Sunday, December 30, 2012

Last-Minute Curmie Contenders: Anti-Obama Edition

We’ve had our share of overzealous educators interjecting their political opinions into the classroom and other school-specific activity. In March, I wrote about Michael Denman, who seemed to think that requiring his students to do what amounted to opposition research for the Obama campaign (without a concomitant project about the Obama campaign) was a good idea. In May, it was Tanya Dixon-Neely who rambled semi-coherently about how you can get arrested for criticizing the President and similar nonsense. In June, it was Tom Stack, who disinvited a commencement-related speaker after determining him to be (gasp) conservative. And Lynette Gaymon added screaming at a student for wearing a Romney/Ryan shirt to the mix.

Needless to say, not all the perpetrators of this sort of unprofessionalism are liberals or Obamaphiles. And so, as we scramble to fit in a couple more Curmie contenders, we offer the other side of the political equation: a pair of idiots on the other side of the political divide.

First up is Linda White, a science teacher at Clinton Jr. High in Mississippi, who argued that President Obama shouldn’t be re-elected because he’s a Muslim, unlike “good Christian” Mitt Romney. OK, this is remarkably stupid from a number of perspectives.

First, why is any teacher arguing for anyone’s election or non-election? Second, why is a science teacher talking about the election at all to people who can’t vote? Third, it’s a matter of bigotry, not politics, to argue for or against a candidate because of his religion. Fourth, any rational and objective observer would argue that Mr. Obama is more of a traditional Christian than Mr. Romney, who, as a Mormon, would not be considered a Christian at all by most mainstream denominations (except, of course, by those more interested in electing Republicans than in worshipping God).

It’s bad enough that a teacher would introduce politics into the classroom. To spew demonstrably false information as the basis for a political rant, however, has got to set a new standard for unprofessional behavior. Yes, I know the same could be said for Dixon-Neely. I’m just trying to decide whether it’s worse if the inaccuracies are worse if they’re related to the teacher’s alleged expertise (Dixon-Neely) or about a subject the teacher shouldn’t be talking about to begin with (White).

After the election, it was the turn of a Delcambre (LA) Elementary School teacher, subsequently identified as Mandy LeBlanc. According to multiple students, LeBlanc showed up at school the day after the election dressed in black, mourning the “death of America” after Obama’s re-election. And America is the “new China.” And Michelle Obama’s nutrition program will have kids looking like “toothpicks” in a matter of months. And… so on.

I suppose it’s a good thing that the crap LeBlanc was spewing was at least a matter of opinion—stupid opinion, but at least opinion. Of course, there’s also a racial element to this whole business. There is only one black teacher in the entire school system, and there are allegations that a couple of (black) parents who complained about LeBlanc’s antics were fired from their janitorial jobs in the school system as a result of their protests.

I have no idea whether these charges of racism have merit. It’s pretty clear that the school is protecting LeBlanc, and that she’s unfit to be in the classroom. Beyond that… who knows?

I should mention here that there are other criticisms by teachers of Obama and/or the election which really do fall under the heading of free speech. Yes, threats of violence are inherently unacceptable, and over-the-top political rants are ill-advised, but that line is hard to draw. If I say I’m glad Obama was re-elected, is that OK? What about if I say I’m glad the amoral plutocrat didn’t get the gig? What if I call Romney a lying weasel fit only for fertilizer? The answer, to me, is that anything I say outside of the classroom, even if public, ought to be protected except in the case of threats, sedition, etc. I don’t lose my constitutional rights just become I’m employed as a teacher at a state university.

And, by extension, those public school teachers whose politics are different from mine ought to have the same protections. That would include Sharon Aceta, the Rock Hill, SC teacher who was briefly suspended for violating the school’s social media policy. Her Facebook post, on her personal page: “Congrats Obama. As one of my students sang down the hallway, ‘We get to keep our fooood stamps’...which I pay for because they can’t budget their money...and really, neither can you.” So freaking what? Yes, it’s a dumb comment, and likely (but not necessarily) a lie in that I bet she didn’t actually overhear a student, but it’s protected speech and the school system’s argument that “Sometimes you just can't speak out publicly about what you'd personally like to say, about anything” is frankly, more than a little creepy.

The same line of reasoning applies to unnamed Columbus, OH teacher who posted the following to his personal Facebook page: “Congrats to those dependent on government, homosexuals, potheads, JAY-Z fans, non Christians, non taxpayers, illegals, communists, Muslims, planned murder clinics, enemies of America, Satan You WON!” Wow. I mean, that’s some pretty choice stuff. Is this someone I want teaching my kids (if I had them)? Probably not. But a single heat-of-the-moment Facebook political rant isn’t enough to prove that he’s anything more sinister than someone with whom I’m not likely to see eye to eye politically, and the district was right not to over-react.

I should also mention that Facebook posts and tweets about students are a different matter. Depending on context, they could be simply letting off steam (I do this not infrequently). But naming names or calling students stupid (as opposed to having done something stupid, which intelligent people do all the time) does cross the line.

So… there’s the anti-Obama Curmie crowd: two teachers for in-class antics, a school system of overstepping its own authority, and one dumb comment that rightfully drew an investigation but no punishment that we know of.

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