Monday, October 4, 2004

Teacher! Leave Those Kids Alone!

Here's a weird story out of New Jersey. It seems that a middle school teacher got in trouble with parents and administrators for having a picture of the president on her wall, but declining to talk about politics with her students who questioned her about it. See here for the details. The story itself makes no one look particularly good, least of all the administrators and the parents who sound like a bunch of bigots. Here's part of it:

Parents e-mailed an assistant principal accusing Pillai-Diaz (the teacher) of suppressing free speech because the teacher refused to talk to pupils about why the color photo (of George and Laura Bush) hung in the room.

"Students said, 'You like George Bush? He's killed people,' " Pillai-Diaz said. "As a rule I don't talk about my politics in the classroom."

According to Pillai-Diaz, Assistant Principal Mark Daniels said he had no problem with the photo, which hung next to posters of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. But Daniels told the teacher she should address questions that arose because of the photo.

"He wasn't giving me the power to direct conversation in my classroom," said Pillai-Diaz, who regarded the picture just as an image of the current president.

Thursday, at back-to-school night, the controversy exploded after a parent asked why the picture was up, Pillai-Diaz said.

"The way she asked was a political assault," the teacher said.

Then the parents started their own debate about the picture, and one mother stormed out of the classroom, Pillai-Diaz said.

Friday morning, the teacher, who is in her sixth year of teaching and her first in South Brunswick, was called into the assistant principal's office. Daniels told her to remove the picture, Pillai-Diaz said.

"He said, 'If you care about your job, you'll take the picture down,' " she said.

Pillai-Diaz told the assistant principal to take the picture down himself. Then she sought Principal Jim Warfel, who gave her an upbraiding.

"He said, 'You've caused more disruption, hatred and anger than anyone I've ever known,' " she said.

The teacher said the principal told her to "get out," so she left and headed to the South Brunswick Police Department.

An officer accompanied Pillai-Diaz back to the school because she said she feared for her safety when she went to collect her belongings, police said.

Once Pillai-Diaz felt safe at the school the officer left, police said.

In the school, Pillai-Diaz had a two-hour meeting with Superintendent Gary McCartney and a representative from the teachers' union. Both parties told the teacher she would lose any fight she would try to start about the picture, Pillai-Diaz said.

Viewpoint has no idea what all is going on here, but it sounds like teachers in this school cannot post pictures of the president of the United States in their classrooms unless they are prepared to talk politics, whether such a discussion is relevant to the lesson or not.

It's not hard to imagine what the principals would have done had she actually been talking politics and the parents complained about that, especially if she were defending George Bush against students' criticism.

Don't these people have enough problems without making an issue out of this? Don't these parents understand that it is completely appropriate to honor the president? Don't the administrators understand that it's their job to defend their teachers from unreasonable parental criticism? Doesn't the teacher understand that when students initiate a question about Bush's policies she's missing a good opportunity to provide valuable education if she declines to answer it?

Unless there's more to this story than meets the eye, which there probably is, the parents here look stupid, the administrators look pusillanimous, and the teacher looks paranoid, maybe for good reason.

Thanks to for the tip.

If Not There, Where?

Senator Kerry and his fellow Democrats have claimed on several occasions that, because of Bush's failures in Iraq, terrorists are now streaming into that country. Well, if we weren't there where would the terrorists be, and what would they be doing there? The fact that terrorists are flooding Iraq is a good thing. It means that they're not going to places where they can easily attack our children, a favorite target of the Islamic "warriors". Instead, they're going to a place where they have to confront our troops and it would seem that even the dimmest eyes would see that that's a far more desirable state of affairs than the alternative.

They Work Harder

Education blogger Joanne Jacobs has a story that is repeated every year in almost every school around the country which has Asian immigrants in its student body:

On News Gorilla, Ed Susman, former city editor of the Hartford (Conn.) Times, writes about handing out American flags to newly arrived immigrants. It was a community service thing and a nice photo for the paper. One day, he gave a flag to the first group of Vietnamese refugees.

No one spoke a word of English, but I managed to communicate with the 12-year-old daughter who spoke some French and I hadn't forgotten all my French from high school days.

Flash forward about 4-5 years, during the last days of the Times, and this young Asian woman shows up at my desk. In flawless English she thanked me for the flag so many years past. She was now graduating high school, had a scholarship to some school I would never have even applied to and was either valedictorian or salutatorian or something major in her high school class.

He asked why Asian students outperform native-born students. The girl said that after the flag picture appeared, a school official came to the door and told her mother to register the four children for school. Her mother explained she could afford only to register the two boys. She was told there would be no fees; education is free.

The girl told me that after the school official left, her mother gathered her children around her and said, "It is true that the streets are paved with gold in this country. They give away education. If any of you ever misses a day of class I will beat you so hard you will never sit down again." The girl said that grades less than a B were similarly punishable. All the girl's siblings were at the head of their classes.

An English teacher in San Jose once told me that all her best students were Vietnamese. This was a few years after the refugee influx. I said, "How can that be? They all speak English as a second language. How can they be the best in English."

"They work harder," the teacher said.

