You Want Me to Go Where?

You Want Me to Go Where?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Imagine if I told you to go to Hell. What would you do? Run away and cry? Punch me in the nose? Or visit the little town in Michigan?

If you didn’t know, Hell is an unincorporated community of 266 souls, situated about 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, in Southeast Michigan. It’s a well-known place, because of the giggle factor of its name, and its various festivals, such as the annual Run Through Hell 10 mile race.

It was a combination of these factors that inspired Michael Sattler, a 16-year-old student at Fillmore Central High School, in Fillmore Nebraska, to create a brochure for a place he’d like to visit as part of an English class assignment. So why did he get a zero on it?

Because “. . . I used the word Hell in every part of it,” Sattler told the Ann Arbor (Michigan) News. “It was all about Hell, Hell, Hell.” Sattler’s English teacher apparently took umbrage with Sattler’s choice, because he used a bad word in it. A lot.

Well, duh. I suppose you only had to read the brochure and, oh I don’t know, look at a map to see that Hell, Michigan is a real place.

But Ms. Kovanda was unmoved by simple things like facts and geography.

Sattler’s parents, feet firmly planted in the boy’s corner – and in reality – sent a copy of the brochure to the head devil – er, unofficial mayor of Hell, John “You Smell Good” Colone.

“It was good,” Colone told the Ann Arbor News. “It had all the right information on it. The layout was great. It had good pictures. It was creative.”

See, even the mayor of Hell agreed it was good. And if you can’t trust the Mayor of Hell, who can you trust?

To show that he appreciated Sattler’s predicament, and to prove that there really is a Hell on Earth, Colone sent Sattler a package of Hell merchandise to share with his class, including a document granting ownership of one-square-inch of Hell to Sattler.

Now Sattler can say he has a place in Hell reserved just for him,

Colone also included a “Grumpier Than Hell” coffee mug for Ms. Kovanda. He should have included a “Meaner Than Hell” t-shirt for Principal Jim Rose, because Rose intercepted the box and intends to mail it back unopened to Colone.

“There are two sides to this,” Rose offered lamely to the News. “If this student had just presented the facts and not taken such personal amusement in his topic, it might have been OK. He used this topic as a freedom to ‘express’ this word nonstop in class. I was afraid passing out these things would take that to new heights.”

(A student -- *gasp!* -- enjoyed an assignment. What is our educational system coming to?!)

Great move, Principal Skinner. This is much better. Rather than one kid’s brochure that’s read only by his teacher, it’s now a national news story about an English teacher and a high school principal who just alienated 266 Michiganders.

To top it all off, Rose has also committed a felony by stealing mail. How is that a better example to set for the kids?

“Hey kids, stealing is much more acceptable than saying Hell.”

Rose also said that passing out the merchandise would weaken Kovanda’s authority in her classroom.

No, I think that was pretty much weakened when this made national news, and everyone saw what passes for educational "leadership” in Fillmore, Nebraska.

It’s simple: if you want to draw attention to something, ban it, forbid it, or protest against it. Child development experts and public relations practitioners have known it for years. It’s why the movie “Basic Instinct” was such a success. It’s why kids drink alcohol while they’re still in high school. If you want to make a kid do something or enjoy it more, tell them that they shouldn’t do it.

However, to give Kovanda a little credit, she tried to make the best of a stupid situation. She admitted that she did not set guidelines ahead of time on what places were appropriate , so she let Sattler pick a different location for the assignment.

So, in an extreme sense of irony that highlighted Kovanda and Rose’s hypersensitivity, he picked Comstock, Nebraska for his travel brochure. Comstock is the location of “Godstock,” Nebraska’s biggest Christian music festival, which is why he got 100 percent on that one.

It’s only too bad he didn’t pick Burp Holler, Oregon. I hear that place is a blast.