Tag Archives: Free Speech

Lynette Gaymon’s Non-Apology Apology

by Christopher Paslay

Lynette Gaymon’s letter takes no responsibility for her actions, and contains no apology to Samantha Pawlucy. 

As a fellow Philadelphia public school teacher, I am disappointed by Lynette Gaymon’s handling of the Samantha Pawlucy incident.  Regardless of how events unfolded that day in her class (Gaymon is not denying the fundamental facts), what Gaymon labels a “light and humorous remark” is nothing of the sort.  From her “apology letter” it seems clear that Gaymon still doesn’t understand that her comments were grossly inappropriate.

Gaymon states in her letter:

My words were never meant to belittle Ms. Pawlucy, or cause any harm, and I truly regret that we have come to this point.

That might be true, but Gaymon doesn’t state that she truly regrets saying these words.  Just as Gaymon never once in her letter says I’m sorry Samantha; incredibly, the “apology letter” isn’t even addressed to Samantha, but to the students of Carroll High School whom she calls “my babies.”

I don’t think I’m being unfair to Gaymon.  There is a fundamental lack of personal responsibility in her letter, and nowhere in the letter does Gaymon admit wrongdoing.  In fact, it almost seems as if Gaymon still believes that “all the chaos and negative attention” that has fallen on the school is the result of some sort of misunderstanding.

Again, Gaymon never comes out in the letter and says I’m sorry Samantha.  I’m sorry for making fun of something that was important to you, for making a joke that spun out of control, for unintentionally humiliating and embarrassing you in front of your classmates and other teachers.  I didn’t mean it Samantha, and I am sorry.

Nor does Gaymon apologize for stereotyping an entire group of people in front her students: She never says, I’m sorry that I equated all Republicans with racists.  I’m sorry that I used a hate symbol—the KKK—as a reference to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  This was unwarranted.  Although we all may not agree with Republican policies, it’s hateful and intolerant to stereotype whole groups of people.

To her credit, Gaymon does call for solving problems civilly through debate and discussion, and she does call for a stop to the threats and violence being perpetrated against Samantha Pawlucy.

But Gaymon’s letter is hardly an apology to Samantha Pawlucy herself, and falls short of taking responsibility for the situation.  Its vagueness and avoidance of the fundamental issues of stereotyping and intolerance are similar to the ways in which the local Philadelphia media dodged these same issues.  Because of this, I truly wonder if Lynette Gaymon even knows that what she said was wrong, or if she just feels it was all a simple misunderstanding.  If it’s the latter, Lynette Gaymon is unfit to be in the classroom.

To read Gaymon’s letter in its entirety, click here.

Update:  Wally Zimolong, the attorney for the Pawlucy family, stated this morning on the Dom Giordano show that Lynette Gaymon was ready to give a personal apology to Samantha Pawlucy and accept wrong doing, but was given a prepared statement instead.  Click here to listen to the interview.

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Predictably, Karen Heller Downplays Romney T-Shirt Intolerance

by Christopher Paslay

Instead of speaking out against political intolerance, Karen Heller blows smoke.

In an article headlined “Romney T-shirt episode offers ‘teachable moment’—for parents and teachers,” Inquirer columnist Karen Heller goes out of her way to show us that she is taking the high road by refusing to pass judgment—and explains how our city can turn what amounted to nothing more than a bad joke gone awry into a feel good lesson on “political differences.”

Before I analyze Heller’s commentary further, allow me to recount the bad joke.  A week-and-a-half ago, Charles Carroll High School sophomore Samantha Pawlucy and her sister, who are White, wore Romney/Ryan T-shirts to school on dress-down day.  Allegedly, Samantha’s younger sister was heckled by classmates for the shirt.  Samantha herself was also allegedly heckled—by her African American geometry teacher whose inappropriate joking embarrassed and humiliated her.

According to the Inquirer:

Samantha Pawlucy, a sophomore at Carroll, said her geometry teacher publicly humiliated her Friday by asking why she was wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt and going into the hallway to urge other teachers and students to mock her. . . .

Samantha Pawlucy said that after going into the hall, her teacher called into the classroom a nonteaching assistant who tried to write on the T-shirt with a marker. She allegedly told the teen to remove her shirt and said she would be given another.

