EDITORIAL: Classroom conflicts getting out of hand
NJ teacher is forced to resign after showing John Oliver skit
Students in high school and lower grade levels are taught politics throughout history — from the caveman ages, Middles Ages, Renaissance to the FDR and Reagan years. But when teachers bring to the fore issues in contemporary politics, they’re on shaky ground.
Presenting material on contemporary politics to a classroom has the potential to get a teacher fired — all it really takes is one offended student and one parent that’s angry enough. An incident at Middletown High School South in Middletown, New Jersey, shows how controversial it can be to deviate from the typical curriculum that consists of temporally distant texts of Shakespeare and Aristotle to the more relevant and immediate issues of modern American politics.
Joe Ventre, a beloved high school teacher in Middletown South, was forced to resign after he showed a clip of John Oliver’s “Make Donald Drumpf Again,” which is a skit that delineates Donald Trump’s failure as a business man as well as his mendacity. While many students enjoyed the clip and found it amusing, there was one student who apparently couldn’t stand it and complained to a parent who was able to exercise great power because she had the right connections and was part of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). But with the exception of certain situations such as rape or physical or emotional abuse, one student and one parent shouldn’t have the power to expel a teacher from a job, even more so when all Ventre did was show a benign video.
There’s a huge emphasis nowadays on the freedom of speech and freedom of expression and how students shouldn’t be sheltered from ideas they don’t agree with. However, this notion is often directed to the liberal left, and when there’s an instance of conservatives wanting to silence the opposing viewpoint then it doesn’t get attention — the argument doesn’t apply to them. The John Oliver video was evidently left-leaning, and the student who didn’t agree with it should also subjected to having his or her ideas challenged. If not, what’s the point of an education?
In elementary school and middle school, perhaps politics might have been too touchy of a subject and you wouldn’t want your teacher inculcating and indoctrinating you with leftist or rightist ideas at that impressionable age. But Ventre was a high school teacher and the students who he was teaching should already be developing those critical thinking abilities and can handle various arguments. When you don’t like what a teacher is teaching, you don’t get them fired. That’s the worst kind of in-school tantrum.
Although Ventre was widely known as an excellent teacher, he still should’ve been careful with how he presented his course material. Students who have had him in the past may be able to attest to how it wasn’t his intention to proselytize them into liberals, but Ventre should’ve taken proper precautions to present both sides of the argument. Because Middletown is a predominantly Republican area, backlash should've been anticipated. Immediately after showing how the “Make Donald Drumpf Again” video, it would’ve been in his best interest to show another video that portrayed Trump in a better light to equip students with enough material to have a well-rounded discussion.
It isn’t hard for people to get riled up about discussions of overtly political issues and about topics of the current electoral system, but no matter how sensitive politics can be it’s important to facilitate student engagement in politics while in high school — some people never become engaged at all. Ventre was simply doing his job as a teacher when he introduced that video, even if it wasn’t exactly the best approach.
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