The George Zimmerman Trial: A Teachable Moment

Zimmerman

by Christopher Paslay

Teachers can use the George Zimmerman trial as a way to discuss the differences between factual evidence and emotional appeals. 

“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

This line by Mark Twain summarizes the State of Florida’s closing arguments in the George Zimmerman trial, which I’ve watched religiously for the past three weeks.

On Friday, John Guy did tell an inspiring story to the jury during his closing statement:

The human heart, it has a great many functions . . . it moves us, it motivates us, it inspires us, it leads us, and it guides us, our hearts. . . . So if we really want to know what happened out there behind those homes on that dark, rainy night, should we not look into the heart of the grown man and the heart of that child?  What will that tell us about what really happened out there?

An impassioned story indeed.  Inspiring and in no way bound by facts or evidence.  Twain would be pleased.  The tragedy, of course, is that John Guy is not a fiction writer but a prosecutor, and he doesn’t work for a New York publishing house but the State of Florida.  It is Guy’s job to follow the law and present the facts of the case—all the applicable evidence—while trying George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an African American.  Amazingly, Guy’s entire closing argument was virtually one long appeal to emotion.  The fact that he asked jurors to “look into the heart” of George Zimmerman as opposed to the evidence, and to “use common sense” as a guide as opposed to established facts, was mindboggling.

Guy is an agent of the State of Florida and has the responsibility to uphold the Constitution.   Yet Guy’s closing argument (which ironically referenced Hollywood make-believe) basically asked jurors to forget all the things they’d seen over the last three weeks, all the testimonies from witnesses that supported Zimmerman’s self defense claim, the bloody pictures of Zimmerman’s head and broken nose, the angle of the bullet wound in Martin’s chest which indicated he was on top of Zimmerman, and to use their imaginations. “What if it was Trayvon Martin who shot and killed George Zimmerman?” he asked.  “What would your verdict be?”

The notion that the state can build a case on questionable evidence (and name-calling: liar, liar, liar) and ask a jury of six woman to use emotion and speculation to arrive at a verdict is outrageous.  Guy very well knows that jurors cannot use emotion, sympathy, or race when arriving at a verdict, that they can only consider the evidence presented before them, which means absolutely no speculation.  Today, however, we live in a bizarro world where emotion trumps the law, where social justice and a person’s unique definition of “goodness” can override the Constitution.

As Jonah Goldberg writes in The Tyranny of clichés:

A cry for social justice is usually little more than an assertion “for goodness.”  “Progressive” has become a euphemism for “all good things.”  But sometimes the p-word is too vague.  So if you press a self-declared progressive  — “What does that mean?” — they’ll respond, eventually, with something like, “It means fighting for social justice.”  If you ask, “What does social justice mean?” you are likely to get an exasperated eye roll, because you just don’t get it.

Progressives are indeed changing America from a land of structured laws into a world governed by an abstract, warm and fuzzy “goodness”.  A brand of goodness, interestingly, that applies only to certain groups and changes as the wind blows.  This “goodness” doesn’t have to be universal or consistent because to try to define this goodness or track it’s application is to limit it, to suffocate it.  Like when trying to define “art,” rules, structure, and man-made definitions are insufficient and don’t apply.

This new warm and fuzzy land of social justice with its formless existence of goodness is, for progressives, the highest, most enlightened state of being on earth.  It’s what all humanity should strive for.  It’s so sacred and cherished that it can be sought after by any means necessary — its ends always justify its means.  You are allowed to discriminate against people to achieve it (affirmative action), and you can lie (Benghazi), cheat (IRS), murder (drones attacks on Americans), steal (Solyndra), and spy on them (NSA).  Destroying an innocent person’s life in the process of seeking this higher goodness (George Zimmerman) is mere collateral damage.

