View Full Version : Teachers Support Peace, But Not Free Speech

03-14-03, 06:50 AM
Teachers Support Peace, But Not Free Speech

By Matthew Dodd

What is going on in the minds of some public education officials with respect to the anticipated war with Iraq?
Over the last two weeks, I have reported on complaints the Maine Army National Guard received from parents that a number of school officials were at best insensitive, and at worst, harassing their children (some as young as 7-9 years old), for the simple fact that their parents were deploying overseas with the U.S. force massing against Iraq.

From the scores of feedback e-mails I have received, I have learned of two other equally disturbing public education officials’ anti-war incidents that I feel morally obligated to share with you.

From what I can tell, these few (but altogether too many) radical public education officials are waging war against the public trust given to all educators by subjecting their students to their own political anti-war agendas in public classrooms and on public campuses. While I am not convinced this constitutes an organized and orchestrated anti-war movement aimed at our impressionable youth, I am deeply concerned as a parent, taxpayer, and active-duty military service member that our public school system harbors such dangerous threats to free speech and common decency.

From the Addison Eagle News & Reporter in Vermont came a couple of disturbing articles about an anti-war protest at nearby Middlebury Union High School that was closed to reporters and to the parents of students (“A Trip to MUHS and Jail,” March 13, 2003, and “Freedom of Speech at MUHS?”).

One father, Ron O’Neill, a former Philadelphia police officer who was concerned about his two daughters at the school, was arrested for trespassing on school grounds after he made repeated attempts to find out firsthand and from the principal, William Lawson, what was actually happening at the school.

According to O’Neill, “My daughters were in that school and I had no way of knowing whether there was anything a father should be concerned about. These are things I feel I shouldn't have to worry about while my children should be receiving an education. However, I really wanted to know if my children were being forced to participate in the protest, or if they were missing valuable class time because of it.”

After speaking with Principal Lawson and learning that his daughters were not involved with the protest, O’Neill was escorted out of the school by the armed police officer. O’Neill arrived at the doors as the students were moving their protest outside. As he held open the door for the students, O’Neill noticed two adults who looked like teachers intermingled with the students. One was carrying what looked like a camera bag, and the other was organizing the students into a group photo opportunity.

Principal Lawson came outside and told O’Neill that he had to leave. O’Neill asked who the “camera man” was and Lawson said the man was a teacher. O’Neill wondered about why teachers were helping organize a protest during school hours. Lawson and the police officer both told O’Neill that if he did not leave immediately, he would be arrested for trespassing.

O’Neill countered that as a parent he had a right to know what was going on at his children’s school. Lawson told O’Neill that he did not have to answer any more of his questions. Lawson then told O’Neill that he had to leave. O’Neill asked Lawson again about the teachers’ involvement with the protest and the tie-in to the school curriculum. When the police officer warned O’Neill that if he did not leave he would be placed in handcuffs, O’Neill said, “You’ll just have to arrest me.”

Before O’Neill’s arrest, a reporter was denied access to the cafeteria where the protest began, briefly spoke to Principal Lawson, and was escorted out of the school by a police officer. Lawson told the reporter that the media were not allowed because he did not want any trouble. Apparently Lawson was still shook up by negative media reporting of a recent “decidedly anti-American performance [at the school] that shocked many patriotic parents, and students.”

Lawson explained to the reporter that the protest was not officially sanctioned by the school, but he knew about it in advance. He also did not know who was behind the protest, but he was not willing to take any steps to stop it. When asked what disciplinary actions were going to be taken against the students who skipped classes to attend the protest, Lawson hesitated before saying, “We’ll take whatever measures are appropriate.” The reporter was then escorted out of the school by the police officer.

It seems that we had a principal who knew in advance of an unapproved anti-war protest in his school organized by an unknown party, but at least two teachers helped organize the protesting students and arranged for a scripted outdoors photo shoot. Yet the principal had no intentions of trying to stop the protest and had no plans to discipline students who cut class to participate in it – but he had the forethought to have an armed policeman on hand to keep out reporters and concerned parents.

O’Neill’s assessment of his experiences are particularly poignant and thought-provoking and contain many lessons for us in these uncertain times:

“Is this any way to treat a concerned parent? What my children are exposed to in school is every bit my concern as much as what they are exposed to outside of school. It's my job as a parent to protect my children in whatever way I am able. If that means irritating a school administration, then so be it …. There was no reason that Principal Lawson could not have satisfactorily answered my questions and sent me on my way. Instead he chose to flex whatever muscle he could muster and remove me from school property …. March 5 was a sad day for the rights of parents in Vermont. I am sure that I am not the only parent who is concerned that my children are being exposed to what amounts sometimes to anti-American and far-left ideology at school. I fear my children are being forced to listen to beliefs that are antithetical to long-held American values which are being expressed by some people who are supposed to be giving them a balanced education.”

The second incident occurred on the other side of the country in Glendora, Cal., where a professor for a required speech course at Citrus College required her students, to achieve full credit, to write anti-war letters to President Bush. Students who wrote letters in support of President Bush’s foreign policy towards Iraq or who refused to turn in the assignment were penalized for their actions. A week later, this same professor required her students to write another unsolicited politicized letter to California State Sen. Jack Scott. The professor collected these letters and personally delivered them to Scott’s office.

The bright side to this incident was the exemplary response of Citrus College President Louis E. Zellers. Once notified of these incidents, Zellers immediately investigated the allegations and determined they were true. He agreed to appropriately sanction the professor, apologized to the professor’s students and reassured them that their grades would not be affected by those assignments. Zellers pledged that this situation would not occur again at the college, and he said he was going to send letters to both President Bush and State Sen. Scott to apologize for this violation of free speech and to formally withdraw the unsolicited letters sent to their offices.

I want to extend a hearty congratulations to President Zellers for defending and maintaining the integrity of his college.

As far as the handful of irresponsible and unprofessional educators in Maine, Vermont and California are concerned, I believe the following quote by author Henry Adams (1838-1918) represents the greatest opportunities, the gravest dangers, and the main reasons for my repugnance of what they did and what they represent: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

Lt. Col. Matthew Dodd USMC is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at mattdodd1775@hotmail.com.




03-14-03, 07:47 AM
My kids would've been withdrawn from that school that day! The nerve of that principal,,, the police should've been hauling the teacher(s) that were involved away in handcuffs not the parent!!!! and that principal should be unemployed...

03-14-03, 09:20 AM
A shortened long story that has been published elsewhere on this site.

With microphone and tape recorder in hand: "My name is Mike Farrell. I am a taxpayer living at 1309 Norton Street, San Mateo.
You sir, are denying me access to an institution my taxes support. And YOUR name sir is............... "

My story is 30 years old. Today, get it down on audio and video tape, with an admission of awareness that this confrontation WILL be publicized and admissable in court.

Then stand back. The tap dancer may step on our foot. But they are fun to watch!

Another motor boat. But, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but.