Free-Range Kids

This High School's 'Political Radicalism' Class Lets Students Hear From Far-Right and Far-Left Speakers

College campuses, take note.


High school seniors in suburban Columbus, Ohio, get to take a class that could well be banned on many college campuses: a political science course where speakers from the most radical groups—from neo-Nazis to die-hard communists—are invited to present their views and answer questions.

Thomas Worthington High School has offered "U.S. Political Thought and Radicalism," or "Poli-Rad," since 1975. That's the year teacher Tom Molnar, now retired, came up with the idea for the class, got it approved, and then realized there was no textbook on the topic. A student suggested he invite guest speakers from across the political spectrum, and that's what Molnar did. (It's notable that back then, the principal not only approved this idea, he called it "brilliant.") Now the school's newer sister school, Worthington Kilbourne High School, offers the class too.

Over the years, the speakers have included Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground ("Don't be stupid like me when I was younger," he told the class), white supremacist Richard Spencer, and Ramona Africa, sole survivor of the bomb police dropped on MOVE, the headquarters of the black (and animal) liberation organization to which she belonged.

Today about half of all seniors take the class, which involves reading up on the 20 or so speakers before they arrive, then listening and asking questions. WCMH-TV listed the questions the students are asked to focus on, which include: Why do people become part of these movements? Why do they choose the tactics they do? What are their goals?

Judi Galasso, who co-teaches the class today, told Julie Carr Smyth of the Associated Press that, "In 2019, no school board in America would approve a class like this, but in Worthington, there's no way you could get rid of it." The school's principal, Pete Scully, told Smyth, "In 2019, our teachers generally are like, 'You know what? Let's redirect to a different topic, because that one sounds like it's loaded with land mines. The idea of poli-rad is, you know what, let's explore all those land mines and talk about them."

Unlike some college professors, who find themselves unable to discuss a controversial topic without being accused of endorsing it, at Worthington there seems to be a solid understanding that there is a difference between studying radicalization and actually radicalizing students. In fact, the idea of "Let's explore all those landmines" is probably the most radical idea to which the kids are being exposed.

The students—past and present—seem grateful for this, as well as for their school's trust that they could handle it. As the AP reports:

Senior Tori Banks, 18, who took the course last semester, said it helped her expand her views and learn tolerance.

"If I weren't in the class and I saw some of these speakers or people of certain stances walking around, I may feel uncomfortable," she said. "But I think the way we do it in poli-rad is a very safe environment."

Normally, calling a class a "safe environment" is a ridiculous overstatement. It implies that somehow other classes or venues are unsafe, simply because students will be hearing ideas that they disagree with or that make them uncomfortable.

But in Worthington's case, the "safe" term is earned. The students aren't hearing a white supremacist at a rally in Charlottesville, and they aren't bunking with the MOVE folks in Philly.

What they are getting instead is the chance to hear from an array of speakers outside the mainstream, as well as the ever-more-rare chance to be treated as thoughtful humans who can grapple with ideas and people they disagree with, and not be harmed in the process.

As student Jonathan Conrad wrote in the school paper in 2016, the class "not only gives students an opportunity to hear major figures from all sides of the political spectrum, but it also gives students the opportunity to form their own beliefs away from parental influence."

Let's hope he gets some more of that at college.

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  1. Let’s hope he gets some more of that at college.

    ROTFLMAO. Good one!

  2. Sounds like a great idea-but wait until some lefty or righty parent gets offended and throws a Twitter tantrum over it, then the class will be history

    1. If Twitter doesn’t kill it first then, eventually, the Leviathan will have ‘nothing left to cut’ and the axe will fall on this ‘wasteful expenditure’ that does nothing to prepare kids for the real world.

    2. It’s been taught for almost 40 years and is very popular. I would guess there have been plenty of “concerned” parents over the years.