It's not necessarily that Asian kids are inherently brighter than kids in other ethnic groups (although they may be). Their academic success is correlated to the expectations of their families. If a family doesn't value education the children from that household are going to perform well below their potential no matter how much money the state spends on them and no matter how good their teachers are.

Must We Tolerate Islam?

David Foster, writing for the Claremont Institute, has an outstanding piece on whether, and under what conditions, Muslims have a right to practice their religion in a country founded on the principles of tolerance and freedom of religion. The reflexive response is to assert that freedom of religion, if it means anything at all, means that all citizens have the right to believe and practice whichever religion they choose, but Foster presents a persuasive argument, based on the writings of John Locke and George Washington, that this is simply not the case. Here are a couple of excerpts:

In order to merit toleration, then, believers must support a particular kind of society-the kind that protects religious freedom. If the basis of such a society is the distinction between church and state, then any religion that denied this distinction would have no legitimate claim to be tolerated. If some branch of Islam does not support that distinction, it is essentially hostile to the kind of open society we value and cannot be tolerated. If it does support that distinction, it deserves toleration. The most important means we have to know the truth is through the speech of its adherents: they must tell us plainly and publicly where they stand.

As Locke put it, those "who attribute unto the Faithful, Religious and Orthodox, that is, in plain terms, unto themselves, any peculiar Privilege of Power above other Mortals, in Civil Concernments...have no right to be tolerated by the Magistrate; as neither those that will not own and teach the Duty of tolerating All men in matters of meer Religion." Such men cannot be tolerated because their claim of special privileges or their (related) refusal to teach toleration shows that they are ready upon any "occasion to seize the Government, and possess themselves of the Estates and Fortunes of their Fellow-Subjects; [they] only ask leave to be tolerated by the Magistrate so long until they find themselves strong enough to effect it." We ought not tolerate the intolerant because it makes no sense to tolerate someone so that he can prepare to subjugate you.

But how can we address this problem without adopting dictatorial methods and losing the very freedoms we would protect? According to Locke, the answer is quite simple: tolerate any religious group whose leaders are known for teaching toleration and for disavowing special privileges for the orthodox (i.e., themselves). To take an example from our time, it is not enough for a cleric to say, as many do, that "Islam is a religion of peace." That may be true, but when radical Muslims say this they almost always mean that there will be peace only after the whole world is converted to Islam; and in that peace Muslims will have privileges denied to non-Muslims (this is the concept of dhimmitude). "Islam is a religion of peace" - if that is all that is said - is exactly the sort of ambiguous phrase that Locke warns can be a sign that the speaker must not be tolerated.

But to deserve toleration, all the clerics need to do is to become known for teaching their followers that the meaning of this phrase is that Islam is a religion that accepts the distinction of Mosque and state, and that it advocates good-will to all men, whether they are good Muslims (the orthodox), dissenters, or non-Muslims. In short, any clergyman deserves toleration who is known for teaching his own followers that they have a duty of tolerating all men in matters of religion.

In the past lovers of liberty in the West had to listen carefully to what various Christian sects were saying about religion and politics. That is still important. But in the modern world, most Christian churches have reconciled themselves with toleration and contort themselves to be ecumenical, and it is what some Islamic clerics are saying that most demands our vigilance. That, at least, is what toleration requires.

The real question is not so much whether Muslims in the West are willing to accept and teach the duties of toleration - if the wider society expects it, they will probably comply - but whether the West itself still understands and has the will to defend its own principles.

Islam, Foster argues, only has a right to be tolerated to the extent that it genuinely supports tolerance itself. If its goal is to establish an Islamic state by whatever means necessary and subsequently impose second class citizenship on unbelievers, then it forfeits its right to constitutional protection.

This essay should be read by everyone with an interest in political philosophy or simply in the appropriate response to the Islamic threat to Western civilization. Thanks to No Left Turns for the tip.

Good News From Iraq #11

The 11th installment of Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq is on-line. Despite the lamentations emanting from the Democrat left there continues to be much to be encouraged about. As Chrenkoff says in concluding his report:

The obstacles are considerable, challenges huge, but day by day the Iraqi people, assisted by the Coalition and people of good will from around the world, are slowly forging ahead with the task of reconstructing their country - and more importantly - reconstructing themselves.

Complementing Chrenkoff's report are a couple of other items from the blogosphere. A post by Omar at Iraq The Model underscores the apparent willingness of Iraqis to fight to rid themselves of the pestilence in their midst.

Meanwhile the campaign to clean up the nests of insurgents in the Sunni triangle is underway. See here for a discussion and, of course, don't miss Wretchard's analysis at Belmont Club. It's excellent.

Chrenkoff's updates (He also does them for Afghanistan) are must reading for anyone who finds the constant metronomic negativity of the media and the Kerry campaign to be dispiriting. This is not to say that there are not very serious problems in Iraq. There are, but by focussing only on the problems the media give the impression that the situation there is chaotic and hopeless. Since they have abrogated their obligation to give us both sides of the story, in hopes of persuading Americans to reject President Bush in November, people like Chrenkoff are performing a very valuable, even essential, service.