On February 23, 2017, best-selling author Jamie Ford was in Highland Park to speak at the town’s literary festival. Earlier that day, he spoke to an assembly of freshman and sophomore students at High Park High School.
About halfway through the fifty-minute talk, Mr. Ford started a question and answer session. While Ford tried to respond to questions, students interrupt with random cascades of clapping and cheering that drown out the author’s responses. He chronicled the behavior on his website. He said that he a group of students mocked him with “a thousand students, trolling me,” as teachers and a principal looked on.
Despite the 1,000 to 1 odds, I wasn’t about to be run off the stage by a bunch [of] entitled children who had decided I was just another mark to be bullied — Jamie Ford
Highland Park ISD issued a statement Saturday night:
Unfortunately, the behavior of some of our students during this year’s keynote presentation was not at the standard that we expect. We value the current and past authors who make this event possible, and we will work with our students to improve as a result of this experience. — Highland Park ISD
Shame on Highland Park High School for their collective actions. Students must realize that they represent their school and community and their actions can produce, as they did, unwanted attention. The teachers failed to correct unacceptable behavior and the principal reinforced the actions of this “unruly mob” by doing nothing. Lastly, it took the administration nearly two days to respond to the incident. Their response did not include an apology to Mr. Ford.
This incident reminded me of my experience during a talk to students at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. During my talk on OPEC, I described how a gasoline station attendant in Saudi Arabia washed down the lanes at the pumps with gasoline and not water. I wanted to illustrate that in the United States we had insufficient petroleum supplies, but in Saudi Arabia water was the scarce resource. A student from Saudi’s royal family angrily stood up and accused me of belittling “his backward country.” I was not permitted the courtesy of responding to his comment because, after his utterance, he stood up and left the room. Like the teachers in the Highland Park ISD situation, the professor did not stop the talk to address students on the behavior.
In many cases, audiences think that the speaker is fair game to be ridiculed, mocked and interrogated. As a speaker/teacher, I value give and take. I welcome tough questions because they reveal that the person has listened to and analyzed my presentation. They force me to consider ideas that I might not have considered.
I hope that other schools and colleges will use the Highland Park incident as an opportunity to teach their students respect for ideas and people.