I willingly speak at conventions, association events, colleges, and universities. High schools I tend to avoid. You may be adept at engaging kids during their cool years, but I am not. Notwithstanding, I recently overheard myself accepting an invitation to present at a nearby high school’s career day.
But then this morning’s email brought me this note:
“When we met … we talked about your most recent book on the subject of polygamy. Although, I think the book sounds intriguing, the principal … asked that you not talk about that particular book with our students … I hope you understand our concern.”
I didn’t like being told not to talk about about the popular, funny yet cautionary memoir by former polygamist wife Joanne Hanks (I’m the as-told-to author), yet I saw the principal’s dilemma. Utah is, after all, a state where neighbors sue to stop neighbors from mowing the lawn in a bikini, and consumers sue retailers to stop them from selling T-shirts printed with images of lingerie. Here, even the smallest mention of the book could put her and the school in the middle of a PR hailstorm.
So, in the second paragraph of my reply, I offered the principal an out:
I realize that there are parents who thrive on outrage. Even the most restrained mention risks sparking a backlash that no one needs. No hard feelings if all agree that it would be best for me not to participate after all.
The principal politely accepted the out. I should be happy, right? I didn’t want to speak at the school to begin with. But, on the contrary, I am a bit dismayed. I expressed why in the first paragraph of my above-referenced reply:
I most emphatically do not agree to avoid it. The objective is to talk about careers, and the book figures in mine. Moreover, the book’s underlying mission is to help young women use critical thinking to avoid being manipulated and duped. It is the last thing they should be spared.
Seriously. Polygamist cults are more prevalent in the Salt Lake metro area than most locals know. It is likely that someone from one of those cults is already trying, or soon will try, to recruit kids from that school.
The principal is doing a good job of protecting herself and the school from potential parental backlash. It is potential parental backlash that is protecting students from the wrong thing.