our drama teacher wrote a play called The Draft Dodger. While we were allowed to practice it in class time, we were not allowed to perform it for the school - same b.s. as this story. We were a big hit at the couple performances we gave at local colleges, but my acting career and my membership in "the establishment" pretty much ended with my graduation.

Posted by: TheDiz | December 24, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

It was a wonderful piece. Banning the students play because of fear of political retrobution was a greater sin of cowardice and a violation of their right to free speech and the core American right of being able to openly criticize the government. And these people are educators. Shame on them.

Posted by: lidiworks1 | December 24, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Fear is pervasive in the NYC DOE under the Bloomberg/Klein administration. It's a wonderful play that tells it like it really is...and many of our students have been sacrificed under the guise of this administration's "Childrens First reform".
So sad.

Posted by: RetiredNYCEducator | December 24, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Good luck to Walt and Jamie getting KILLED in court over this. This play would not create a disruption to the school environment, so it violates the Tinker case. The Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case would also apply here to protect the students. That was a student newspaper case, but this play shouldn't have been censored.

Posted by: Mostel26 | December 25, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

In the original Greek play, Antigone goes to bury her brother even if it is against the law. She did not look for an alternative solution or "venue". What if the students called the press and just either took over the auditorium and put the play on or, if that became impossible, just put it on with mics out in front of the school with the full press there? They would only be emulating the original Greek drama that they are, after all, supposed to study in school to learn ethical values.

Posted by: rap8643 | December 25, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Strauss,

You are absolutely BRILLIANT for posting the banned play in its entirety here!!!!

It's actually pretty harmless, but simultaneously damning, stuff about the tyranny that seems the NYCity school system under Messr's Bloomberg and Klein, only to be proved out by the destinations of both Klein, and his DCSchools buddypal, Michelle Rhee -- Klein to Fox and Rhee to Rick Scott's new attempt to defraud Florida's public schools in the same way he did Medicare to the tune of billions of bucks... oh, and her billionaires' boys club of campaign coffers bent on privatizing public schools without engaging the public....

The play itself is quite witty, and I LOVE the ending!!!

But the principals principles' in closing the production down for FEAR of repercussions from Bloomberg and his new Hitler of schools, Cathie Black, who wears the moniker of HItler well, is reminiscent of the McCarthy era's worst excesses, most of which were derived from mere fear rather than substance... Fortunately McCarthy drank himself to death, and Bloomberg will be exposed by each crack in his glass suit of P.R. armor as his utter failure is unmasked only to leave the emperor unclothed -- and puny...

Thank you Ms. Strauss for shedding light on this very important high school production -- the kids that put this together leave me, and I'm sure many many others, with faith not only in the capacity for public education to educate kids, especially in the areas of drama, literature, and critical thinking, but also in the coming generation's awareness in fighting back against their corporate enemies...

Posted by: bbbbmer1 | December 27, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

The students' play is clever and pointed; it is a shame that the principals decided to ban it because of its criticism of DOE policies and actions.

As for Sophocles' Antigone, it is not a political statement--or if it is, that is only a small aspect of the play. There is ambivalence, mystery, and poetry in it. Both Creon and Antigone see part of the truth (Creon, after all, is trying to preserve the fragile peace), and the play does not make a final judgment.

The odes of the Chorus deserve close attention and listening; they are astoundingly beautiful, and they bring out some of the play's contradictions. The first ode, commonly known as the "Ode to Man," tells about human glories on the seas, taming animals, tilling the fields--about how he is "all-resourceful" (pantoporos)--and never goes into the future without a resource (aporos), but is nonetheless incapable of escaping death.

Antigone is content to act alone; in fact, it is her audacity in acting and thinking alone that Creon criticizes. He does not realize that he, too, is acting and thinking alone. He assumes all must be in agreement with him unless they are (a) mad or (b) defying him for money. Only after the deaths of his wife, son, and Antigone does he fully realize how wrong he was. Antigone, too, has doubts at the end, when she realizes how alone she is.

Perhaps part of the tragedy of the play is that neither Antigone nor Creon can make herself or himself understood to the other, nor can those who intercede (except for Teiresias, but by then it is too late).

Kudos to the students for writing a play inspired by Antigone and seeking to put it on. And kudos to them for finding such an interesting way of protesting high school closures. I hope they perform it and then return to the Sophocles play, looking at some aspects that may not have jumped out at them the first time around.

Posted by: DianaSenechal | December 27, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo to teacher Strauss for posting, and also for supporting students and learning. Another round of CHEERS and APPLAUSE to those students who wrote such an honest and creative play based on the CLASSIC GREEK TRAGEDY, ANTIGONE, to express their disgust at the school system that is now trying to punish them. I say, "TAKE THIS PLAY TO BROADWAY!"

Boo! Boo! Boo! to the two cowardly principals.

Posted by: Educator10 | December 27, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

I applaud and cheer the teachers and the students who are involved in developing and writing their play. Bravo, bravo, bravo. The teachers' and students' responses to an insane situation is perfect. And a nerve must have been burned or those cowardly principals would have thought of the students first.

Forget Gates, forget Duncan, forget all the lunacy surrounding education. Repeal NCLB. Call Race to the Top what it is...extortion money. The FEDs is the MAFIA. The corporate giants are feeding the political machine. Sick system of government we have had since Nixon. And it got even worse with Reagan. It's been downhill ever since.

