Globe Editorial

Columbine play: Don’t underestimate students

March 1, 2011

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The Columbine massacre is clearly a difficult topic for a high school drama production, but schools shouldn’t assume their students are incapable of grappling with an artistic response to youth violence. In January, a principal at Lexington High School cancelled a student production of “Columbinus,’’ a play about the 1999 tragedy in Littleton, Colo. The students’ interest in the subject was easy to understand; the massacre was planned and carried out by two high school seniors, and young people around the country saw extensive television coverage. For adults who are concerned about the subject matter, prodding teenagers to have a robust conversation about youth violence would be a far better response than simply shielding them from a play.

Fortunately, the Huntington Theater Company has offered Emma Feinberg, the canceled production’s 17-year-old student-director, the opportunity to stage the play at its Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End for three nights in April. Huntington boasts a proud history of exposing students to works of art with potentially challenging themes — and providing them with the context to understand and interpret the subject matter for themselves. The company’s decision should inspire more educators and parents to treat young people as adults-in-training capable of having grown-up conversations about uncomfortable subjects. And hopefully the experience will inspire Feinberg and the other young people involved in the production to continue creating more works grappling with important, controversial themes — starting, perhaps, with free expression.