You can change the rules or make them up as you go along, or disregard the law altogether, like the State of Florida asked jurors to do with their case against Zimmerman.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really.  Our president, the man who said that if he had a son he’d look like Taryvon Martin, the man who had the Department of Justice use taxpayer dollars to organize anti-Zimmerman rallies, does it all the time.  Want to give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants?  Forget Congress and the law.  Bam, just do it.  Spy on American citizens and perhaps use this data for political reasons?  Done.  Use the IRS to go after political enemies?  Why not.  Have the DOJ tap reporters’ phones and then have the U.S. Attorney General lie about it later under oath?  Got it covered.  Ram universal health care down the country’s throat and then circumvent congress by picking-and-choosing which parts to enforce for political reasons?  Been there, done that.

What is the law?  The Constitution?  We live in 21st century, post-modern America.  Truth is relative.  No, strike that.  Truth is simply a social construct and doesn’t exist.  Just like the state’s case against George Zimmerman doesn’t exist.  But why should this stop progressives from wanting to send Zimmerman to prison for the rest of his life?  Forget the law, and rules, and the Constitution.

What matters is social justice.  That abstract, indefinable, fuzzy goodness we can all experience if we just use our imaginations.

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.

Outrageous Inquirer Poll Asks, ‘Should a teacher make fun of a child?’

by Christopher Paslay

The Inquirer’s latest poll on the “Romney T-shirt” incident shows just how pathetic the response from the Philadelphia liberal establishment has been.    

Today the Inquirer asked it readers: “Should a teacher make fun of a child wearing a T-shirt supporting a political candidate?”  The poll is so warped and mindboggling that I won’t even bother to list the four possible responses.  Anyone in their right mind knows the answer to this ludicrous question, and the answer is no, a teacher shouldn’t make fun of a child.  The fact that the Inquirer asked it reveals a lot about the newspaper, its readers, and the hypocritical culture of Philadelphia’s liberal establishment. 

The reason the Inquirer is posing the question, of course, is to downplay the seriousness of the Romney T-shirt incident.  It’s a way to equate intolerance with “making fun” or “making jokes.”  Should teachers be able to joke around with their students about political things? they are saying. What do you think?  Is it really such a big deal?

It’s clear the Inquirer’s editorial board isn’t convinced that what happened to little Sam Pawlucy is an absolute, unquestionable injustice.  If what happened to Pawlucy were an unquestionable injustice (like, say, the unquestionable injustice of violating gay rights), the Inquirer wouldn’t still be grappling with public opinion on the issue.

For example, you would never see an Inquirer poll asking the question: “Should a teacher make fun of a child for wearing a LGBT rainbow T-shirt?”  They wouldn’t ask it because when it comes to such issues, there is zero tolerance.  In other words, you don’t make fun gays, period.  You don’t even joke about it.  Especially, and most importantly, teachers.

Likewise, the Inquirer would never run a poll asking: “Should a teacher make fun of a child for wearing a Muslim Taqiyah cap?” They would never run a poll asking: “Should a teacher make fun of a child for wearing a Travon Martin memorial shirt?”  Again, these are issues apart of the liberal sacred untouchable cannon, so the Inquirer would never ask such questions.

But when it comes to making fun of Republicans or comparing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt to the KKK, the Inky runs a poll.  Should teachers be allowed to do it, what do you think?

Interestingly, the local media—the Inquirer, Daily News, and their columnists and editorial boards—have yet to publically reprimand Samantha’s geometry teacher for the egregious transgression of stereotyping Republicans as the KKK (both papers have focused on the issue of freedom of speech, and only Christine Flowers had the guts to bring up bullying).  No one has come out and righted this wrong by setting the record straight.  No one has said, It was unconscionable of this teacher to compare a Romney Ryan T-shirt to the KKK.  Most Republicans are not racially insensitive, and it was wrong for this teacher to stereotype this group in front of her students.      

Imagine if a teacher (jokingly) made a Muslim student take off his Taqiyah cap because she said (jokingly) that this cap represented terrorism.  After the teacher was crucified, sued, chewed-up by the ACLU and spit out, and ultimately fired, there would be a series of editorials and commentaries chastising this teacher for being intolerant, and the record would be set straight immediately: It is wrong to stereotype Muslims as terrorists, because most are tolerant, peaceful people

Smear a Republican in a heavily Democratic town such as Philadelphia and you get ill-defined “teachable moments.”  Equate a Republican T-shirt with the KKK and the remedy is a vague, feel good lesson on “political differences.”  Sure, a teacher stereotyped an entire group of people with a symbol of hate, but can’t we all just get along?  Can’t we just get back to our normal routines?  She did say she was joking, after all.

