A Tone Deaf PR Attempt by College Board

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, College Board, the maker of the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, AP Tests, and other noteworthy exams, issued a statement from its president and CEO, David Coleman. But the statement Coleman made didn’t exactly hit the right note. In fact, if there were some wrong notes to hit, well, Coleman seemed to hit every last one of them.

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College Board’s response to the massacre in Parkland, Florida was jarring to say the least.

As the world now knows, this deadly school massacre has ignited the #neveragain movement. And if it’s anything like the #metoo movement, it’s not going away anytime soon. One of the champions of this student-led movement for tighter gun regulations has been Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez, a charismatic young woman whose “We Call BS” speech to curtail gun violence has become one of the most watched anti-gun violence videos of our time.

In that speech, Emma cited her AP Government notes, which led College Board’s president and CEO to issue a message to members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Or maybe instead of a message we should deem it an advertisement. Whatever you wish to call it, it was written on College Board stationary and it’s below.

College Board Response to Massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S.

Dear Members,

The shootings in Florida reverberate throughout our halls, hearts, and minds. As I have spent the last few days reading through the language of adults, none of it felt adequate. But I am writing today because I have words to share that I could not find myself.

I was struck first by this remarkable speech by Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One of the things that makes Emma’s speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence.

I do not write today to endorse Emma’s every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents. But I am compelled to share the unadulterated, impassioned voice of a student, drawing on her education as both shield and sword in the aftermath of terrible events.

I then encountered this testimony from Emma’s classmate, David Hogg, who reflects on the importance of journalism in the American fabric. A reporter who interviewed him writes: “In the past year, Hogg’s interest in journalism has grown stronger. His AP U.S. History class recently learned about the Pentagon Papers and the role journalists–‘the fourth check on the government,’ he said–play in the United States.” David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students.

Surrounding these students and teachers are the voices of their parents and those who lead schools. I’ve known Bob Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, for over a decade, and we texted the day of this massacre. It is the worst nightmare of every educator to lose children in your care.

And it is a terrible nightmare of a parent to fear for the life of their child. That was the situation for a College Board staff member last week, when she was out of touch with her 15-year-old son for unbearable minutes as he hid in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Her other son–17 years old–texted as he ran. I spoke to this mother the day after the shooting; it is difficult to convey the terror she felt.

May these students’ voices, changed by education and tragedy, offer us some comfort and stay against the darkness.

Sincerely,

David Coleman

President and CEO

Backlash to College Board’s Response to Massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S.

You can imagine that some folks felt Coleman’s words were a bit jarring. Here’s our two cents.

Coleman wrote, “One of the things that makes Emma’s speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence.” That’s what makes Emma’s speech so striking, that it was infused with references to AP Government class? We thought it was striking because she let America — and the world — know that she and her fellow students would be the change they wish to see, that not government officials or lobbyists but students would lead the charge to prevent future school shootings.

Coleman wrote, “Her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents.” Maybe. But Emma didn’t submit the speech for your grade, Mr. Coleman. She gave it to appeal to young people everywhere to stand up and fight back, to give voice to the voiceless, to create a safer and more just world. Put away your red pen, Mr. Coleman.

Coleman wrote, “His AP U.S. History class recently learned about the Pentagon Papers and the role journalists–‘the fourth check on the government,’ he said–play in the United States.” David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students.” Let’s honor only the teachers who teach the brightest students in light of this tragedy. Makes sense.

All that’s missing was a link to sign up for AP exams. A missed opportunity!

College Board’s Response to Backlash

Abby Hexter Jacobs, director of communications for College Board and apparently David Coleman’s conscience, issued a response to criticism of Coleman’s statement. Her response read as follows:

This past week, our hearts have ached for the students, educators, and families in Broward County. The purpose of our letter to members was to put the focus on the remarkable students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to share their voices. We sincerely apologize that our words have taken the focus away from the needs of their community at this terrible time.

Way to own the error in judgment, Mr. Coleman College Board. We give you a C. Oh wait, you weren’t expecting a grade. Right.

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