When Missoula, Montana high school teacher Kathleen Kennedy showed The Story of Stuff to students in her 12th grade biology classes last October she figured it would be a good conversation starter. Yet, one parent, Mr. Zuber, who wasn’t too pleased with the subject matter discussed in the Story of Stuff, launched a campaign against the teacher and the film that eventually reached the school board. As you recall, in February the board voted 4-3 (with 3 members absent) that Kennedy’s showing of the video violated the district’s policy on presentation of controversial issues.
This issue in Missoula was complicated by the fact that Mr. Zuber’s complaint against Kennedy’s showing of The Story of Stuff changed over time. His original complaint focused on the content of the film. Quoted in the Missoulian, Zuber said “This video is essentially a 20-minute infomercial supporting an extremely liberal agenda”.Zuber questioned the validity of showing The Story of Stuff in a wildlife biology class, citing climate change and other issues as being “inappropriate”. When he realized that these claims were not gaining traction, his claims morphed into issues around providing alternative viewpoints in the lesson plan, along with personal attacks on the teacher’s capacity to conduct discussions.
Even though many board members supported the teacher, a combination of miscommunications among board members and fluke absences during the board meeting lead to an outcome that was favorable to Mr. Zuber’s ambitions, at least in the short term. Due to a miscommunication, Ms. Kennedy did not present a lesson plan to the school board as she was instructed to do so. Moreover, three board members were absent that day, (one sick, one on a trip, one at the son’s basketball game), which gave Zumber’s supporters on the board, who are in the minority, a majority for that day, resulting in the vote in favor of Mr. Zuber’s complaint.
The Story of Stuff project spoke with Toni Rehbein, the School Board chair, who confirmed that the board’s intention was not to prevent use of The Story of Stuff in classrooms or to squelch much needed attention on environmental issues, as long as such discussions welcome diverse opinions. She told us that the emails of support for Story of Stuff which the Board received from around the world had made a big impact and she assured us that the Board planned to issue a statement clarifying their position. We look forward to seeing that statement.
Meanwhile, in School Board elections on May 4th, Missoula citizens removed incumbant Rick Johns, one of the School Board members who had supported Mr Zuber’s concerns, further securing the majority of those who welcome environmental discourse and promote academic freedom.
Thank you to all the Story of Stuff supporters who mobilized to support the showing of our film and the open discussion on the issues it raises in Kennedy’s classroom.
All along, Story of Stuff has been about raising the volume on discourse on this matter. regardless of the complicated situation that followed the school boards decision, the good folks of Missoula viewed the Story of Stuff on our website nearly 2,000 times in February, just about quadrupling the total number of viewers from Missoula in all of 2008 in just one month. Way to Go! Thanks to Mr Zuber for helping to spread the word about Story of Stuff and inspiring so many Missoulians to check out the film themselves!