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Controversy brewing over academic freedom at Hilo High School

February 17th, 2013 · 45 Comments

A Hilo High School teacher who invited longtime Christian peace activist, Jim Albertini, to speak to several classes about public participation in democracy, has been told they will be barred from meeting in the school library unless “the presentation will be strictly informational with zero negative slants” about U.S. military or foreign policy.

The restriction on library use was bluntly stated in an email on Friday from librarian Amy Okuyama to Joseph Watts, the teacher who organized Albertini’s appearance on campus.

Okuyama wrote:

Thank you for this outline of your speaker’s topic and your class objectives. I welcome any speaker in the library for educational purposes. But in this case, the speaker is a “well known activist”, and (I now find out that) the topic is the military. As a “military mom”, I request that the speaker stick to the topic as described here, and not deviate to personal negative opinions/attacks on the military, its actions, or its presence anywhere, with instructions on how students can or should protest the military, etc. in any manner. I can’t opt out of my library and be forced out of my own work site and I won’t be subjected to anti-military speeches as had once occurred w/another speaker in here. My son was deployed at the time and it was extremely upsetting to me; Mr. Dircks said he wouldn’t permit it to happen that way again.

Okuyama’s email, as well as Watts reply, are posted on the website maintained by Malu ‘Aina, an organic farm and “spiritual community” near Hilo founded by Albertini three decades ago.

Okuyama’s position appears contrary to the Department of Education’s “Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” adopted way back in 1974, which guarantees freedom of expression and communication:

Students shall have the right to hear and express publicly, various points of view on subjects without fear of reprisal or penalty.

Watts responded that the teachers would move Albertini’s presentation back into their classrooms if necessary.

It doesn’t appear that Hilo Principal Robert Dircks has yet taken a position on the controversy despite Okuyama’s reference. Hopefully he’ll take steps necessary to assure students have the opportunity to hear dissenting views.

Albertini’s response was straightforward:

My presentations will be critical of the military presence in Hawaii and U.S. wars abroad and I hope to instill critical thinking and questioning in students as well, even of my own presentation. Does speaking out for peace and being critical of government policies constitute “negative viewpoints?” To me, respectful dialogue is an important part of participation in a democracy. I hope I can encourage and motivate students to become responsible, politically engaged citizens, and speak out for justice, peace, and the future of their world. I would suggest that if this is not acceptable in the Hilo H.S. library, we switch the site of my presentations.

Then he added a good question:

I wonder if military recruiters and ROTC instructors have similar difficulties making presentations.

Tags: Education · Politics

45 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patty // Feb 17, 2013 at 9:40 am

    This is absolutely appalling that a school librarian would bring her personal thoughts into denying educating the students. I would suggest that this should be cause for Mrs. Okuyama’s removal from this position as Hilo High School Librarian. Unfortunately they don’t in answer to your question about military and ROTC recruiters access, although in my opinion they should not have access to our schools.

  • 2 Cathy Goeggel // Feb 17, 2013 at 10:04 am

    This is a first amendment violation- this a time that I am proud to be a supporter of the ACLU!

  • 3 CiCi // Feb 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Last semester around election time my son’s history/government teacher declared to the class that she no longer cares about elections because both sides are the same. That could be true depending on perspective, but I was horrified because I felt it taught the kids that participating in democracy was a waste of their time. If my boy wasn’t learning something different at home he may never vote.

    But at the same time, where do we draw the line between fact an opinion? A negative slant on the military is sometimes fact and sometimes opinion, and even that distinction is a matter of opinion. We are not religious and certainly don’t want out son taught facts that are slanted by the religious beliefs of the presenter, anymore than we want a school librarian who is also a military mom preventing any negative information from being shared.

    We want him to learn critical thinking and hear all points of view, but what parent isn’t a little leery of any POV that opposes his or her own?

    It’s really tough finding the proper balance.

  • 4 charles // Feb 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    School is about equipping students to think critically and that, by definition, means exposing them to different perspectives.

    Elementary, no?