      1. It’s been taught for almost 40 years and is very popular.

        I had the same thought. I also had the thought that I’m not aware of how long Memories Pizza hadn’t been catering gay weddings.

        Then I had the thought I posted; even if it survives Twitter, eventually, differential equations, operating system fundamentals, and critical gender theory will be mandatory at the HS level and there won’t be time or money left for a class that isn’t common core like this.

    3. No, they are working on outlawing history classes too. If unsuccessful, they will just continue to modify the history itself.

      1. I really do wonder how distorted history books are nowadays… I’m in my 30s, and even when I was in school they had a LOT of slant to them. I can only imagine it is 100 times worse now.

  3. “In 2019, no school board in America would approve a class like this, but in Worthington, there’s no way you could get rid of it.”

    Someone, somewhere, as we speak, is smiling coldly and saying to himself, “Challenge accepted.”

    1. Hopefully you are referring to someone who wants to start this class. Sadly, the person who accepts the challenge will be someone trying to get the class shuttered.

  4. Ohio taxpayers are paying for students to listen to ideas that I do not like!!!

    I am having a temper tantrum in 4, 3, 2, 1…

  5. I *would* be interested to know how grades are awarded. That minefield has got to be pretty interesting to navigate (assuming they didn’t just sail over it).

    1. Its a lot easier and more clear-cut in colleges. Everyone that writes a paper ideologically opposing my personal beliefs gets an “F.”

    2. I wonder how the teacher would react if students started saying demography is destiny after they listened to Richard Spencer. “Broken clocks” is probably the most overused idiom in that classroom.

      1. Well, the truth is that many people on the “far right” are in fact correct about a lot of things. Demography IS destiny in many ways. Perhaps not ALL ways, but in many ways. The America that always existed in the past will not survive the demographic changes we’ve allowed already, let alone what many want in the future.

        The fact is that America as it always existed is dead, never to return, unless we split the country up. White Eurocentric culture is what MADE America what it was, and it is painfully clear that most non whites (and many whites!) have zero interest in actually truly integrating into that culture. White Americans overwhelmingly still believe in the ideas of America, whereas no other ethnic group does.

        You don’t have to LIKE reality, but it is what it is. Identity politics has always been at the heart of politics, and always will. Thinking anything else is denying reality.

        This isn’t to say America might not be able to stressfully, and forcefully hold itself together against all the ethnic tensions we’ve created, but we’ll never have the benefits we had as a mostly homogenous nation again, and many of the things that were good about our Eurocentric culture will be lost. I suspect we will end up far more socialistic, with no gun rights, and far fewer personal freedoms, because those are all not only Eurocentric ideas, but specifically white American ideas.

        1. Personally, I’m just hoping we hold it together long enough to launch a few space colonies that achieve self-sufficiency. Part of what made America successful was that frontiers are too dangerous to indulge in stupid BS. We didn’t really start going off the rails until the last generation that had known a frontier died off.

          Space will have that, too, for a long while.

          Everything dies eventually, and success isn’t immortality, it’s passing on what’s best to your successor. The key thing here is identifying and documenting what worked, and why it worked, and passing it on to somebody who can put it into practice somewhere else.

          America is dying, but the least we can do is leave an inheritance.

          1. Right?

            I feel like the powers that be will never let freedom exist in space either though… It would almost have to be some rebellion that breaks Mars free or whatever as happens in numerous Sci-Fi plots.

            Excessive comfort really does seem to be at the heart of fucking things up though. The quote about empires rising in hob nailed boots and descending in slippers is very, very true historically speaking. I think if we had a global catastrophe of some sort that REALLY fucked shit up, the world would end up far freer and better off for those that lived almost immediately.

            As far as more realistic stuff goes… I just want the USA to break up. Or for some other European country to go all 1776 style. I’d hate to leave the English speaking world, but if Germany/France or somewhere became as awesome as America was in 1900 I’d move and learn a new language in a heart beat.

