The New York Times has has this remarkable article about the high school teacher in New Jersey who was using his class as a mission field:
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.
“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.”
New Jersey, folks. That’s a blue state.
But the really remarkable part of the article comes later:
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, Kearnyontheweb.com, called for Matthew’s suspension.
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.”
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.
Judging from Ms. Coelho’s statement, I think we can infer that Mr. Paszkiewicz is teaching nonsense about the Constitution, in addition to his other sins. The First Amendment does not give the teacher the right to try to convert his students. The Supreme Court has been pretty clear about that.
I had heard about this story a while ago, but didn’t think all that much of it. Obviously this teacher was crazy, and appropriate action would be taken. But I was stunned to read that most people in the community are supporting the teacher in this. I find that incomprehensible. It gets even worse when you consider some of the dopey things they’re saying in his defense:
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.
Yeah, like the cops baited Mel Gibson into his anti-semitic rant.
Part of being a high school teacher is learning how not to be baited by your students. If teenagers are able to get under your skin merely by asking a few questions, then high school teaching is the wrong occupation for you.
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.
Mr. Viscuso seems like a charming fellow. I’m trying to picture the situation. Matthew’s parents ask him what he did in school that day. Matthew tells them about his lunatic history teacher telling the class about their fate in the afterlife and how Jesus died for their sins. “Ch-ching!” say the parents, with an evil laugh.
People like Mr. Paszkiewicz and his supporters are far more common than people want to think. This story should be an eye-opener to anyone confused on that point.