History's dustbin: Flyers fly at Monticello High

You know how it is when you're senior in high school, you've never been in trouble, and just once before you graduate, you want to mix it up with a little bit of daring?

Monticello High senior Mary Slosson wouldn't necessarily agree that was her motivation. When a group of high-minded honor students formed Voices in the Hall, their goals were loftier than mere senior mischief. The group of 15 and not all are seniors– planned to change the educational system itself by sparking spirited debate.

"In classes, teachers would give us opinions," complains Slosson. "There's a lack of discussion. We felt like we're being spoon-fed opinions."

Voices in the Hall chose a topic the war in Iraq and a forum. On February 20, members plastered Monticello High with flyers questioning and expressing opinions about the war.

And rather than inspiring a spirited debate about the war, Voices in the Hall members were shocked shocked that it wasn't the school administration ripping the flyers down, but in fact, it was their peers.

Students who disagreed with the message would "get this expression," says Slosson. "Rather than acknowledge they disagreed, they'd rip off the flyers."

Slosson had made five or six different versions of her flyers, and made 50 copies of each. Others in her intellectual gang made their own flyers or posters.

"I was a little disappointed," says Slosson. "It's frustrating to see something you've put time into torn down. I felt students are so accustomed to opinions being handed down from authorities that there's no independent thought."

A few students who disagreed with the Voices viewpoint posted their own flyers. "We thought that was fantastic," says Slosson, but she noted that that was a very limited response.

Of course the whole endeavor was totally against school policy.

"You can't just walk into Monticello High School and put a flyer up," says principal Billy Haun. "Any flyer you put up in any school in Albemarle not just Monticello has to be approved downtown."

The school has two bulletin boards where students can post information for school-sponsored clubs– or even non-school-sponsored, but school-sanctioned, events like snowboarding, according to Haun.

He'd like Voices in the Hall to become a school club. "I can provide them with a forum," says the principal, who has no problem with the students expressing opinions, but does object to their method.

"They were randomly sticking these things all over the building," says Haun. "They never came in and asked permission. There's a way to do things."

Haun got a few complaints about the flyers because "with those things up, it looks like it's Monticello's opinion" and because others aren't allowed to post their flyers or advertisements in the school.

He calls the provocateurs "very good students." As for their civil disobedient flyer-ing, he says, "I don't see it as a rebellion or troublemaking thing."

And indeed, Slosson didn't want to get into too much trouble with the school administration. But she still wants to prod her fellow students. "We're brainstorming on how to spread opinions," she says.

Another Voice in the Hall senior, Hannah Ayers, thinks it's unlikely the group will become a school club. "Then we'd feel like we were under school control," she says. "Flyers would have to be approved."

The group is planning its next event: t-shirts bearing the message "Censored."

Meanwhile, Slosson is waiting to see if she gets into her first pick college, the University of Chicago, to work on an international relations/public policy degree.

And come fall, Slosson, Ayers, and their Voices in the Hall cohorts who are seniors should be very happy to discover that most colleges take a much more lenient approach toward unauthorized flyer-ing.

Mary Slosson and her friends wanted to provoke discussion at Monticello High, but instead they provoked charges of littering.