  6. I’ve had plenty of long conversations and back and forth with actual, self-proclaimed communists. I never let it get me angry or raise my voice or whatever happens when people argue politics. But they always lose their shit.

    1. Why would you get upset with retards?

      Just let them speak and give them an animal cracker.

      They’ll go off to the local second-hand shop anyway.

      Honk, honk!

      1. The problem is that there are a lot of communists who are quite intelligent. Being right and being smart don’t really correlate that well.

        1. Yes. In any field you find such people. They are intelligent yet they are always trying to hit the ball out of the park. As such they sometimes do but strike out often.

          Linus Pauling, Henry Heimlich, a few examples in science.

        2. I find that a lot of people that are smart, IE high IQ, simply don’t know about some subjects… Like politics or economics… So they defer to whatever random opinion they first clung onto or got told was correct, and just stick with it, but they’ve never really thought it through.

          How else does one explain a math brained person being a communist? They just got indoctrinated and never questioned it, because they were learning about physics or whatever. Then there is the feelz vs rational thinkers divide. Some people are “smart” but still feelz based people, and they just can’t rationally think through things if the rational decision doesn’t jive with their feelz.

    2. That doesn’t surprise me at all. After all, in Marxist thought the class struggle permeates ALL aspects of life.
      Whereas libertarians care about politics to the extent of wanting to be left alone, and conservatives tend to want to keep certain aspects of American “culture” from changing, leftists insert politics into everything they do. Therefore, everything becomes important.

    3. One of my friends actually made the argument that if we just killed the rich and distributed the wealth it would make the country better, AND that historically that is the only thing that works. I didn’t even bother.

      1. So, what lunatic asylum does your friend live now?

        1. Probably a professor at Harvard!

    4. I once argued with one who was trying to get under my skin by calling me a ‘hillbilly’. I grew up in northern Indiana which is as flat as a pool table, thanks to the glacier from the last Ice Age. Hills? What hills? I just laughed at him and told him to get his insults straight.

    5. I’ve had plenty of conversations past and present with communists and have never had an argument. One even told me that after the revolution, I would be the head of the retirement committee.

      I find discussing politics with them pretty interesting because at least they can talk about political theory even if I don’t agree (and they’re completely wrong). That’s so much better than talking to a SJW who just wants me to be woke.

      1. There is that, but after a while you get tired of them insisting that the pyramids of skulls didn’t really have anything to do with communism, it’s just that it’s never been tried.

        And then they ban you from the forum if they can, because mentioning the pyramids of skulls is offensive.

  7. Now THIS is how it’s done. Nice work Thomas Worthington High School.

  8. “Over the years, the speakers have included Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground (“Don’t be stupid like me when I was younger,” he told the class”

    I would like some context to this. Has he ever admitted his past behaviour was for the birds?

  9. Oh hey, serious question for the rabble here, what’s with the rise of the term “white supremacist”? What happened to “racist”? Is White Supremacist the preferred nomenclature to identify white racists because we discovered that the entire identity politics movement is racist at its core, so we have to be more specific? Ie, have we just tacitly agreed that some racism is good, but other types are bad?

    1. Ie, have we just tacitly agreed that some racism is good, but other types are bad?
      I don’t know about “we” but some people certainly have, and say so explicitly.
      I think that there is a phenomenon of language of the radical left creeping into normal discourse and most people not realizing it. There is certainly an element of the left that believes that anything promoting western culture or values is “white supremacy”. For those people it is certainly convenient to have a lot of the general public having white supremacists on the brain. I won’t go so far as to say it’s any kind of coordinated plot to hijack the culture. But it looks like a real phenomenon to me.

    2. Maybe it’s because a charge of “white supremacist” is harder to disprove. A racist is just someone who looks down on people of other races. Whereas a white supremacist is someone who doesn’t give people of color something extra, whatever that may be at the moment.

