Quakertown Community School Board has disinvited a planned assembly speaker – a speaker only four of eight voting members had researched and listened to.
Dr. Mykee Fowlin was scheduled to perform Friday at the high school. Speaking from personal experience and at times through other characters, Fowlin, an actor, psychologist and son of African immigrants, uses anecdotes and dark humor to address intolerance and champion self-acceptance.
The assembly would have been optional for students.
At a March 9 board meeting, board President Glenn Iosue unsuccessfully tried to table the matter until the next meeting, claiming some of Fowlin’s topics were controversial without elaborating on those topics. It was then brought to a full vote with five of the eight members present voting to oppose Fowlin’s appearance.
Board member Chuck Shermer claimed he was offended by Fowlin’s characterization of the disabled and disagreed with his methods. However, Director Diane Richino said it wasn’t the board’s place to shut down the event, given that it wasn’t mandatory. “There might be some parts of his presentation that are not appropriate, but if we don’t actually know what those are I don’t understand how we can vote on that,” she continued.
Commenting on the controversy Monday, Fowlin was magnanimous but clearly stung by the board’s action. “I would love them to see a presentation rather than spread misinformation.” He said he recognized that things going on in the world have made people a little fearful of whatever “the other” is.
“But one thing that I try to do in my presentations is bring together sides that may not, on the surface, see the world the same to see if we can find some common ground.”
He rejected board member Shermer’s assertion that his act was offensive to the disabled. “Nobody who has seen my show who has cerebral palsy felt I was being disrespectful.” He added that his presentations gave marginalized groups visibility.
During public comment, David O’Donnell said he was disgusted by the board’s actions. “I never thought I would see actual acts of censorship. You’re talking about an assembly at a high school level. These are children who can opt in opt out.”
“I hope we’re not going to start canceling things because we don’t like the way people speak,” remarked resident Joe Lyons. “That’s a really slippery slope to go down.”
Fowlin, who has appeared at several area schools in Easton, Emmaus and Bethlehem, said he hoped to bring his act to the district at some point in the future despite the cancellation.