Friday, February 02, 2007

Cop Didn't See It, The Teacher Didn't Do It

I don't know if you've been following the situation in Kearny High School in NJ, but here's a quick summary: One of the teachers was proselytizing in class, telling kids that if they didn't believe in Jesus they'd go to hell, that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, and that dinosaurs were in Noah's Ark.

So, one of the students, fearing he'd not be believed if he took his allegations to the school administration, taped the teacher. Sure enough, when the kid went to the administration, the teacher lied about what he'd said, and had the kid not taped him, it would have been the kid's word vs. the teacher's, and we can all take a wild guess whose would be believed.

So, not only did the teacher keep his job despite not only proselytizing in class but bald-faced lying about it, now the school district has taken action by -- wait for it -- banning recording devices in classrooms. Yep. You read that correctly.

The pretext is that other students complained when their voices ended up on the Internet and on TV, along with the teacher's. But there are two problems with this excuse:

One, the populace of the town is supporting the teacher over the student and they are pissed about the supposed "bad image" this situation is giving their town. Of course, they could be pissed at the teacher who actually did something wrong, thus creating the incident in the first place. But that would be like being angry at the serial killer who lived in your town for giving it a "bad name" rather than the cops who caught him, and that just wouldn't make any sense, would it? Obviously the cops are the bad guys, right? But, in any case, given that the parents and other students in the town are upset about the kid bringing this to light, they obviously have an ulterior motive for complaining about the tape other than real privacy issues.

Which, secondly, aren't an issue anyway, because as long as the kids aren't identified by name in the recording (which they weren't) or by the person broadcasting or hosting the recording (they weren't), they are anonymous and they have no basis on which to complain. The fact is that when you are in a public setting, like a classroom in a, dare I note, public school you have no expectation of privacy, just like if you're on a city street. And, if you're on a city street and someone, like the news, is recording and they get your voice in the background, they've done nothing wrong as long as they don't identify you or otherwise compromise your anonymity. Just having the sound of your voice broadcast is not a violation of your privacy. There has to be some kind of harm done, and no one here is claiming, in any way, that these kids were actually harmed by the sound of their voices being broadcast, nor were they taped saying anything untoward that they could say they didn't want people to hear. The complaint is bullshit.

The truth of the matter is that the school board's decision is intended to do one thing: to prevent the school board or administration from having to take what would be very unpopular action against teachers who inappropriately use the classroom as a pulpit. They are taking action that will prevent an incident like this from coming to light again, not by taking action to prevent proselytizing in the classroom, but by preventing students from recording evidence of such behavior. Simple. There's no crime if you disallow the gathering of evidence in the first place. Wah-lah! Brilliant.

Of course, they are going to have "mandatory instruction about how to interpret the Constitution’s separation of church and state and how it should apply to classroom discussions," which the school board will claim is action to fix the problem. Yeah, great. Did you notice that the description of the instruction doesn't mention anywhere that the teachers will be trained not to proselytize in the classroom? "[H]ow to apply [the separation of church and state] to classroom discussions" could mean anything, and if the way these religious zealots misuse language is any indication, it most likely means, "How to proselytize without getting in trouble."

And, of course, the problem will go away now, allowing the school board to say, "See? Our 'mandatory instruction' worked. We haven't had any more complaints," and act like they've fixed something. But, of course, since they've banned recording in the classroom and there's no chance a student will be believed over a teacher, all they've done is ensured that such activity won't be reported, not that it won't happen.

It's sort of like states make their crime statistics go down by redefining the crime in question so that fewer instances of it count. Like, for instance, saying that any sexual assault in which there's no penetration of the vagina by the penis isn't "rape," thereby excluding a vast number of cases that were formerly included under the rape statistics, and then taking credit for the reduced number of rapes in the state without mentioning that the reduction is simply due to redefining what constitutes "rape." Fan-fucking-tastic, don't you think?

Don't fix the actual problem. Just silence the whistleblowers. Great.

Hell, beyond the simple fact that teachers aren't allowed to proselytize in class, shouldn't the school board condemn this teacher for simply teaching kids stuff that's wrong? Not even most Christians deny the solid evidence showing that the dinosaurs dyed off long before humans were around and therefore could not have been on Noah's Ark, even if Noah really existed.

Apparently, this idiot has now moved on to other right-wing nut-bar topics like global warming, saying in class:

Meanwhile, Matthew said that Mr. Paszkiewicz recently told the class that
scientists who spoke about the danger of global warming were using tactics like those Hitler used, by repeating a lie often enough that people come to believe it.

Okay, so this isn't an explicitly religious position, though many who disbelieve the massive evidence for some sort of global warming caused by human activity is because they believe that Jesus is coming anyway and so it doesn't matter (or that global warming is part of the apocalypse and therefore shouldn't be interfered with). But it is wrong. Demonstrably, utterly wrong. That would only be true of there was no scientific evidence pointing to global warming. But there is such evidence and scientists point to it, publish it, and try to bring it to the public's attention each and every day. This guy has no argument to refute the evidence, however, so he ignores it, instead playing the ad hominem card in the classic Godwin's Law way of comparing his opponents to Hitler instead of addressing their arguments.


At 4:32 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

This is pretty outrageous.

One has to wonder what would have happened to the teacher if he'd been a fundamentalist Muslim and been discussing the fate of those that do not embrace Islam.

I suspect the story would have been a very different one.

The question of allowing recording devices in a classroom is a serious one, but the real story here (I think) is the fact that the school seems to be making no serious attempt to protect the students from this teacher. That leaves me with the impression that the school does not earnestly believe that a proselytory message is inconsistent with an open and free public school lesson.

This "training" the article talks about seems to send the wrong message in and of itself: "Don't evangelize to your students because the government says its wrong." Instead, why not: "Imagine your children are being taught by someone who doesn't share your beliefs ... and that they have chosen to spend their classroom time indoctrinating them."

I fervently hope that there is more to this story to which we are not privy. This is very disturbing.

At 7:52 AM, Blogger mooglar said...

Yeah, the example of "what if it had been a Muslim proselytizing instead of a Christian?" is exactly where Christians miss the boat on why they should support the separation of church and state, not try to destroy it. They only see a nation in which their religion is the one that is the one that will be the "state religion" when the 1st Amendment is thrown down, but they don't consider what happens if someday they disagree with the "state religion" or if it isn't the religion they practice.


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