Suddenly, amazingly, the unbending hyper-vigilant politically correct left has a sense of humor! 

Actually, I don’t buy for a second that they have a sense of humor.  The reality of the Romney T-shirt incident is that newspapers like the Inquirer and the Daily News don’t want to debunk the Republican = KKK stereotype because they benefit too greatly from it politically.  In fact, newspapers like the Inquirer and the Daily News promote such stereotypes (Republican Voter ID = Jim Crow is just one example that comes to mind).

So as it stands in Philadelphia, Republicans are indeed 21st century Klansmen, you just can’t say so out loud in class if you are a teacher and your student happens to be wearing a GOP T-shirt.

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.

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.

‘It’s constitutional. Bitches.’

by Christopher Paslay

Patrick Gaspard’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare can be a teachable moment on profanity and the appropriate behavior of public officials.   

“It’s constitutional.  Bitches.”  This was the tweet sent out by Patrick Gaspard, the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee and former Director of the Office of Political Affairs for the Obama administration, after learning of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare.  Although Gaspard eventually sent out a follow-up tweet acknowledging his excitement got the best of him, some may argue the tweet was in poor taste.

According to a report on The Blaze, Gaspard prepared an additional tweet:

The current DNC Executive Director, Patrick Gaspard, reacted in an astonishingly profane way to the recent Obamacare ruling of the Supreme Court. And while many are reporting on it, we have the actual tweet: “Take that motherfuckers!”

He later deleted it.

Are words like “bitches” and “motherfuckers” befitting a man of Gaspard’s position and stature?  Should high profile public servants be held to a higher standard?  Was this a responsible reaction from the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee?  Who are the “motherfuckers” Gaspard was referring to?

Food for thought, and a possible springboard into a lesson on responsible behavior of public officials.

Fox 29 School Bullying Video is an Invasion of Privacy and Puts Minors at Risk

by Christopher Paslay

The airing of video of minors inside a classroom is a violation of Philadelphia School District policy.  It also compromises the safety of middle school children.     

Although the Philadelphia School District explicitly forbids videos of their students to be published on the internet, Fox 29 News has gone ahead and posted cellphone video clips taken by a 12-year-old middle school student inside a District classroom on their website.  

The clips, edited around the melodramatic commentary of Fox 29 News broadcaster Chris O’Connell, show several incidents of rough-housing inside a classroom in Samuel Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia.  O’Connell sets the scene at the start of the Fox 29 News Exclusive by saying, “This video is a starting look at what’s going on inside a Philadelphia school classroom, from a student’s perspective.”  He emphasis the word student’s, as if this makes the video somehow ethical, as if a 12-year-old shooting the video makes it fall into compliance with privacy laws and School District policy.

O’Connell says the video shows “violence” and “complete chaos.”  He says that in one scene, “a classroom erupts in a fight, completely out of control, while a teacher tries in vain to stop the brawl.” 

Hardly.  If you watch this clip, at 1:10 on the tape, you hear a male teacher say, “Stop horsing around.  Let’s go.”  This ten second snippet is taken out of context, with no frame of reference as to time.  It’s relatively playful and without malicious intent—similar to the stuff you’d see outside on plenty of schoolyards around the country; listen to the laughter of the students in the background.  Granted, it was taking place in a classroom, but again, we don’t have a frame a reference.  The bell may have just rung.  Even more likely, some of the students may have been playing to the camera and completely hamming it up.  In fact, to a seasoned teacher’s eye, it almost looks staged.