Pawlucy said her teacher told her that Carroll was a “Democratic school” and that wearing a Republican shirt was akin to the teacher, who is black, wearing a KKK shirt.

But it is, as Heller reminds us, a “teachable moment.”  And Heller does give us a lecture, and a predictable one at that.  Heller’s feel good can’t-we-all-just-get-along drivel begins not with a condemnation of the Black geometry teacher’s intolerance (Heller amazingly makes no attempt whatsoever to chastise the inappropriate behavior of the teacher), but instead talks of how the incident will affect the decisions of Republican state legislators (who, by the way, are the oppressive S.O.B.’s who try to keep poor people from voting because they, low and behold, ask for proof of identity):

The only silver lining is that the budget won’t be debated until spring. By that time, perhaps Republicans—the same ones who attempted to disenfranchise Philadelphia through voter ID—will have forgotten this mess.

(And we wonder why Samantha Pawlucy and her sister were ridiculed by classmates and teachers.)

Oddly, Heller goes on to make the case that Philadelphia is really more politically diverse than people realize:

Many years and several election cycles ago, I spoke to my son’s class in a different Philadelphia school about how the country was getting a new president that month, George W. Bush. Many students—first graders, mind you—booed. No, I reminded them, there are children here whose families are Republican. (See, there’s more political diversity than people believe.)

A little later, Heller goes into the politics of Richard Pawlucy, Samantha’s father, and appears to insinuate that he lacks the experience to engage in a political fight akin to the one he’s waging on behalf of his young daughter:

Richard Pawlucy tells me he has never voted before, which makes him an improbable participant in a political fight. A field engineer raised in Port Richmond, he registered only a few weeks ago.

Heller ends her piece with a feel good update about Samantha’s Facebook status:

The school incident is still under investigation. Samantha returns to class Tuesday. The school has assured the family that the students would not harass her. In the meantime, Samantha updated her Facebook status with an “(R).”

Heller’s article is indeed a teachable moment—about double standards and the hypocrisy of a liberal media with zero principles.  For those who disagree, ask yourself this question: Would Heller have written the same feel good “teachable moment” article if a White teacher jokingly humiliated a Black student for wearing an Obama T-shirt and equated the shirt with, say, lazy Black welfare recipients?

Somehow I doubt it.

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The Romney T-Shirt and Philadelphia’s Campaign of Hate

by Christopher Paslay

When it comes to tolerance, the Samantha Pawlucy incident reveals our city’s glaring double standard.

“All animals are equal.  But some animals are more equal than others.”

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm nearly 70 years ago but the novel and its themes of hypocrisy, corruption, and double-standards are more alive than ever.  Ironically, this week I will be starting a unit on Animal Farm with my students and over the course of the next month we will be analyzing Orwell’s text as an allegory for the atrocities of communism and the Russian Revolution.  We will also be taking a look at how the novel’s themes apply today.

A current event we will cover is the recent “Romney T-shirt” incident involving Charles Carroll High School student Samantha Pawlucy.  Last week Pawlucy, a white 10th grader, wore a pink Romney/Ryan T-shirt to school on dress-down day and was allegedly ridiculed by her African American geometry teacher and a school aid for being disloyal to the Democratic party; Pawlucy’s brother also wore a Romney T-shirt to school and was harassed by classmates.

According to the Inquirer:

Samantha Pawlucy (borrowed from the Inquirer under fair use clause)

Samantha Pawlucy, a sophomore at Carroll, said her geometry teacher publicly humiliated her Friday by asking why she was wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt and going into the hallway to urge other teachers and students to mock her.

“I was really embarrassed and shocked. I didn’t think she’d go in the hallway and scream to everyone,” Pawlucy said. “It wasn’t scary, but it felt weird.” . . .

Samantha Pawlucy said that after going into the hall, her teacher called into the classroom a nonteaching assistant who tried to write on the T-shirt with a marker. She allegedly told the teen to remove her shirt and said she would be given another.

Pawlucy said her teacher told her that Carroll was a “Democratic school” and that wearing a Republican shirt was akin to the teacher, who is black, wearing a KKK shirt.

Lynette Gaymon, Pawlucy’s teacher, apologized to Pawlucy and her family during a school meeting the following Monday, although the Pawlucy family has stated that they question the sincerity of Gaymon’s apology.  Apparently, the black geometry teacher and the school aid were just joking when they made the alleged comments about Pawlucy’s Romney T-shirt.

