The Anti-Bush Teacher Suspension as reported by Chilean Newspaper

You have probably heard about the Colorado high school geography teacher who was suspended after a student recorded and publicized his in-class, anti-Bush rant. (details at Michelle Malkin’s blog )

Some time ago, I served as a missionary in Chile, and in addition to the various blogs and news sources I read regularly online, I also try to keep up with Chilean news through the online edition of La Tercera. La Tercera is one of Chile’s major newspapers.

This morning, the following article about the anti-bush teacher suspension appeared in La Tercera (translation follows original spanish):

Profesor es suspendido por criticar a Bush durante una clase

Un profesor de geografía de Colorado fue suspendido por haber afirmado en clase que hay personas que comparan al Presidente de Estados Unidos George W. Bush con Adolf Hitler.

La frase cuestionada del docente, Jay Bennish, fue grabada en su MP3 por un estudiante, identificado como Sean Allen.

El muchacho lo denunció al director y el profesor fue suspendido, en una medida que provocó hoy el abandono de las clases de parte de miles de estudiantes, a modo de protesta.

El liceo está en Aurora, una comunidad acomodada donde se encuentra el cuartel general de la poco conocida Aerospace Data Facility, la base de escucha de los satélites espía operados por la National Security Agency (NSA), la agencia federal en el centro del escándalo por las escuchas sin mandato ordenadas por la Casa Blanca tras el 11 de septiembre.

El liceo de Aurora, come el de Columbine, saltó a las páginas de los diarios en 1998, cuando dos adolescentes armados provocaron una masacre en la ciudad, matando a cuatro jóvenes y dos mujeres.

While I am by no means a professional translator, here is my translation:

Teacher is suspended for criticizing Bush during class

A geography teacher in Colorado was suspended for having affirmed in class that there are people who compare the President of the United States, George W. Bush, to Adolf Hitler.

The phrase in question, spoken by educator Jay Bennish, was recorded by a student, identified as Sean Allen, on his MP3 player.

The boy denounced him to the director, and the teacher was suspended, which today provoked thousands of students to abandon their classes as a form of protest.

The school is in Aurora, a comfortable community and the principal location of the the little-known Aerospace Data Facility, the listening center for spy satellites operated by the National Security Agency (NSA)—the federal agency at the center of the scandal over warrantless eavesdropping ordered by the White House after the 11th of September.

The school in Aurora follows the school in Columbine, which made news in 1998 when armed adolescents provoked a massacre in the city by killing four teens and two women.

(emphasis in original)

This article in la Tercera distorts the story in ways that make the United States government look sinister and dictatorial.

The headline gives the impression that the teacher was suspended for having merely criticized President Bush. The article fails to mention that the teacher has been suspended while the district investigates whether he violated policy requiring the presentation of opposing points of view.

The transcript of the recorded rant shows the teacher himself making explicit comparisons between Bush and Hitler, whereas the Chilean account says that he only said that there are people who make that comparison.

The article also makes it appear that the student went to the school authorities to “denounce” the teacher, and that the government-run school’s authorities quickly took care of the problem. This makes it sound like Nazi youth, or children in Communist Russia, spying and reporting on their parents and teachers. In reality the student played his recording to his parents. The boy recorded the rant on February 1st. The school didn’t even learn about the incident until the end of February, when it received an email, not from the boy, but from a non-Colorado resident who had read about it online. That same day, apparently, the recording was played on a local radio station which received a copy from the boy’s father, who also complained to the school.

The article embelishes the number of students protesting from between 200-700 (U.S. news sources differ), to “thousands.”

La Tercera then tries to add to the conspiratorial mood by noting that the school is located in a town where the NSA listens to spy satellites, and then takes the opportunity to mention the wiretapping controversy. While the mention of Columbine might help Chileans understand the geographical context of the event better by relating it to one they are already familiar with, it simultaneously invokes the same sensational mood.

If the reporting in la Tercera is representative, brainwashed students record and report their teachers to Bush’s NSA brown-shirt lackeys in school districts across the United States who stand ready to suspend any teacher brave enough to criticize Bush. With this kind of reporting, it is no shock that the international community thinks that the United States is evil and the Bush is like Hitler.

Bush may or may not be wrong in his policies, and he has certainly made some serious mistakes. But he is not Hitler, and his administration is no Nazi regime.

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7 Responses to The Anti-Bush Teacher Suspension as reported by Chilean Newspaper

  1. I completely agree that Bush is not Hitler and his regime is no Nazi regime. Here, though, are a couple of questions:

    1. It’s common in rhetoric to use hyperbole in metaphors. We avoid things like the plague, we rape the earth, etc. Does someone have to be literally just like Hitler to be compared to Hitler? Perhaps in a secondary school context, students aren’t advanced enough to understand metaphors, or maybe Hitler is just so bad that no one should be compared to him (although that would also rule out a number of common phrases using “the devil”).

    2. Would the school have suspended the teacher if he had compared President Bush to – pardon me – Jesus? If the issue is really a failure to present opposing viewpoints, shouldn’t excessive praise be just as punishable as inappropriate (and I completely agree that this was inappropriate) criticism?

    I suspect (with no evidence, obviously) that such a comparison would have caused much less ruckus, and that’s because I think that even if “failure to present opposing viewpoints” is the issue, ideology was the catalyst.

  2. Interesting thoughts, Dave. I don’t have a lot of time to think this through as carefully as I would like, but here are my initial reactions:

    1. I agree that people often employ hyperbolic tropes as a rhetorical tool. Analogy can be an excellent means of communicating complex ideas quickly and an effective way to make rational arguments. However, it can also be an extremely effective instrument of demagoguery, where it is used not to make a rational argument but to produce an irrational, emotional response in the audience. Whether hyperbolic metaphor constitutes a rational argument or a demagogue’s propaganda probably depends a deal on the context and the audience as well as the intent.