  • 5 Shay Chan Hodges // Feb 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I faced similar issues at Haiku School when my kids were in Kindergarten when the Iraq war started. I raised concerns about how a 5 year old’s civil rights can be protected when it comes to saying the pledge of allegiance, wearing yellow ribbons, and writing letters to soldiers thanking them for “protecting democracy.” Teachers at that time said, “we’re a government school, therefore we have to support the government.” And the ACLU was not supportive when I contacted them. I totally get that it was a tricky situation since the kids themselves are too young to really have an opinion. But my concerns were about one-sided indoctrination. (Please note that I also belong to a military family, with a brother-in-law who was in Afghanistan last year. I appreciate the sacrifice he made – -and it was huge — but I have concerns about the indoctrination of children.)

  • 6 Tim // Feb 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    This person is a librarian in a public school. The librarian’s email is job-termination material.

    But this person will not be fired. No way.

    And the education field wonders why people hold such a negative view and expect more from the people they pay!! Thank you, Ian, for shedding some light on this. Unfortunately, I have zero confidence that the state department of education and the teacher’s union will do anything useful about this. They still haven’t settled the bloody contract.

  • 7 jonthebru // Feb 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I have a couple of opinions on this matter. First, how does the Librarian Amy Okuyama feel about her son being deployed to use his military skills to further support the International exploitation of other sovereign countries for Private Corporations? As a pawn in their game.
    Second, many, many Americans have died to give other American citizens the right of free speech, so now she has taken it upon herself to cease such expression? I don’t think so. The teacher and students should move if necessary to another, more appreciative venue and the Librarian should be shown a copy of the Constitution with a requirement to apologize in a published letter to each student.
    And regarding CiCi’s son’s history/government teacher; that instructor really missed a chance to further the thinking of the student. There is an effort, actually several efforts to repeal the horrible results of the Citizen United decision. https://movetoamend.org/ is one. http://anticorruptionact.org/ is another.
    That teacher really blew it, in my opinion.
    Critical thinking… what a concept!

  • 8 maunawilimac // Feb 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    How did Joey Watts “blow it”? A careful reading of Ian’s blog reflects that he intends to do what you suggest.

  • 9 Mr. Mike in Hilo // Feb 17, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    I was struck by the fact that Librarian Okuyama made no reference to school policy to justify her right to censor Jim Albertini’s remarks if he spoke in her library, except by claiming that Principal Dircks supports her position.

    She says, so straightforwardly and naively, that no speaker should say anything that she personally finds upsetting.

    What a way to run a library.

  • 10 Jim Albertini // Feb 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Mahalo Ian and everyone for your thoughts. Joan Conrow, a journalist from Kauai made some good points.
    “Maybe the librarian should take a couple of vacation days if she’s so offended. Can she really control who comes to speak in the library, or set guidelines for what they say? Since when does being a school librarian make her an arbiter of free speech or what can and can’t be presented to students? And is she, someone who is obviously pro-military, actually able to determine what is truly a “negative viewpoint” or “objective?”

  • 11 jonthebru // Feb 17, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    In that statement I meant the teacher in CiCi’s post.
    Not the teacher in Hilo.

  • 12 Brandon // Feb 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    So far, there’s nothing in the Tribune-Herald about this.

  • 13 CiCi // Feb 18, 2013 at 2:13 am

    Depends on the age appropriateness of the perspective. There are some perspectives that children need to be protected from until adulthood, and where I draw that line for my child isn’t going to be the same as my neighbor.

    I don’t think what the librarian did was right, and I’m not saying the kids need to be protected from this particular subject matter, but I don’t believe that every Joe Speaker with an opinion should have the automatic right to speak at a high school either. In college, no limits.

  • 14 Soos // Feb 18, 2013 at 3:58 am

    As a librarian, I forget that people like her exist. She can remedy this by presenting a speaker with an opposing view. And stop taking things so personally. How can our children think critically without being offered varied ideas and POVs?

  • 15 arthur henry // Feb 18, 2013 at 5:25 am

    I was stunned when I read the librarians’ remarks of how she insisted that Mr Albertinis’ participation and the military debate at the high school be restricted in such a way as only to agree with her point of view.
    in my opinion the responsibilities of a librarian are very similar to a judge’s in a court of law.
    they are both charged with gathering all information pro and con and making such information available to their charges so they can make an informed,unbiased decision.
    If the librarian were a judge, I shudder to imagine the verdict if the only evidence allowed was positive.
    What she is attempting to do is steer her students to agree with her biased point of view.
    She is blatantly implying that her students are incapable of forming their own opinion by knowing
    all the facts.

