A target of cruel yolks?

Physics students can't drop eggs onto an Osama bin Laden poster because of concerns over cultural insensitivity.

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Patricia Thomas, a Dixie Hollins High School physics teacher, spent $500 on a poster for a project, "The Yolk's on Osama."


St. Petersburg Times,
published October 23, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- The drop was scheduled to go down early Thursday. About 60 Dixie Hollins High School students would crowd onto the football field to watch as physics teacher Patricia Thomas dropped their carefully wrapped eggs from a 35-foot-high cherry picker onto a huge poster of Osama bin Laden.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, said school administrators. Thomas, whose goal was to spice up a mundane physics project on pressure by tying it to the events of Sept. 11, said it still is.

But district officials are cautioning that the egg drop project -- dubbed "The Yolk's on Osama" -- could be construed as culturally insensitive. Now, plans for the poster have been scrapped.

"I just think it's totally unfair," said Thomas, who shelled out $500 to have the 9- by 9-foot poster custom-made with a plastic coating.

Thomas said the poster depicting bin Laden with a bull's-eye was not meant to take aim at Muslims but at a specific person. "There's nobody here who would be offended except other terrorists, and I don't really care about them," she said. "It's just another act of political correctness."

Officials prefer to think of it as being prudent.

Ultimately, the decision to cancel or go forward with the idea is up to the high school, said Pinellas County school spokesman Ron Stone. He said Dixie Hollins contacted the district and asked for its opinion.

"I reviewed it with a couple of people and I thought perhaps, especially with our emphasis on multicultural issues . . . that it would not be a good thing to do," Stone said. "Perhaps we could do something less controversial . . . maybe a poster that said terrorism."

Students said it would not be the same. For three weeks they have been working on their egg project, designing ways to package and protect them from cracking during the drop, which usually takes place off the stadium's bleachers.

"I thought it was a really good idea," said senior John Healy, 17. "It has to do with the Sept. 11 attacks and it ties physics into the real world.

"I don't think it will have the same enthusiasm now," he said. "I understand it may be politically incorrect, but what he did to America was pretty politically incorrect."

Other students said they had reservations about the idea from the time it was proposed a few weeks ago.

"It kind of worried me a little because I thought it kind of pointed an arrow on Dixie and I thought it would come back in bad publicity," said senior Erin Forbes, 17. Thomas said two other students also expressed concern, although she had heard nothing from parents at a back-to-school night last Tuesday.

"I had two young ladies who thought it was a bad idea because they thought bin Laden would find out and bomb Dixie Hollins," Thomas said.

But even school administrators initially had approved of the concept. "When she first brought it to me, it sounded like a really good idea," said Deborah Fabrizio, an assistant principal at the school. "But when I brought it to the district . . . we didn't want to be insensitive or offend anyone.

"Pat does some awesome projects, but in this case . . . we don't want to create any more problems than this country already has," she said in denying permission for the poster.

But Thomas said, "I just thought it was something special. Osama to me represents everything we're against in education. He represents oppression, prejudice and censorship."

The reaction to her idea was unexpected, she said. But the egg drop will go on, Thomas added, with or without its new poster boy.