    3. I suspect a strong correlation with the notion that for 60 of his 72 yrs. Donald Trump was a racist. Once he ran for election, he consorted with and became a white supremacist.

      As a racist, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be corruptable, I can be everlasting.

    4. You’ve heard of “The Iron Law of Euphemism”? Any time you create a euphemism for something that’s widely regarded as offensive, it quickly takes on the same offensive connotations, because they attach to the thing the word is denoting, not the word itself. So then you have to find a new euphemism, then another, leaving a trail of ruined words behind you. Homosexual, fey, gay… you get the idea.

      The flip side of that is that if start using a formerly offensive word to describe something NOT generally regarded as offensive, the formerly offensive word starts losing its offensive connotations, and eventually you have to seize upon another offensive word.

      So you label perfectly reasonable views “racist”, eventually the word “racist” loses its sting, and you have to call people something new. “White supremacist” is just the new “racist”, they’ll find something else to call people soon.

  10. He won’t get it at college if he chooses one of the many conservative-controlled colleges . . . the hundreds of censorship-shackled, nonsense-teaching, dogma-ridden, academic freedom-disdaining, science-suppressing, superstition-flattering, third- and fourth-tier colleges that serve as right-wing goober factories.

    1. Obviously, you haven’t been paying attention to what’s been happening on American campuses since 1970.

      1. Another fan of the freedom and quality levels at Ouachita Baptist, Hillsdale, Bob Jones, Regent, Wheaton, Liberty, Biola, Ozarks, Ave Maria, Grove City, Oral Roberts, Franciscan, and dozens and dozens like them noted.

        Carry on, clingers.

        1. You mean like the Ivy League schools, the Big Ten schools, and a host of other schools?
          Carry on, Comrade.

        2. Drink!

    2. The stonework wasn’t damaged, Kirkland. Go back to your bell tower.

      1. Yes, but he lived in the attic and now it’s gone.

        1. He’ll just have to find a bridge like the other trolls.

  11. On Thursday, the Worthington Kilbourne class focused on groups that call Adolph Hitler “immortal” and align their loyalties to being white.

    The students watched seven minutes of an Art & Entertainment special from the 1990’s about Bill Riccio.


  12. Please nobody Milkshake Duck this class!

  13. It sounds like a good class.

    They key is that students have required reading. They should be expected to be tested on that in some way by essay or something.

    Too often students are shielded from ideologies rather than learning critical thinking and analysis.

    You cannot prevent another Nazi Germany without understanding what actually happened. Like a pathologist you need to go where most people shy away. Find the tumor and try to understand it.

    That takes intellectual discipline.

  14. Open political discussion in school?
    Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Castro would never tolerate this form of free speech and neither should any red-blooded American who loves political correctness, censorship and fascism.

  15. It’s a rich white school. There’s zero evidence this kind of thing is generally a good idea.

    1. I think you just provided it. Thank you.

  16. They were going to have moderate speakers too, but none could be found.

  17. […] founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, Lenore Skenazy, writes in Reason that the class is a model for how colleges should treat students – “as thoughtful […]

  18. I’ve said many times that I think many extremists, including idiot leftists, often times point out real and important PROBLEMS… It’s usually in their SOLUTIONS that they fall down.

    I think commies point out many issues sane people should consider, as do fascists, bible thumpers, hardcore nationalists, enviro-Nazis, etc etc etc.

    Commies point out many things that are not optimal in terms of conditions for normal people, for instance crony capitalism. Nationalists point out many problems in how the internationalist globalist neo-liberal world order is actually working out in the real world. Religious zealots point out many moral problems we have that could be improved on even without religion. Environmentalists point out environmental problems that probably require solutions 1/10th as draconian as theirs.

    So on and so forth. A class like this should be required in every HS in the country, and again in greater detail for many college degrees. Even the “traditional” classical liberal worldview has things wrong with it IMO, so hearing and discussing a lot of radically different and out there views is a good thing.

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