But O’Connell and Fox 29 want their “exclusive”.  Never mind that the School District’s Computing and Internet Acceptable Use Policy states that students “may not post personal information on the Internet about themselves or other people.”  Never mind that airing videos of minors on television and the internet puts them in harm’s way of possible child predators.  Never mind that the parents of the children in the video never signed release forms.  (How do I know this?  What parent in their right mind would sign a release form allowing their child to be shown on television and the internet in such an extremely negative light?)              

“She wants the world to see the place she’s supposed to be getting an education,”  O’Connell says in reference to the 12-year-old girl who took the illegal cellphone video inside a classroom.  This is indeed noble, but it doesn’t give her the right to violate the privacy of her peers, or the privacy and reputation of her teacher, who is clearly identifiable by his voice in the background of the video.        

If I were the School District of Philadelphia, I would not kowtow to pressure from the public and go into damage-control mode for the situation at Samuel Huey Middle School.  In fact, I would do the complete opposite: I would confront Fox 29 News for breaking privacy laws and violating the District’s explicit policy which forbids the publishing of any picture, audio, video, or school work of any District student on the internet without written parental consent. 

I would also inform the parents of all the students shown illegally in the video—especially the parents of the students who were shown in an unflattering light—that they have the right to sue the parents of the student who shot the illegal video and that they should contact a lawyer and pursue a civil suit against Fox 29 News.  (Would Fox 29 have tried this in the suburbs?)       

Before all of this, of course, I would call a meeting with the teacher whose classroom is featured in this illegal video and demand an explanation.  What was the situation, exactly?  What was the real-time context?  Was it during class, or after the bell?  Were students simply screwing around in your classroom during your preparation period?  Either way, I’d most likely take some form of disciplinary action against the teacher, and require him to undergo some kind of peer assistance/mentoring program.  The bottom line is that this kind of student behavior, regardless of the context, is completely unacceptable. 

Then I would inform the teacher that he should think about pursuing legal action against the parents of the student who shot the illegal video, and of pursing legal action against Fox 29 News.          

There’s no disputing that schools such as Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia have issues with classroom management.  Principals and teachers who are unfit to do their jobs should be removed.  However, this doesn’t give disgruntled students or the media the right to invade a person’s privacy by filming them without their consent, and then posting this film out of context on the internet.

Imagine if everyone, at school and the workplace, pulled out their cellphones and shot video of their peers and coworkers at any particular time in any particular context, without their consent, and posted it on the internet? What would happen to all of our reputations?  What kind of chaos would ensue?          

I myself would not want to live in this kind of world.   

Cellphone videos and social media are not above the law, even if the current trends dictate that they are.  Fox 29 News should do the decent thing and take down the video of the Huey Middle School minors and apologize to all those involved.

Porn Star Sasha Grey Reads to Elementary School Children

by Christopher Paslay

Sasha Grey, ‘retired’ porn star, reads to first and third grade students in Compton, California, as part of Read Across America program. 

For the record, I’m not a porn star.  I’ve never taken-off my clothes in front of video cameras and had sex with one or more partners in multiple positions for money.  I’m a married man and care for my wife deeply.  I’m also a coach and dedicated schoolteacher who wants to set a good example for his athletes and students.  If these two reasons aren’t good enough, there is the matter of performance: I get stage fright.

Sasha Grey, on the other hand, is a porn star.  She’s done all kinds of kinky stuff on camera for money (she won a Best Oral Sex award for her role in “Throat: A Cautionary Tale” and was a winner of the 2010 AVN award for best anal sex scene) but this hasn’t stopped her from reading to first and third graders in Emerson Elementary School in Compton, California, as part of Read Across America, an event sponsored by the National Education Association (click here to see the pictures). 

Needless to say, there was some serious backlash when word broke of Grey’s appearance in the elementary school.  After parents formally complained to the principal for letting the porn actress near their children, Grey released a formal statement about her commitment to the Read Across America program:

“I am proud to have participated in the ‘Read Across America’ program at Emerson Elementary School in Compton, CA. I read ‘Dog Breath’ by Dav Pilkey to the sweetest 1st and 3rd grade children.

