Monday, December 18, 2006

Hell is for Heroes

I suppose we train high school teachers to indoctrinate students, so it's not surprising that a few of them don't know where to draw the line...

Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

History class! History! I'm assuming this is an AP class, because they mention that it's "accelerated." Davey, you guys don't have time to talk about the Big Bang. That's time you could be spending on the concept of mercantilism, the Embargo Act of 1807 or even The Ostend Manifesto. I'm not sure you appreciate the difficulty of this test, dude...

Honestly, though, I really really wish someone would try to teach me about how the Big Bang is not a scientific theory. If it's not scientific...where did it come from? Does David think that some scientist just made it up one day, and that all the other scientists have been going along with the ruse for several decades now, concocting an entire fraudulent branch of the sciences around this one fictional precept in a nefarious attempt to invalidate and eventually replace sincerely-held religious belief everywhere? Really?

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

Boo-ya! That's certainly what you want to hear from your AP US History teacher!

"The Supreme Court's decision in Munn v. Illinois upheld the principle that state governments could regulate railroad and grain elevator companies. Oh, and I condemn you to Hell."

I mean, I know I'm kind of sensitive to the whole outspoken religiocity thing, but that's definitely crossing a big line. You don't force impressionable young people to sit in a history class for an hour every day with a wannabe Benny Hinn ranting about damnation and whipping them with his jacket. It's just not right.

I had a loopy evangelical teacher for AP Spanish back in high school. We'll call him Fred S. Fred never used to like me because he was the faculty advisor to the Christian Club, and I used to write angry editorials for the student newspaper objecting to the Christian Club's activities. It's not that I hate Christians or the idea of them wanting to form a club. Our school had lots of clubs, most of which I did not belong to or concern myself with, and that was that. But Irvine High's Christian Club was, for some reason, possibly owing to Fred S.'s own intense faith, extremely aggressive.

Their big issue was that they wanted to pray around the flagpole each morning during Zero Period. To me, this seemed a clear violation of my rights as a secular student. I had to get to school during zero period every day (ironically, because I worked on the school newspaper), so I'd have to walk right past this creepy prayer circle. Not that the law must intercede to spare me an inconvenience, but the fact is that the only reason they wanted to pray in that exact spot was because they wanted to push my nose in it. The whole point was to attract attention - both declaring "the right" to pray right there on school property, like a dog foolishly urinating on all the nearby ground available in a futile attempt to claim dominance, and in a blatant attempt to proselytize. "Hey, you, kid walking to class. Want to join our cool club? Come pray with us!"

That stuff was annoying, and I hated having Fred S. for Spanish because he would bring this kind of petty shit into the classroom. Once, we had to write an in-class essay (in Spanish, of course). I don't even remember the prompt. Anyway, working my way to whatever actual point I was attempting to make, I wrote a stray sentence about the Earth being several million years old. (Looking back, I'm amazed my mastery of Spanish was such that I was capable of forming such a sentence, but there you go...) So I get the paper back, and it's full of comments in red ink. My first thought is, "Oh God, my Spanish is every bit as bad as I assumed! Que lastima!"

But then I start reading some of the comments (all in English), and I realize he's just pissed off because I implied that the world is millions of years old. And the Bible disagrees! How infuriating. Judge me on my Spanish, asshole, because that's the only opinion of yours I care about in the slightest. And I only cared about that because I didn't want to have to take Spanish in college. (I ended up taking two years of Spanish at UCLA anyway. Still can't put more than 3 sensible words together, however.)

Okay, so I got kind of distracted. My point is, I saw the experience with Fred S. as an inappropriate incursion of religion into the classroom. But it was extremely mild compared to this Paszkiewicz moron's behavior. Fred never told me I was going to Hell. Just that I was wrong about everything.

Predictably, the school board and the entire town seems to be taking the side of the Jesus freak teacher over that of the high school junior. Because, as we all know, Christians hate meek, oppressed underdogs and always prefer to side with the established power. That's how JC would have wanted it.

“I think he’s an excellent teacher,” said the school principal, Al Somma. “As far as I know, there have never been any problems in the past.”

So, the school's principal doesn't think that a teacher telling his students they will go to Hell if they don't accept Jesus is a problem. Okay...But I suppose it is possible that, evangelical fervor aside, the guy's a decent history teacher.

In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates.

Greice Coelho, who took Mr. Paszkiewicz’s class and is a member of his youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly newspaper, that Matthew was “ignoring the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of religion.” Some anonymous posters on the town’s electronic bulletin board,, called for Matthew’s suspension.

Oops, never mind. He clearly didn't explain to Greice that the First Amendment doesn't guarantee a teacher the right to preach to his students. Granted, it would be wrong to jail Mr. Paszkiewicz for beliving in Jesus, or for speaking or publishing information about his religious beliefs. But does the First Amendment grant you the right to a daily audience of listeners to whom you are paid to preach? Afraid not. Does it protect you from direct criticism for inappropriate things you might say in class? Um...not exactly. I'd say anyone who could conflate the 1st Amendment's "Freedom of Religion" with an inherent right to insult the dignity of high school juniors and keep one's job doesn't deserve a passing grade in a class on the US Constitution.

