Monday, February 25, 2008

How news (and sausage, apparently) gets made in Delaware and elsewhere ...

... and the story is not pretty.

First, there was this letter to the Cape Gazette, a Sussex County, Delaware, paper:

Cape Gazette February 22

Pray for understanding and an end to hate

Our 10-year-old sister, Amani, is in the fifth grade at Lord Baltimore, a public elementary school in Ocean View. Last Tuesday, her teacher “taught” her class that Barack Obama is a Muslim and that she would not vote for him because he does not swear on the Bible, nor recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Her teacher told the class that she is a Republican and that Barack Obama “believes in different things and is scary.”

We are very disappointed in this teacher and the Indian River School District. This teacher is telling her class something that is dangerous and untrue. Barack Obama’s website (barackobama. com) explains the truth about him. He says, “In the internet age, there are going to be lies that are spread all over the place. I have been victimized by these lies. Fortunately, the American people are, I think, smarter than folks give them credit for.”

Many newspapers have debunked the vicious rumors that are being spread about Sen. Obama. Mr. Obama has said, “My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was two. During the Pledge of Allegiance you put your hand over your heart. During the national anthem you sing.”

We are American Muslim kids. We love our country. We feel that kids need to be taught the truth in school. We believe that what is going on in our schools is un-American and scary. Kids are being taught hatred and fear of Muslims. Our sister was badly hurt by what was said in her classroom.

Each of us has experienced similar prejudice in our classrooms in three different schools. We would like for people to know that we believe in peace and respect for everyone. We are your neighbors and this is our home, too. We pray for understanding and an end to hate. Please stand with us.

Fatima and Basima Abdelsalam
Bethany Beach

Then Delawareliberal picked it up (as Breaking: Indian River School District Teacher Still Employed) and pushed it out to that paragon of journalistic integrity, the daily kos, which drew (to this point) 385 comments like:

"There was a Muslim child in the class who has been marked for life by being told in front of her peers that her religion is scary and different. I'd fire her. But if they're going to suspend her, at least they could make her pay for some counseling to counteract this nastiness."

"She should be suspended and forced to visit a mosque and actually speak to some real Muslims. The school should also institute a policy where teachers are NOT allowed to discuss their personal opinion of politicians with students."

"There is no circumstance under which what the teacher in the article did is OK. That district should be awash in lawsuits. Wonder what, if anything, Barack will say/do about it?"

"Maybe it's up to us to do something. I wonder if we could get an email address for the school board in Delaware. Perhaps a gentle reminder that the entire country is watching them would be helpful."

"My social studies teacher was fired for having us all read "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". This was back in the 70's. I can see nothing's really changed. Truth is still a subject not usually taught in American schools."

"If she actually spent a couple of hours with some Muslims I'm sure it would change her attitude. The school needs to fire her or offer her a chance to make amends (and what better way than by visiting a mosque and learning what Islam is really about)? "

Reading through the first 100 comments, I found exactly one that advised caution in assuming the story was true:

Note the letter at the end of the diary. While there's cause for concern, it's possible that the events didn't happen as they were reported, and this will need to be investigated before anybody can be sure there was real wrongdoing here.

On Democratic Underground (Comment #21), one commenter felt empowered to publish the names, email addresses and photos of all the fifth grade teachers in the school (since the teacher is unnamed in the original article) and suggest that people begin emailing them. The comments here run the same gamut:

"Being a teacher does not preclude you from being thick as pig shit."

"For a School District to permit this type of behavior by their teachers is inexcusable. I hope the family takes a big chunk of money from them, for it seems they have a course of allowing prejudice to continue unabated."

My personal favorite was the letter one commenter apparently sent to the Indian River School District that assumes automatically that this second-hand charge (her sisters wrote the letter) by a single 10 year old was (a) true and (b) that the district was not doing anything to investigate it:

Dear Lord Baltimore School,

I just read the disturbing story about one of the 5th grade teachers opting to infuse her personal political views upon her students on one of the big political news sites. [Notice that now, in this letter, it is a straight news story and not an unsubstantiated assertion.]

Besides the very nature of infusing one's personal political views to one's students being wrong, this teacher is obviously SO ill informed that she took text from some spam email that preys upon fear, hate, bigotry, and lies and decided to present this to her students as fact. It is low and disgusting in nature among adults but to infuse this hate and bigotry upon 10 year olds is beyond repulsive.

Instead of personally debunking this gibberish, I will provide a link that debunks these false statements:

There is NO place in our educational system to teach hate, bigotry, and fear. Apparently this teacher stated that Barack "believes in different things and is scary". What is more frightening than believing in "different things" is the fact that this woman is allowed to teach children this drivel.

It is the role of the PARENTS to teach their children politics, and if those parents choose to teach their children hate then as wrong as it is, it remains their prerogative.

I scoured the web site and conveniently the page that gives the administrators and front office information is disabled, I would ask that one of you please send this on to the principals office and if you personally find this offensive please pass this on to the leaders of the school board. Hate has no place in the classroom, neither does this teacher.



Now let's get a couple of things straight: the Indian River School District does not have a squeaky clean record with respect to cultural diversity. And this might have happened exactly as the 10 year old alleged.

Or it might not. It could have been generated whole cloth (if you think that's impossible, you don't know 10 year olds very well); it might have been misheard or misunderstood.

In either case, there is an American concept that I find it difficult to accept that our polarized society has thrown overboard: the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.

The very few voices raised to say--almost apologetically--that we might want to defer judgment until the facts are in, also essentially couple that message with, "But if we find out it's true, THEN we'll get her fired!"


I love the presumption that this teacher is somehow part of the vast right-wing conspiracy and must be made an example of.

And this is what we want to teach our children? Make an error of judgement or be over credulous about believing something and your entire career--every child you've ever touched and helped, every positive thing you may ever have done--is to be thrown away in a public spectacle of something I cannot even label attack journalism for the simple reason that there has been NO JOURNALISM at all involved in this case.

Nobody among the hundreds and thousands of people did or even really demanded a goddamn fact check.

And from that perspective it doesn't matter whether this teacher actually said these things or not, because everyone was willing to cyber-lynch her, her fellow teachers, and the entire freaking district without any evidence other than a single allegation.

One of the commenters wondered if Barack Obama himself would make a statement about this issue. I really hope not.

The man who wants to change the way we do business in this country, who wants to change the way we treat each other, who wants to set a new and higher standard--that man (if he wants to be MY president)--better avoid sensationalizing this incident, and better show compassion rather than anger.

Now I want everyone else to stop and think: how many times have you been taken in on this little evidence, and suckered into passing judgements on people you've never met, just because the charge fit your particular world-view of what always happens?

And when you were wrong, were you willing (or even capable) giving that person their life back?


Shirley Vandever said...

I was able to follow a little bit of this yesterday and was bothered by the bloodlust.

Why are we so quick to judge, and so gleefully willing to ruin the reputation of someone on the allegations of a 10 year old?

You are right, there is absolutely no reporting here. Just a good old fashioned lynch mob. Whatever the true facts may be, they should be found out, not assumed and conjectured upon ad nauseum.

It's ugly. It's un-American.

Anonymous said...

Still no comment from IRSD.

What are they hiding?

Steve Newton said...

They may well be hiding something; that's not my point. They may also be taking the time necessary to reach a considered decision about what happened and what to do about it. That's nowhere near the clear-cut decision everybody seems to think.

My point--again--is that, to take Shirley's words, the McCarthy-est teacher pogrom ignited by the Daily Kos is both ugly and un-American.

Whatever did happen to innocent until presumed guilty?