Yesterday, the Pawlucy’s went to Carroll High School to file an official complaint, where they were heckled by students who shouted obscenities at the family.  For the past week students have been threatening Samantha, and the girl currently fears for her safety.  The Philadelphia School District is currently investigating the situation, and Gaymon, who made no comment to the Inquirer, is still teaching at Carroll although no longer teaching Pawlucy’s class.

The “Romney T-shirt” incident is a perfect tie-in to the Animal Farm theme of “The Abuse of Language as Instrumental to the Abuse of Power.”  As put so astutely by SparkNotes:

One of Orwell’s central concerns, both in Animal Farm and in 1984, is the way in which language can be manipulated as an instrument of control. In Animal Farm, the pigs gradually twist and distort a rhetoric of socialist revolution to justify their behavior and to keep the other animals in the dark. The animals heartily embrace Major’s visionary ideal of socialism, but after Major dies, the pigs gradually twist the meaning of his words. As a result, the other animals seem unable to oppose the pigs without also opposing the ideals of the Rebellion. By the end of the novella, after Squealer’s repeated reconfigurations of the Seven Commandments in order to decriminalize the pigs’ treacheries, the main principle of the farm can be openly stated as “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This outrageous abuse of the word “equal” and of the ideal of equality in general typifies the pigs’ method, which becomes increasingly audacious as the novel progresses.

This theme fits perfectly into the “Romney T-shirt” incident, as well as the collective effort by Philadelphia liberals to manipulate language in order to demonize and vilify all those who oppose Democratic policies as well as the Democratic party.  When I say “Philadelphia liberals” I mean teachers, parents, the local media, and any other entity that works to indoctrinate youth and kill freedom of expression.

In other words, teachers (Lynette Gaymon equating a Romney T-shirt with the KKK), local columnists (Annette John-Hall equating voter ID laws to the violence and opression of Jim Crow), and parents (mothers and fathers who teach their children that wearing a Romney T-shirt is racist) are abusing language in order to intimidate and bully others into following their politics and world view; they are using language not as a means of freedom but as an instrument of control.

Just as the pigs twist and distort Major’s visionary ideal of socialism to keep the other animals in the dark, so are the media–and now, incredibly, schoolteachers–distorting Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of equality and social justice to keep children and citizens as a whole misinformed about Romney and the Republican party.  As a result, because of the manipulation of language, students like Samantha Pawlucy and her brother are no longer able to oppose the politics of the Democratic party without opposing the ideals of MLK and being labeled “racist” in the process.

My wife and I live and work in Philadelphia, and we see this on a regular basis.  In the high school where I teach, the anti-Romney, anti-Republican attitude is so deeply embedded in the culture it has permeated the drinking water.  Just mentioning Mitt Romney’s name causes many of my students to cry “racist” and “bigot” and “hater,” and for what?  Because he’s a Republican?  Because he’s a Mormon?  Because he believes in traditional families, a free market, and small government?  Because he wants to cut entitlements, cut taxes, and believes that people should be the captain of their own ship?  This makes him an intolerant racist devil?

Me and my wife in our Romney T-shirts

Last night, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden on City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.  Because of its approximation to Wynnefield, the restaurant is both staffed and frequented predominantly by African Americans.  As we entered the restaurant, we immediately picked-up on the fact that we were receiving dirty looks from other patrons eating their dinner.  Interestingly, my wife happened to be wearing her Romney/Ryan T-shirt.

This thinking and behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, is dangerous for a couple reasons.  First, it is an assault on free speech and democratic ideals.  Shutting down other’s opinions and calling them names (and using grossly inappropriate hyperbole such as “KKK” and “Jim Crow”) is the ultimate example of intolerance and hate speech.

Second, it is divisive and shuts down the avenues of communication.  Instead of teachers, parents, and the media promoting teamwork and teaching our youth to listen to the views of others and exploring alternative viewpoints, today’s youth are being taught to close their minds to opposing viewpoints and are being conditioned to call names.  Put another way, our city is preaching hate and intolerance.