‘Read Across America’ is a program that was designed to promote literacy and instill a lifelong love of reading in elementary school students. Promoting education is an effort that is close to my heart. Illiteracy contributes to poverty; encouraging children to pick up a book is fundamental.

I believe education is a universal right. I committed to this program with the understanding that people would have their own opinions about what I have done, who I am and what I represent.

I am an actor. I am an artist. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a partner. I have a past that some people may not agree with, but it does not define who I am.

I will not live in fear of it. To challenge non-profit education programs is an exercise in futility, counter-productive and anti-educational.

I cannot thank my fans and ‘Read Across America’ enough for supporting my decision. Your support and kind words continue to inspire me. I believe in the future of our children, and I will remain an active supporter and participant in education-focused initiatives.”

Should Sasha Grey, who’s been officially “retired” from making adult films for two years now, be permitted to read to elementary school students?  

Take the poll below:

Game Maker Should Pull the Plug on ‘School Shooter’ Video Game

by Christopher Paslay

Disgruntled teenagers who fantasize about shooting their classmates need not worry about increased security in America’s public schools.  A new video game, “School Shooter: North American Tour 2012,” provides adolescents with all the opportunity to gun down teachers and students in the comfort of their own homes.

The video game, developed by Checkerboarded Studios, allows players to arm themselves with the same weapons used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teen duo who killed 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, and Seung-Hui Cho, the college undergraduate who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. 

Checkerboarded.com, the website for Checkerboarded Studios, explains that “you play as a disgruntled student fed up with something or other (We’re not exactly sure), who after researching multiple school shooting martyrs, decides to become the best school shooter ever.”

Players of “School Shooter” not only score points by blasting teachers and classmates full of holes in simulated school settings, but are given the option of committing suicide at the end of each level.

The video game is not without its critics.  Pennsylvania state Rep. Lawrence Curry has objected to the video game’s content, as has Cornwall-Lebanon School District Superintendent Joe Kristobak.   

As a high school teacher, I too am taken aback by the game’s concept.  Although supporters of such games insist they are protected by the First Amendment, this does not stop them from having a negative impact on education.  Research continues to show that violent video games not only contribute to an increase in violent behavior, but also shorten attentions spans.        

Worse still, they desensitize children to murder and death, and even help them cultivate a healthy taste for it.  My students’ fascination with blood and guts at times can be quite troubling.  This fascination is not limited to video games, of course.  It stretches into the realm of music, film, television, and the internet.           

Over the years, I’ve heard kids in my homeroom passionately discuss the scene in the film American History X where the skinhead makes the black guy bite down on the curb and then stomps on the back of his head, killing him (this, by the way, has become known in the urban lexicon as a curb stomp). 

I’ve heard them proudly recite the lyrics to their favorite songs that talk about killing someone or smashing-in their face with the butt of a pistol because they didn’t act right.  I’ve seen them huddle together in their desks and talk about the crazy internet sites they visit, the ones that show actual footage of real war, real murder, real suicides.

In light of the fascination young people have with violence in the 21st century, how should schools proceed with education?  How do teachers compete with the adrenaline rush of blood and guts and death when it comes to classroom instruction?  How do they continue to get on a student’s radar?

This is a dilemma I’ve recently faced.  Over the years, lessons of mine that were once spicy and provocative have slowly become mundane. 

Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet is a perfect example.  Ten years ago, my students sat captivated by the opening scene, which depicted a full scale gun battle at a gas station between the Motagues and the Capulets.  Today when I show the film to my freshmen, too often they are less than enthused.

This lack of enthusiasm carries over to the literature in our textbooks.  There’s only so much I can do to make Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience,” which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s 2010-11 eleventh grade curriculum, fun and interesting.  There’s only so much I can do to get 16 year old inner-city teenagers excited about The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, even when I focus on the bloody fist fight between Douglas and Mr. Covey, the slave master.

And video games like “School Shooter” are not helping matters.  Checkerboarded Studios should consider pulling the plug on the project, if not out of respect for the victims of the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres, than out of respect for public education.