  • 16 Nancy // Feb 18, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Who does this woman think she is? (This isn’t a slam on librarians, who I generally think are some of the greatest people in the universe.) It’s not up to her to deny free speech.

    Librarians are usually leading the charge for free speech, not trying to stomp it out. This is distressing.

    It’s not her library. It’s ours.

  • 17 Darren // Feb 18, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Discussing U.S. military operations, the imperialism that necessitates them, the funding that requires future citizens to bear the costs, Mutually Assured Destruction, environmental degradation, and the violent reality of warfare — all without taking a “negative slant”?

    Might make a good Woody Allen movie, if it weren’t such a tragic commentary on our school’s policies of “Just Say No” to critical thinking.

  • 18 Anonymous // Feb 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

    What a way to run a school system!

  • 19 cwd // Feb 18, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Ye Gods & Little Fishes!!! Has Amy Okuyama gone through all the books and other materials in the school library to toss out anything with which she disagrees?

    Maybe she needs to talk to military personnel who’ve challenged the decisions to carry out the killing and destruction on behalf of the United States – for example: Secretary of State John Kerry who served in Vietnam.

  • 20 Jerry // Feb 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    High Schoolers are very perceptive and can make good decisions and choices which cause them to read “the picture” more effectively more often then their adult counterparts. I worked with them as a Behavioral Health Therapist for years and they were delighted and thankful for the mutual relationship. Get past the librarian Jim and hand them the picture…don’t forget to request their input and perceptions. Hana pono!!

  • 21 sy // Feb 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    High school principals with ROTC program DEFEND anything military & consider any peace advocates to be inappropriate and “too political” — in my personal experience.

  • 22 sy // Feb 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    School career counselors think military is a great CAREER. Recruiters lure young people with BENEFITS of joining… not by convincing them to defend U.S. or fight for freedom by giving up their own.

  • 23 A.Nonymous // Feb 18, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Typical Hawaii-style mentality.

    Y’all have been a state since 1959.

    Isn’t about time you learn how to be Americans?

  • 24 WaianaeDon // Feb 19, 2013 at 7:17 am

    You are concerned then about gays indoctrinating kids? You are concerned about liberals indoctrinating kids about abortion being okay? Where do you draw the line? Liberals are indoctrinating kids all the time in schools. Are you fussing about them doing it? And I bet there are very few teachers saying they have to support the military. I bet they do it because it is the right thing to do. Why would you, an alleged military family member, protest kids being nice to military away from their home and family? Where is your heart? Obviously rotting away in a liberal box somewhere.

    This librarian has every right to protest this just as others have protested religious meetings on school grounds. Freedom of speech is for everybody, not just for progressive liberals.

  • 25 Reference Librarian // Feb 19, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Hello Mr. Nonymous,

    The Hawaii-Style Mentality I see in most of these posts says participatory democracy is based on critical thinking, and celebrating differing points of view. Maybe Americans such as yourself can learn something from Us’All.

  • 26 Jerry the First // Feb 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    I had to refine my name to distinguish myself from the new Jerry.

    Tell the librarian to read her job description.

  • 27 James Olson // Feb 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Shutting other people up is not freedom of speech. That librarian should have been taught about academic freedom when she got her library science degree, but apparently it didn’t stick. If she’s trying to censor speakers, what is she doing to the books in the library?

  • 28 Mac // Feb 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Calm down and get out of the librarian’s face! Maybe she knows who albertini is. He is a professional protestor who hates the military and presents his far left liberal agenda wherever he wanders, to anyine who will listen. If you are for sending your kids to school to be politically indoctrinated in a captive audience, then goit. But if you insist on wasting your child’s time on this “diversity training”, is it? then you might also insist on equal time by someone at the other side of the political spectrum. If you noticed, Albertini has already assumed the librarian is “obviously so pro-military” (meaning he is anti-military), that she can’t tell right from wrong? This should gived you some idea of his mindset before he even goes in. NO, I would not want him or any of his followere to go near my children and plant their ideas hate. Now, I don’t suppose my comment will make it to the librarian’s desk, but I would hope. I admire her for making a sound decision.