Wake up citizens.

Posted by: Educator10 | December 27, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

I applaud and cheer the teachers and the students who are involved in developing and writing their play. Bravo, bravo, bravo. The teachers' and students' responses to an insane situation is perfect. And a nerve must have been burned or those cowardly principals would have thought of the students first.

Forget Gates, forget Duncan, forget all the lunacy surrounding education. Repeal NCLB. Call Race to the Top what it is...extortion money. The FEDs is the MAFIA. The corporate giants are feeding the political machine. Sick system of government we have had since Nixon. And it got even worse with Reagan. It's been downhill ever since.

Wake up citizens.

Posted by: Educator10 | December 27, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

As a Speech/Language Teacher for the past twenty years, I have used many ways to help improve my students' communication skills, and yet, I have found creative writing of drama and acting to be the most effective tools to ignite "sparks." In the creative process, students may use all five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell (including the sixth - the mind) and while these senses are heightened, they are engaged in learning.

I am shocked and dismayed that the students were not allowed to perform their creative and thought-provoking play, "Declassified: Struggle for Existence (We Used To Eat Lunch Together)! The play is based on a classic piece of literature! What a wonderful way to make a connection to what is affecting their life today. It is so well-written and obviously demanded a great deal of work on the part of the students and their teacher.

Freedom of Speech is vitally important to encourage our youth to express themselves. It has been proven time and time, again and again, that involvement in The Arts improves students learning and critical thinking skills. What a shame it is to smother the "spark" in teens who are starting out in life! This play must have a right to be performed! Their hard work must be given a place and time to be seen and heard!

Posted by: nreghay | December 28, 2010 4:57 AM | Report abuse

The administrators of Jamaca high school put the kabash on a student created theatrical performance that was slightly critical of Klein and Bloomberg.  

This is beyond frightening.  Are we paid Gestapo for defending the mythologies of our elected leaders?  Once they get rid of teacher tenure, which is the logical next step in the madness, we can use the same fear and threat tactics to keep our teachers in line, the same way superintendents and chancellors keep us in line.  

Could the fact that this story wasn't picked up by the mainstream media possibly mean there is a tacit conspiracy to promote the agenda of union busting, standardized testing, and the unquestioned proliferation of a national, monotonous, and totalitarian curriculum.

Our silence on these matters serves to confirm our role as sycophants for a totalitarian state that is too repressed to honestly address the problems inherent in a consumeristic culture of wanton narcissism.

It's good to have this week off to relax.

Alan - my blog: Educrisis.word

Posted by: Bodhi65 | December 28, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Ms. Strauss for publishing this. Thank you Jamaica High kids for writing this play. Thank you teachers. Jamaica has been a great school for 118 years. Bloomberg and Klein failed Jamaica High. Sacrificing a generation of students and teachers for their rabid ideology of school privatization is criminal and the kids got it straight on. Stay united, stop school closings!

Posted by: rcroon | December 28, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

As a Jamaica alumnus whose experience at the school's newspaper, the Hilltopper, helped point me toward a career in journalism, I find this ham-handed censorship appalling and shameful. Apparently administrators have become such political sycophants that they've resorted to barely disguised thought control, a very sorry state of affairs. I'm proud of these students and their teacher, but deeply ashamed to be associated with any institution that would sink so low.

Posted by: joshrichman | December 29, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Great article! Congratulations...(and my sympathies) the students and teachers who worked on this play. This is not the school system that I've known and loved for over half a century as both a teacher and a student in New York City schools. How can we teach or discuss justice, heroism, American history or culture, much less "critical thinking" (that much vaunted phrase) when our craven leaders
refuse to allow students to stage an imaginative and NON-VIOLENT protest to a government policy which is affecting them all? This entire "reform" movement, dedicated to the destruction of the NYC public school system,may be a triumph for the DoE's public relations department- experts in disinformation, smoke and mirrors, and propaganda-- but it has done little for the majority of New York City's school children. Mayor Bloomberg may throw his numbers around, but let us not forget the three kinds of lies.."Lies, damn lies, and statistics." Why are the administrators so threatened by plain, open discourse? Why isn't the DoE encouraging students to stand up for what they(the students)think is right, even if the powers that be think that the students are wrong? Why isn't the teacher being congratulated for helping the students to see that the issues and conflicts in Antigone are still alive and well today? I'm sure that the DoE will not address these concerns; however, I do fear that their solution will be to ban the teaching of works such as Antigone, 1984, and of course, Animal Farm. "All animals are equal," said the final message on the barn wall,"but some animals are more equal than others." This is obviously the DoE's prevailing philososphy,and we must continue to fight it--with our intellect, our language, and our creativity--otherwise, we will truly be no better than a herd of sheep.

Posted by: ksherwood1 | December 30, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

i agree with rap8643...first i was thinking let's support the production of this play in different venues...but those venues all require access of some sort. the most obvious, the most direct, is in the street -- stakes are high for the teacher & the students; insubordination is a real, listed offense on the DOE books -- for students, at least -- malleable & flexible as it is-- however, if the press is there...and friendly lawyers are ready to support, and the aclu is contacted in advance, present & on board to defend...maybe a quicker solution, or lead-up, is performing it on the steps of the school, outside, street theater style...

is it enough for principals to allow the play to be performed? what about addressing the concerns it highlights in honest, open dialogue with students and their families?

Posted by: sinbkn | December 30, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

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