Saturday, May 26, 2012

“Obama is Not God”: Students School a Teacher About Free Speech

Once upon a time, high school students lived in blissful ignorance of their teachers’ personal political opinions. Teachers were educators keen on training their pupils the art of critical thinking and expanding their young minds, not indoctrinators suppressing debate and imposing their ideology. Sadly, that is no longer the case, as exemplified by a student video recently leaked to the internet. It provides a depressing glimpse inside one North Carolina classroom, where a teacher can be heard angrily censoring student remarks mildly critical of President Barack Obama.

The nine-minute video, shot with a student’s cell phone or other video device and uploaded to YouTube, is aimed at the ceiling for the duration and shows neither teacher nor students. Much of the audio is crowded with crosstalk, as the class sounds fairly disorderly throughout. But it does capture a heated confrontation between a desperately, illogically, and inarticulately defensive social studies teacher and a couple of her freethinking students who dared to express irreverence for Obama.

The footage begins with the teacher in a North Rowan High School classroom discussing the recent allegation that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney bullied a classmate in prep school over four decades ago. “Didn’t Obama bully somebody, though?” a student asks. “Not to my knowledge,” the teacher replies.

Apparently her knowledge isn’t as broad as that of the students, who proceed to inform her about an incident Obama describes in his purported autobiography Dreams from My Father, in which he details how he teased and shoved a middle-school girl — the only other black student in his grade. The teacher’s response is a dismissive “I don’t know.” When she tries to shut the discussion down, the students quickly and correctly point out the unfairness of her bias: “If you’re gonna talk trash about one side,” a student says, “you gotta talk trash about the other.”

“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” the teacher says sharply. Romney, she says, is merely “running for president. Obama is the president,” and he “is due the respect that every other president is due.” When the student perceptively notes that they’re both “just men, they’re equal,” the teacher retorts, “No, they’re not,” and continues to argue that Romney does not deserve the same respect as a sitting president.

“But Obama is not God,” one student protests, a taboo statement certain to cause the heads of leftist educators everywhere to explode. “Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the President of the United States in this classroom,” the teacher says. The student asserts that he’ll say what he wants. “Not about him, you won’t,” the teacher shoots back. The student persists in arguing that he intended no disrespect; he was merely asking a question. Just as persistently, the teacher sidesteps his point and lectures him about slandering the president. Apparently she is unacquainted with the definition of “slander,” since the student was merely referring to an episode from Obama’s own autobiography.

Next, she casts about desperately for some excuse to impose her authority. “As a teacher, I’m not supposed to allow you to disrespect the President of the United States.” Says who? Says an Obama supporter who won’t tolerate evenhanded discussion about The One in her classroom.

“When Bush was in, everybody talked shit about Bush,” another student counters. “’Cause he was shitty,” interjects another student, and the teacher does not berate her for it. Instead, she changes tack and continues to target the original student: “Do you realize that people were arrested for sayin’ things bad about Bush?... Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?” She knows that neither of these statements is true. If it were illegal to slander a president, half the country would have been incarcerated during the Bush administration.

The student responds by correctly noting that being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech. “You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. Indeed, you would have to make a credible physical threat to the president, a point that the student, unlike his teacher, understands. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion... They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.” “Sweetheart, sweetheart,” she replies condescendingly, before sailing off on an incomprehensible tangent about people not being read their rights when arrested.

Her argument wouldn’t even hold up in Logic 101. First she states that criticizing Obama, the current president, is disrespectful. Then she claims that criticizing Bush, when he was in office, was criminal and people were arrested for it. Which is it, merely disrespectful or illegal? It’s neither, of course. One of the superior qualities of America is that we are free to criticize our elected officials, even hurl invectives at them, without expecting a visit in the middle of the night from the secret police, as the totalitarian left might prefer. The truth is that these students were not disrespecting Obama; this teacher was simply incensed that rogue students weren’t falling in line to worship him.

A Rowan-Salisbury School District spokeswoman confirmed that the teacher is still employed, but would not release her identity. This is fortunate for the teacher, since the audio reveals her to be not only less literate and articulate than her own students, but less well-versed in such subjects as free speech, American history, and constitutional rights.

A School District statement noted that this video can be a learning experience. Indeed it can. What we can learn from it is this: Certainly there are many excellent teachers out there struggling against all odds to inspire, enrich, and open up the minds of our nation’s youth. But this video is an instructive reminder that some high school students are being shouted down by incompetent and even moronic leftist ideologues who see their role as indoctrinators, not educators, and who discourage critical, intellectual debate with political bullying.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 5/25/12)