Pay no attention to the school board
I sincerely hope the students of Ridgway schools are paying little or no attention to their school board. The lack of leadership and unprofessional manner they (both the current and former board) have displayed over the course of the last year is regrettable, if not contemptible. Notwithstanding their behaviors, however, which Ridgway students are (hopefully) unlikely to adopt, we must at least hold board members to account for their inaccurate use of language and false attributions just in case the students are listening.
In particular, in the meeting on April 14, Mr. Skalla attributed the phrase “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty” to President Thomas Jefferson. However, presidential historians have found no evidence that Jefferson ever wrote or said this, or any other version thereof. (Note to students: just because you can find it on Google or Wikipedia does not mean it is true.) The quote some bloggers and activists do attribute to him is “When injustice is law, resistance is duty.”
Obama-haters often used Skalla’s version in the 2012 presidential election, usually placed next to the Obama circular logo with six bullet holes in it. Another version, “When injustice becomes law, rebellion is duty” is also on many Tea Party pamphlets and stickers today. Even if you were to argue injustice equals tyranny, or resistance equals rebellion, however, you would be wrong about that too. (Students beware, that may be a question on your College Board exams.)
Mr. Skalla also referred to those who launched the American Revolution as “peasants.” Also wrong. If he were talking about the medieval era, or the French Revolution, or rebellions in India, Africa or South America, he might be correct, but colonists, not peasants, waged the rebellion in America. One can only imagine what Benjamin Franklin’s reaction might be to being called a peasant. (Again students, if you accept Skalla’s word on this you will be wrong by the measure of at least one continent.)
Finally, Mr. Lawler’s characterization of Skalla as an insurgent in a prior meeting (and accepted by Skalla on the 14th) is also a mischaracterization of Skalla’s position in this ongoing kerfuffle. An insurgent refers to a member of a rebellion against a recognized authority. In this case, Skalla is actually an elected member of the recognized authority. Skalla’s tactics, which he admitted, “may be divisive,” are aimed at subverting the current administration without offering any reasonable or cogent alternative. It is destruction for the sake of destruction, and obfuscation in support of his friend, Mr. Hobbs. After the damage is done, Skalla has suggested he would be willing to leave. (Students: this does not fit the definition of courage.) The more appropriate term for Mr. Skalla is a simple malcontent.
It is unlikely there will be winners emerging from this mess, especially the students of Ridgway whose futures are compromised by adults who are charged with the duty to assure their academic prowess. No matter how you twist words mistakenly attributed to Jefferson, a duty to divide and destroy is not justified. This is a school district in a beautiful town in western Colorado with mostly nice and normal people who care about their kids, not a tyrannical or imperial state. Above all else, that delusion must be dismissed.
William Steding, PhD
Center for Presidential History
Southern Methodist University
Resident: Pleasant Valley