Just when you think Team BDS can’t behave more appallingly, they somehow manage to find a way to scrape beneath the barrel.
Years ago, the fellow named Ron Francis – the guy behind three years of divestment campaigning in Somerville, MA – decided to make up for his failure to drag the Arab-Israeli conflict into his home town by shoving it down the throat of his workplace.
And where did he work? Well, he was a physics teacher at Andover High, a suburban public high school about half an hour from Somerville (with traffic). And what could be a more appropriate way to study rotational mechanics than to ask Wheels of Justice – a now-defunct propaganda campaign by bus – to roll into town and provide their own special version of “educational content” to a captive high-school audience.
Having just spent years unleashing mayhem in Somerville (translated into the wrath of voters who successfully organized to oust his divestment campaign after three attempts), there was no way Francis and his allies behind the decision to force students to sit through a Wheels of Justice presentation didn’t know exactly what the reaction to their attempted politicization of public high-school classrooms would be.
And sure enough, parents protested, the event was cancelled, Francis and his friends (with free support from Lawyer’s Guild consiglieri) sued, and the event went on – albeit with a separate counter-event by a local Jewish group presented to the same students the following day. At a town-wide meeting held the evening after both talks were given, it was left to school administrators to deal with protests of hundreds of angry parents (as usual, Francis and his pals, having already gotten what they wanted, left it to someone else to take the heat for their irresponsible behavior).
So what might more-recent BDSers have learned from seeing this tactic used to try to propagandize high schooler’s? That it’s time to import their “work” into elementary schools!
On September 18th, Bassem Tamimi – taking a break from using his own children as props in propo videos shot in the Middle East – met with third graders at a public school in Ithaca, NY. And in a heartwarming conclusion to his presentation, he urged the little moppets before him to show solidarity with “freedom fighters” in Palestine.
Once again, it was left to the school superintendent (not the teachers who decided it would be a great idea to bring Tamimi into their third-grade class) to deal with the controversy the visit generated, part of which involved sending out a letter that said:
“The Ithaca City School District’s position is that [Tamimi’s] statements are not developmentally appropriate for third graders, nor aligned with the New York State standards. The statements were politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.”
Given that I don’t need to speak in administratorease, let me add my own critique to the superintendent’s commentary, one addressed to everyone involved with the choice to use the elementary school classroom as a place to begin the political indoctrination of someone else’s children.
This critique runs down a list of everyone this choice betrayed, starting with each and every student the teacher of that class is supposed to be educating and caring for. Arguments that high schoolers are sophisticated enough to make up their own minds (made frequently during the aforementioned Andover debate) have a certain level of merit and are worth debating. But who in their right mind would claim the same is true for eight-year olds?
The students in that class were betrayed by people who made their own political desires top priority, turning their charges into vessels into which their preferred opinions could be poured. And that circle of the betrayed also extends to the parents of those children who you’d think would want to have some say over whether a political propagandist who deliberately puts his own children in harm’s way should be talking to their kids.
Extending further, this decision betrays the entire school (indeed, the entire district) a fragile ecosystem that needs trust (from parents, from taxpayers/voters/citizens, from civic and political leaders) in order to do the crucial work of educating the young. And just as in Andover, once the BDSers got what they wanted, they were more than happy to let others take the heat – and suffer any long-term damage – for their appalling behavior.
But I would also add that this chapter represents a particularly terrible betrayal of those hundreds of Ithaca school teachers, and the hundreds of thousands of teachers across the nation, who manage to teach their subjects (including controversial ones) without turning their classrooms into indoctrination centers for their own political views.
Teaching is the most rewarding and difficult job in the world, a profession subject to wild swings of public perception throughout American history. We revere teachers in the abstract, while laying blame for school failures at their feet. And whenever educational controversy goes viral, you’ll inevitably see the behavior of a few bad apples laid at the feet of the profession as a whole.
As unfair as this dynamic might be, it is also well known. So like Ron Francis rolling out the welcome mat for Wheels of Justice, those behind the Ithaca decision knew full well the harm they would be causing their colleagues but decided that was a price they were more than willing to let others pay.
As a final note, there might actually be situations where inviting challenging speakers to a school is OK, providing that such an invitation is sent after discussions with parents, school leaders and fellow teachers to determine if such a choice is appropriate – including age appropriate. But it’s going to be a long time before anyone pursues such a course responsibly, given the damage caused by those (ir)responsible for bringing Tamimi into a third-grade classroom in Ithaca.