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, 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?
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.