  • 29 Victoria // Feb 20, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Uh none of you went to that school so you don’t know what it’s like. I was in the JROTC program there and graduated, and NO Recruiting presentation was ever allowed in the library during my time as a student there. They were only limited to the JROTC students in the JROTC classroom. [comment edited]

  • 30 Victoria // Feb 20, 2013 at 5:16 am

    If this man had his way we would all grow gardens and have no military force to protect us from other large threats like China who would LOVE to take over. If parents want their children listening to this guy based off no actual Educational standpoint, than let him speak in a public setting, not in a school. Also have the parents sign letters of consent, outlining this man’s speeches and arguments. The parents need to be informed, because I know of at LEAST 10 Soldiers, Airmen, Guardsmen, and Marines that came out of my ’08 class from Hilo High, whose parents wouldn’t have stood for this crap. JROTC presentations from recruiters are limited to small speeches about benefits and that’s it, and they are limited to the JROTC class. So this guy’s “educational presentation” that is all ONE-SIDED and not educational at all, should be approved by parents, just like recruiter presentations, and should be held only in that classroom, not the library.[comment edited]

  • 31 Ian Lind // Feb 20, 2013 at 5:47 am

    Actually, you can spend a lot of time looking at what Jim Albertini has said or written, and you won’t find any expressions of “hate”, contrary to your assumption.

    Checking out their website at http://www.malu-aina.org, there was this set of goals. Again, no expressions of hate.

    1. Mourn all victims of violence.
    2. Reject war as a solution.
    3. Defend civil liberties.
    4. Oppose all discrimination, anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic, anti-Hawaiian, etc.
    5. Seek peace through justice in Hawai`i and around the world.

    Just fyi.

  • 32 Jim Albertini // Feb 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    It appears the issue has been resolved. I was informed by the Hilo H.S. principal and teacher J. Watts that I will be speaking at Hilo H.S. on March 6th and 8th. Mahalo and aloha to all for expressing your views. It’s all part of critical thinking and the free-speech process.

  • 33 Damien // Feb 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Capt. Paul Chappell (US Military Academy at West Point, class of ’02) is an Iraq War combat vet. Perhaps Hilo HS would add his book, “The End of War” to their collection. Capt. Chappell clearly shows that questioning the government on military and foreign policy decisions made in our name is not anti-military, but the fundamental responsibility of all citizens. http://www.paulkchappell.com/

  • 34 Donna Grabow // Feb 20, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Jim was INVITED by a teacher to speak at Hilo High School.
    On Jan 17, he was also invited by UHH to give a presentation (with speaker Col. Ann Wright from Honolulu,) about drones and depleted uranium pollution (on Pohakoloa Training Base).

    I think it is disturbing to read comments from a few people who want to slander and villainize a good person who is doing their duty to speak about the truth.
    It’s distressing that the principal gives in to the squeeky wheels, and obstructs students from hearing both sides of the story.

    “if talking about peace and non-violence is “going to disrupt the school,” we are in deep trouble as a society. It says to me we have too much war and violence. There are Jr. ROTC programs and military recruiters in our schools. It’s time to make some room for peace and non-violence.”

    Jim Albertini was honored by Pax Christi USA as the 2010 Teacher of Peace, awarded to one individual annually in the U.S.
    In 2012, the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii presented Jim Albertini and his Malu Aina organization its award for “Encouraging Non-violent Civic Participation”

  • 35 Raleigh // Feb 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    It seems to me that many people here are forgetting the lessons of history. Before World War II the United States was very isolationist. England was begging us to get into the war in Europe but we said no, no, it’s Europe’s problem, we don’t want to get involved. Japan had invaded China and Korea and was expanding out into the pacific islands. We said, not our fight, we don’t want war. But you know what? Someone had forgotten to cc the other guys on the memo. We all know how that turned out.

    I fully agree that war is not something which should entered into lightly and that it should be an option of last resort. Going to war is, in effect, an admission of failure. However, when the barbarians are storming the gates, it is stupid to think that you can lean over the wall and say: Hey guys we really don’t want to fight, lets talk about this.

  • 36 Ryu // Feb 20, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Without a decision by the Principal, we have to think of whether the teacher has any legitimate power over the librarian’s space. Remember that the librarian isn’t proposing to ban the visitor from the school, just from the library. The teacher who invited the speaker is a school official with ownership of her own classroom, while the librarian is a school official with ownership of the library.