Tragically, there seems to be very little public outrage.  If the situation were reversed (if a black student were ridiculed by a white teacher for wearing an Obama T-shirt), there would literally be protests in the streets (think of the Valley Swim Club debacle or the Don Imus Rutgers joke).  Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or both would be on a plane to Philly, and the local chapter of the NAACP would be circling the wagons.  The Philadelphia School District would have issued a formal apology by now and you can bet the teacher in question would be at the very least on administrative leave.

To show support for Samantha Pawlucy and freedom of speech in general, I will be wearing my Romney/Ryan T-shirt next week as I teach my lesson on Animal Farm.  Because this is not an official message of the school or district, because I will not use this to indoctrinate my students, and because I do not feel it will cause a disruption in the classroom or school, I feel I am well within my rights to publicly show support for Samantha Pawlucy and for freedom of speech in general.

It’s time to bring back America’s democratic ideals, and to speak out against the campaign of hate and intolerance being promoted by parents, misguided teachers, and the local media.  Please visit the “Support Samantha Pawlucy” page on facebook to show your support.

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Joey Vento, multicultural ideology, and the ‘speak English’ sign

 by Christopher Paslay

 This is America.  When ordering, speak English.” 

 

By now we know the story.  Joey Vento, owner of the famous Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia, placed a small sign in the window of his restaurant asking customers to order in English.  Although the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations filed a discrimination complaint against Geno’s (which the commission eventually lost), Vento said the sign was never meant to be offensive. 

 

“This country is a melting pot, but what makes it work is the English language,” Vento told members of the commission. 

 

How we react to this “speak English” sign says a lot about who we are and what we believe in.  Those who find it offensive are probably cultural pluralists.  Those who agree with its message are most likely assimilationists.           

 

If you’re not familiar with these concepts, allow me to elaborate on their meanings. 

 

According to James A. Banks, author of Cultural Diversity and Education, “It is extremely important, argues the pluralist, for individuals to develop a commitment to their culture and ethnic group, especially if that group is oppressed by more powerful groups within society.  The energies and skills of each member of a culture or ethnic group has a moral obligation to join the liberation struggle.” 

 

In other words, you should not only be permitted to speak in your native tongue, but you should do it with pride, and resist anyone or anything that tells you otherwise.

 

Assimilationists, on the other hand, “believe that strong ethnic attachments are dysfunctional in a modernized civic community.  The assimilationist sees integration as a societal goal in a modernized state, not ethnic segregation or separation.  The assimilationist thinks that the best way to promote the goals of society and to develop commitments to democratic ideals is to promote the full socialization of all individuals and groups into the shared national civic culture.”        

 

In other words, This is America.  When ordering, speak English. 

 

In 2009, the debate between cultural pluralism and assimilation isn’t limited to chessesteak shops in South Philly.  America’s schools are jumping into the fray as well.  Educational policy makers and those interested in school reform are battling over ideas and curriculum in regards to multicultural education.  And like the heated debate over Vento’s sign, each camp has a set agenda and interprets research very differently.

 

When it comes to education, the pluralist believes that the cultures of ethnic groups are not deviant or deficient in any way, but are well ordered and highly structured—although different from the dominant culture.   To quote Banks, “Pluralists believe that curriculum should be revised to reflect the cognitive styles, cultural history, and experiences of cultural groups, especially students of color.”

 

Educational assimilationists believe that learning characteristics are universal across cultures, and that the socialization practices of the dominant culture enhances learning, while the socialization styles of ethnic groups hold their members back from succeeding in school.  To quote Banks, “Emphasis should be on the shared culture within the nation-state because all citizens must learn to participate in a civic culture that requires universal skills and competencies.”            

 

THE MULTICULTURAL IDEOLOGY: A COMMON GROUND

 

Both cultural pluralist and assimilationist concepts have their drawbacks.  The pluralist theory is lacking because it often fails to prepare students to cope adequately with the real world beyond their ethnic or cultural community.  And because learning characteristics are not always universalistic, but to some extent, cultural-specific, the assimilationist theory is not completely foolproof. 

 

The answer to curriculum reform is what Banks calls multicultural ideology.  Banks states, “Educational policy can best be guided by an eclectic ideology that reflects both the cultural pluralist position and the assimilation position, but avoids their extremes.”

 

In other words, we need educational policies that promote social cohesion and a minimum of mainstream socialization, but at the same time, take into consideration a student’s learning style based on his or her culture or ethnic background. 

 

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