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November 16, 2003

The Shizzle hits the Fizzle: Announcing...

Most people who know me consider me a nice guy. But not people who I've decided to come out against and challenge. Most of them probably consider me a pain in the ass.

Which brings me to Principal Mark Cerutti. He's the Wisconsin principal who suspended Sashwat Singh for the self-produced rap CD that Singh brought to school. Specifically, he suspended him for one song -- a song about none other than Principal Mark Cerutti. The news flurry probably left many people thinking the song was about threatetning the principal with violence, but it wasn't. It was about frustration with the (new this year) principal's perceived authoritarian methods, especially his tendency to call the police in to the school too frequently (in the opinion of Sashwat).

In other words, Sashwat's song, the one that got him suspended, was a protest song. The claims of "threatening lyrics" and the "zero tolerance" argument were just convenient tools in what was ultimately an exercise in silencing dissent, and punishing thought.

The principal's effort to lash out and punish this student for speaking out against him through musical expression has so far been successful, at least on the surface: The family was pressured and intimidated (by threat of Sashwat's possible expulsion) into agreeing not to pursue reversing the suspension; Sashwat has been barred from passing his CD out at school; and the main local paper editorialized in support of suspension, but not expulsion -- and that's exactly what happened.

In a "case closed"-type story on the episode, Sashwat's lawyer declared a funny-if-it-wasn't-so-sad "victory for free speech," and that was that.

Except that's not that at all. First of all, a student should not get a 5-day suspension for the content of a rap song, and an administration should not get away with doling out such a punishment. Secondly, Sashwat's frustration, which was expressed so profanely in "Mista Cer-fruity (A Song for our Principal)", is a frustration that is shared by many of his fellow students, and by parents in the district as well. It appears that this new principal has earned himself plenty of new anti-fans, and for a reason. To quote one Brookfield Central student:

Every single day a police car carries at least 1 kid from our school. We aren't bad kids but Mr.Cerutti decides that he can't handle it and needs police involvment. That causes way too much controversy. What can I do to take action?

Well, Student Who Shall Remain Anonymous, I'm glad you asked.

Introducing "30 days of Raps about Principal Mark Cerutti", a new online focus area -- a vehicle for creatively exploring the issues surrounding Principal Cerutti, his administrative methods, and his decision to suspend a certain rapping honors student. The aim is primarily to help facilitate and energize the discussion that needs to take place surrounding the issues involved in this, whether it be the "zero tolerance" movement, free expression, violence in schools, or how many kids Principal Cerutti is in fact calling the cops on, and for what reasons.

First and foremost, I hope to help the citizens of the Elmbrook School District thoroughly flesh out exactly what is going on in Brookfield Central High School, and in figuring out what they would like to do about it. In that sense, the "30 Days of Raps" can be seen to mean "30 days of open and frank discussion".

In another sense, it can be seen to mean that I am going to post a rap a day about Principal Cerutti and this situation, for 30 days -- and that is indeed the case. The first of those raps, "The Principal Cerutti Beat Down Rap", gives a sort of overview of the situation. Subsequent raps will examine different aspects of the case, including violence in language, student rights, and others.

I'm also encouraging Brookfield Central students, faculty, and parents to post or send in stories about Mr. C's methods, and I'm inviting everyone (including you) to submit your own raps or poems about the principal and his conduct, the bigger issues involved in the case, or anything else relating to the situation. It promises to be fun and informative, and with luck, purposeful and constructive.

If the community of Brookfield, Wisconsin is able to have a full, open, and detailed conversation about the merits and demerits of Principal Mark Cerutti as their school administrator, and make a fully-informed decision based on that conversation; and if the students of Brookfield Central are able to give voice to their frustrations in a non-violent and constructive way; and if the movement called "zero tolerance" takes a small step backwards, then 30 Days of Raps about Principal Mark Cerutti will have been successful, in spite of its awkwardly long title. ;-)

I hope you'll check it out. You can read through some more background there (or more ranting by me), and with any luck, you'll join in the conversation too!

These issues go far beyond Brookfield Central High School and Principal Cerutti, as I'm sure you're aware. So don't be afraid to join in, whether you're from southeastern Wisconsin or not. And check back there often, as new raps and other items will be posted on a daily basis.

And spread the word, yo! The shizzle is hittin' the fizzle, right over here.

Posted by Lance Brown at November 16, 2003 08:45 PM | TrackBack

There are some written rules that we invoke only when we want to punish someone for violating the unwritten rules.

Posted by: Dale Emery at November 17, 2003 10:49 AM
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