And calling for the kid's suspension just for complaining about a teacher? What kind of educational environment does that foster? What is this, Joseph Stalin Memorial High School? (The best part about going to Stalin High? Once you've matriculated, you're a Stalin Grad. No, hey, come back...come back...I'm sorry...Forget I said anything...)

On the sidewalks outside the high school, which has 1,750 students, many agreed with 15-year-old Kyle Durkin, who said, “I’m on the teacher’s side all the way.”

All the way! How dare this kid object to being told publicly by an authority figure that he's going to burn in Hell! Buck up, heathen!

While science teachers, particularly in the Bible Belt, have been known to refuse to teach evolution, the controversy here, 10 miles west of Manhattan, hinges on assertions Mr. Paszkiewicz made in class, including how a specific Muslim girl would go to hell.

Oh, yeah, Principle-brah...I can tell that this guy must be one hell of a teacher. He certainly seems to connect to his students. He really knows how to reach them. As an SAT tutor, I've found that there are few more useful educational tools than cheap taunts and idle threats.

The class started on Sept. 11, and Matthew quickly grew concerned. “The first couple of days I had him, he had already begun discussing his religious point of view,” Matthew, a thin, articulate 16-year-old with braces and a passion for politics and the theater, recalled in an interview. “It wasn’t even just his point of view, it went beyond that to say this is the right way, this is the only way. The way he said it, I wasn’t sure how far he was going to go.”

On the second day of taping, after the discussion veered from Moses’s education to free will, Matthew asked why a loving God would consign humans to hell, according to the recording.

I guess this is probably AP Government, as opposed to US History. In either case, I don't see how all this God talk fits into the subject at hand. I mean, you'll wind up discussing the notion of God all the time in such a class, if only because it comes up so often in all the documents you'll be reading, but not in an evangelical "God is love" kind of way. In a "these philosophers were religious while these were not" kind of way.

Anyway, people tape lectures all the time, so I can't see how anyone could think this kid had done anything wrong, anything deserving of suspension or punishment. Is it really so wrong to question the tactics and motives of a person who yammers away at you non-stop for 5 hours each week?

Some of Matthew’s detractors say he set up his teacher by baiting him with religious questions. But Matthew, who was raised in the Ethical Culture Society, a humanist religious and educational group, said all of his comments were in response to something the teacher said.

“I didn’t start any of the topics that were discussed,” he said.

Baiting him with religious questions...Of all the ridiculous...Implying that Matthew, out of nowhere, interrupted class to ask religious questions, and that the kindly (and purely by coincidence, evangelical) teacher had no choice but to stop discussing the planned lesson for the day and entertain this or that theoretical construct. I mean, how well does it reflect on the teacher in the first place, if he could be so easily duped by one of his 16 year old charges?

Frank Viscuso, a Kearny resident, wrote in a letter to The Observer that “when a student is advised by his ‘attorney’ father to bait a teacher with questions about religion, and then records his answers and takes the story to 300 newspapers, that family isn’t ‘offended’ by what was said in the classroom — they’re simply looking for a payout and to make a name for themselves.” He called the teacher one of the town’s best.

You would think people would feel embarrassed trotting out these lame, scripted arguments every time a secular person tries to make a point about personal freedom. How on Earth does Mr. Viscuso imagine that Matthew's family is going to earn some kind of crazy windfall off of this case? They're going to get $10 million from the school board, tax free, or something?

I mean, perhaps Mr. Viscuso genuinely disagrees with the family on principle. He thinks a public school's advanced government class is the perfect place to discuss deeply-felt opinions on the afterlife. Fine. Let him write a letter to the editor arguing that point. But people just cavalierly throw these kinds of charges out all the time with no evidence, or even any reason for suspicion of greed on the part of the plaintiff.

Mr. Viscuso would be wise to recall that the purpose of these kinds of civil lawsuits is not to spread around cash settlements. It's a preventative measure. If school boards have to worry about being sued by angry parents, they then have an extra incentive to make sure students are not aggreived and given cause for complaint. This is also why it's stupid for people to get all fired up about massive settlements in tobacco and fast food industry lawsuits. The purpose isn't that fat people and the cancer-striken deserve millions of dollars. It's that the threat of millions of dollars in losses motivates big companies to be extremely careful about product safety and honesty in advertising. (I'm not saying it always works, but this is at least the principle on which the system operates).

It just pisses me off, because it seems like every other Christian in this town is just knee-jerk siding with the teacher because he's on their team. The atheists are the Other and we all have to join together to ensure their defeat. But really, I have a feeling that most of the Christians in this town would probably recoil if directly confronted with Paszkiewicz's actual behavior. Sure, some moralizing pompous fucks think it's okay to insult someone and threaten them if it means you convert another member to the flock, but most Christians can sense when it's just not an appropriate time for evangelizing, and particularly when that evangelizing humiliates or makes a spectacle out of a young person. I mean, come on, that's obvious.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey i reckon your pretty spot on with most of your arguements. But its not just christians its muslims and hindus and all the rest of those religious dickheads that do it.
They shouldnt force their religion on you but they should be able to talk about it freely. . they just gotta no when to fuck off