    They should have equal power, as they serve similar roles in being conveyers of knowledge. I’d say that if the librarian has an objection to it being held in the library, that should be respected, and the event can be held in the classroom (or gym, or elsewhere the teacher can gain support).

    Similar to how some teachers allow eating in their class and others do not, some librarians have certain rules and others do not, it’s part of their legitimate power to decide what can happen in their particular space and they should be protected from colleague’s attempts to intrude upon their particular space.

  • 37 DM // Feb 21, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I’m a HHS grad (1960) and I find this outrageous.

    Ms Okuyama should be drummed out of the ALA.

    As other posters have said, her position mocks the core values of librarianship.

    Ryu, “ownership” has nothing to do with it. The library is a shared resource for the entire school. If there’s any space in any school that needs to be entirely free and open to everything, it’s the library.

  • 38 Jerry the First // Feb 21, 2013 at 9:31 am

    The strongest nation on earth is not powerful and secure enough among its citizenry to allow freedom of speech? Concerned parents are certainly secure enough in the nuturing they have provided to their children to feel safe and secure with them listening to all sides of issues? What is there to be afraid of? Will our children come home from the talk as born-again conscientious objectors? Will they all announce plans to join a jihad somewhere?

    It happened in the phony McCarthy era, it happened during Vietnam and it happens now when people’s patriotism is questioned because of what and who they might and might not listen to.

    Many believe that your choice of political party will determine whether you are a patriot and even whether or not the Lord will take you to heaven. What is next? Restrictions on what TV shows are patriotic, which clothing is patriotic, which restaurants and what products. This is really sort of sick, yet I have lived long enough to see the one subject that makes people who claim to be strong shake in their boots: Peace. I say, be strong enough in the reality of the world to look forward to higher ideals. That builds strength. War is meaningless horror without the hope of peace and peace is a hollow dream without the strength to sustain it. But BOTH concepts have a place in conversations.

    America is going down the drain, in part due to the fact we are becoming totally unable to discuss and solve issues. Just watch the crisis-makers in Washington screw us around again on the budget deadline.

  • 39 DM // Feb 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I just got this email from Principal Dircks:

    Thank you for your message regarding Mr. James Albertini who was scheduled to speak at Hilo High School on March 6th and 8th as part of a classroom lecture. The event has been cancelled due to the volume of concerns raised by a number of community members, which included a threat to our operations.
    As educators we have an obligation to expose our students to a variety of college and career ready curriculum and activities in order for them to compete within a global society. Mr. Albertini is a controversial individual and it was planned to have another guest speaker to counter his views about the military in Hawaii, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by the military, and the roles, rights, and responsibilities as citizens.

    The Department of Education allows the use of public school facilities for general public use/access, however it is the principal who makes the final decision for use. If the requested activities interfere with normal school operations, the principal may reject the request.

    Again I appreciate your input into this matter and understanding.

    R. Dircks


    Hilo High School


    I doubt that Harry Chuck and Lawrence Capellas — the two principals I had as a HHS student — would have caved. I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.

    In any case, let’s hope some action is taken against the librarian.

    I’m pretty much in Albertini’s camp, but I’d be yelling and screaming if the same thing happened to a right-wind militarist.

    Free speech applies to everybody, like it or not.

    In this case, I’m really ashamed of my alma mater.

  • 40 Jerry the First // Feb 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    It is not her decision. Shouldn’t she respect the lines of authority and chain of command at her workplace?

  • 41 Patty // Feb 21, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Can’t think much better than that as a human being!

  • 42 Patty // Feb 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    I hope that they are still alive. China is not a threat to us….

  • 43 Patty // Feb 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Indeed you are correct, we citizens have a responsibility to question our governments actions, particularly sense they have caused so many deaths!

  • 44 Donna G. // Feb 22, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    NOT SO.
    As of today, the American Civil Liberty Union finds the principal at fault for violation of the First Amendment.

    Mr. Albertini WILL be giving the presentation at the high school.
    Please read the front page of the As of today, the American Civil Liberty Union finds the principal at fault for violation of the First Amendment.


  • 45 Jeffrey // Feb 23, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    The bullys of America have been empowered and are trying to take over.Seems like Mrs.Okuyama needs to listen to Albertini more than anyone.

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