    The quality of the comparison is also influential. Usually metaphors and similes compare two seemingly dissimilar entities. If the Tertium comparationis , or quality that the two seemingly dissimilar things share, is too broad in scope or too exaggerated then the trope is in danger of losing its effectiveness as a rational argument. Does the exaggeration illuminate an aspect of the subject and increase understanding, or does it mask it behind the cultural baggage of the comparison and overwhelm understanding with emotional association?

    If the hyperbole exceeds a certain degree then the comparison may become recognizable as exaggeration or irony, depending of course on the experience and understanding of the audience. But if the hyperbole is not obvious enough for the audience then it loses much of its power to illuminate.

    Additionally, the hyperbole of idiomatic expressions like “avoid like the plague,” “rape the land,” and comparisons to the devil is mitigated by cliché and time. They were likely a great deal more shocking at first, but have ameliorated to an extent.

    I feel that, while there may be legitimate ways to make hyperbolic comparisons to Hitler, most of the time the comparisons represent demagoguery rather than rational argument. When they are intended as rational arguments, they often fail because of context, the audience, or the delivery and tend to mask and overwhelm rather than illuminate and instruct. If the intent of comparing Bush to Hilter is to illuminate the problems with Bush’s policies, then it invariably fails. As an act of demagoguery, though, it is very effective.

    Frankly, I think those who want to make hyperbolic analogies to previous world leaders in order to illuminate what they feel is wrong with the Bush Administration should consider King Leopold II of Belgium . Even though I disagree with the comparison, I do not think that it suffers from the same problems that comparisons to Hitler do and it performs, in my opinion, more as a rational argument, even if a hyperbolic one, and less as demagoguery.

    2. I think that you are right to a certain extent. From a pure policy point of view you are right. However, I think that people look at praise differently than they do criticism. In my experience, people more easily identify and dismiss over-the-top praise than they do over-the-top criticism. Fair or not, in most contexts, excessive criticism will always be curtailed and punished more readily than excessive praise. Damaging another’s reputation through exaggeration is generally considered worse than building another’s reputation through exaggeration. We have laws against defamation, but I am not aware of laws specifically against famation (to coin a term). Culturally it is difficult to recover reputation once lost (whether lost justly or unjustly) and it is difficult to maintain a good reputation. The effects of a lost reputation are far reaching and long lasting. That is, perhaps, the reason why we view exaggerated criticism as worse than exaggerated praise. This cultural aspect will probably always influence situations like that in colorado. The distance between the viewpoint and the “mainstream” viewpoint will also be an influence, regardless of any policy of viewpoint affirmative action.

    Heavens! I have become such an insufferable pedant!

    In any case, the whole concept of public schooling is a constitutional nightmare. I agree with David Bernstein’s view :

    An important background assumption is that the very existence of public schools means that the government will to some degree be inculcating values into minor students. Simply by choosing curriculum, textbooks, and engaging in other functions inherent in the education process, the government will inevitably be making value-laden choices that will dictate what students learn about various social, moral, and political issues…. It is hard to disagree with Redish’s conclusion that since public schools will inevitably inculcate values, the government has a right to ensure that the teachers it employs are “with the program.” But perhaps one lesson of the McCarthy era controversy over employment of Communist public school teachers is that government-run schools create inherent First Amendment problems. Any solution that leaves the government in charge of dictating curriculum, much less directly teaching values, seems second-best from a First Amendment perspective given that, as Redish acknowledges, “the public school educational system is an authoritarian operation.” The government’s subsidy of certain points of views by teaching them in public schools serves as the equivalent of an implicit tax on competing perspectives, a method for government to get around the prohibition on directly taxing ideas that the government wishes to discourage. To preserve a fair, non-statist, marketplace of ideas, the government, if it must fund education, should simply provide vouchers and let parents decide which values they wish their children to be exposed to. Redish argues that “there is little doubt that a democratic society cannot function effectively absent an effective system of public education,” but he does not explain why such a system must be run by, as opposed to simply funded by, the government.

  3. I’m sitting here thoroughly enjoying the conversation I’m reading. You know what I’d love to see you discuss? With HBO’s Big Love coming on… the recent dateline thing on Warren Jeffs… Polygamy. Why doesn’t the government do more to break it up? Does the Church really abhor it or is it words upfront but apathy behind? And… what is the deal with – “it may not be in practice now but you have to accept it will happen in the future”? Does it seem odd that the ban of it seemed to conincide with state-hood? Just a topic my girlfriends and I have been bandying about.

  4. Thanks Stephanie. I’ve seen and participated in a lot of mormon polygamy discussions online, and it is a difficult and complex subject. At this point I would prefer not to discuss it here on my blog. If you would like me to email you my thoughts, however, I would be happy to do so. Talk to you soon!

  5. Please do… Thanks Jon!

  6. Just wanted to say, Excellent points all around, Jon. And in response to a small point in Steph’s post, I’m not sure that the Church really “abhors” polygyny; it just disavows it, which would lead it to the policy it currently practices: don’t allow members to practice it but don’t prosecute it with particular vigor.

    On the apparent “politicalness” of the polygyny ban, President Woodruff’s vision (which is scriptural, at the back of the D&C) is pretty clear (I think) that the Lord was taking political issues into consideration. Not trying to open up a can of worms, just throwing about half a cent in.

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