Sixth-grader Bella Moscato of Long Island was excited about the assignment her teacher gave the class: write about someone you consider your hero. But when Bella chose Donald Trump as her subject the teacher was aghast. She vetoed Bella’s choice in front of classmates explaining that the president “spreads negativity and says bad stuff about women.”
When Bella’s parents heard of this they were livid. “This is censoring of a child and shutting down her First Amendment rights,” mom Valerie Moscato explained to a reporter when the story took an interesting turn. Mrs. Moscato not only confronted the teacher but followed up with the District Superintendent. Bella eventually wrote of Trump but also contacted the White House about the incident. To her surprise, she received a letter from the president praising her stand. That’s when Newsday sent a reporter to cover the story.
Clearly, Donald Trump is despised by many Americans, and the definition of “hero” is subjective. But this is another example of politics in the classroom. Earlier this month, I wrote about the sixth grade teacher in Palatine, IL who directed her students to the internet to learn “the truth about Christopher Columbus.” She then submitted their cookie-cutter, mistake-filled essays to her state legislator urging him to vote against Columbus Day.
We would be naïve in viewing any classroom as a sterile laboratory for independent thinking. Especially in elementary school, the goal of education includes molding good citizens. If Bella considered Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin as her hero, the teacher would be rightly concerned. However, as our nation transitions into fractious political agendas educators are treading on thin ice.
I recall the day in junior high when we were shown the film A Man Without a Country, about a 18th Century American soldier who denounced the United States and was sentenced to life imprisonment on a warship, never to hear a word about his betrayed country. The film was the MAGA cap of its day (“Make America Great Again”), not likely to pass muster with anti-nationalists.
Even universities are succumbing to group-think at the cost of free speech. There are new “norms” that challenge any hint of racism, conservativism, or anti-Semitism. Rather than college officials applying the norms, it is the student body – or a vocal part of it – that determines what is allowed. We saw how administrators at Notre Dame University caved in to a few students and covered up century-old murals of Columbus’s landing in the New World.
At my college in the 1960s, controversial speakers were tolerated and opposing discourse was accepted as part of intellectual growth. I attended a peaceful lecture by Black Panther Stokely Carmichael at the height of the nation’s racial tensions and the Vietnam War. There were no riots or shout-downs. Arch-conservative William Buckley also made the college circuit without incident.
The irony today is that the very Free Speech Movement, first led by proto-leftist student Mario Savio in 1964, that opened universities to political debate has been transformed into an intolerance for non-leftist positions. Criticizing Israeli land annexations is now anti-Semitic, defending Columbus and Western civilization is racist, and so on. Walking out or picketing a controversial conservative is simply not enough today. He or she needs to be drowned out or assaulted.
Among Italian Studies centers at universities even the old Italian anarchists may be treated with sympathy, despite their deadly mission “to make the world better, one assassination at a time.” These centers stay clear of defending Columbus or any subject of real value to our intellectual growth. Like the Italian Academy at Columbia University, the mission and the functions of these low-energy centers will be hijacked by more assertive groups.
Our education system – from elementary through college – has become susceptible to manipulation. Although they consider themselves above politics and trends, administrators and faculty alike are becoming pawns to political correctness and interest groups.
To steer the system back to the center would be deemed fascistic in this toxic environment. -JLM