For Schoolteachers, Collective Bargaining Protects Free Speech

by Christopher Paslay

 

Quinnipiac University recently polled 1,800 registered voters and found that 63 percent believed that public-sector workers should pay more for their health benefits and contribute more to their retirement programs.  The same poll also revealed that 42 percent felt that public-sector workers are paid “too much,” as opposed to 35 percent who said they are paid “about right.”

 

Interestingly, when it came to the issue of collective bargaining, Americans were split: forty-five percent said they supported limits on employees’ negotiating rights while 42 percent said they were against bargaining restrictions.     

 

On Friday, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Christine M. Flowers (who is for the record one of my favorite local writers) weighed-in on the issue of unions by commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 immigrant seamstresses.  Flowers went on to write that these women died because they had no bargaining power or workplace protections.  In essence, there was no one to tell their bosses that it was illegal to lock the exit doors during the work day.

 

Of course, Flowers went on to write that although unions started out as a shield, they ultimately turned into a sword:     

 

“. . . While unions did good things for their members and improved working conditions in blue-collar industries (the ones that built, fed and clothed the nation), the tactics used to obtain fair deals for the seamstresses and steel workers have now been manipulated by others with a more partisan agenda.

 

In many cases, those ‘others’ work in the public sector, and their ‘collective bargaining’ has been turned into a form of public bribery. By taking their members’ dues and contributing big sums to the political campaigns of officials who – when elected – can sweeten their contracts, public-sector unions have gone from puppet to puppet master.

 

‘A decent living’ became a euphemism for bloated salaries and way-better-than-average perks at taxpayer expense. And tenure all of sorts has turned into immunity for the mediocre. . . .”

 

Flowers’ quip about tenure is clearly a jab at schoolteachers, but I won’t hold this against her.  Her views are normally right on point, and I have the utmost respect for her as a writer and thinker.   

 

But regardless of Flowers’ sweeping generalization about schoolteachers, there is another issue at the root of unions and collective bargaining that is rarely analyzed or discussed.  Buried beneath health benefits, pensions and salary is the issue of free speech, a right that has been denied schoolteachers by the courts in recent years.          

 

Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of history at New York University, wrote about the importance of collective bargaining in terms of its impact on the free speech of teachers in a March 1st article in the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined, “In fight for workers, free speech is at stake.” (To read the article in its entirety, which I strongly suggest, click here.)

 

Zimmerman opened his article by stating the following:    

 

“In 2001, high school English teacher Shirley Evans-Marshall gave her class a copy of the American Library Association’s ‘100 Most Frequently Challenged Books.’ She asked her students to choose a book on the list and explain why it was controversial.

 

But the assignment itself was too controversial for Evans-Marshall’s Ohio school district, which declined to renew her contract.

 

Evans-Marshall sued, claiming a violation of her First Amendment rights. And last year, a federal appeals court ruled that she didn’t have any – at least not in her own classroom.

 

‘The right to free speech … does not extend to the in-class curricular speech of teachers in primary and secondary schools,’ the court declared.

 

That’s why teachers still need collective bargaining, which lies at the heart of this winter’s bitter battles over public-employee unions. . . .

 

. . . Historically, these agreements have protected teachers’ salaries, benefits, and pensions. Now that the courts have gutted teachers’ academic freedom, however, the only way they can retain it will be via collective bargaining. . . .”

 

Zimmerman’s point is well taken.  For those who think teachers’ unions and their collective bargaining power is simply a tool to win underserved benefits and cushy pensions, think again. 

 

Collective bargaining is at the heart of a teacher’s right to shape curriculum—or put another way, their right to use their expertise as an educator to determine how they will deliver instruction.  It is also at the heart of their right to make their voices and opinions heard, as was the case (at least in part) with Philadelphia School District teacher Hope Moffett; without the collective power of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Hope would have been terminated for protesting the reconstitution of Audenried High School where she currently teaches English. 

 

As a public servant and a dues-paying member of a union, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for workers to contribute more for their health insurance and pensions in light of the current economy.  However, America’s recession and the financial woes of many states should not be used as an excuse to cripple unions and take away the First Amendment rights of public workers.