Classroom Prostletyzing

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.

Comments

  1. #1 David D.G.
    December 18, 2006

    From the newspaper article: “One teacher, who did not give his name, said he thought both Matthew and his teacher had done the right thing. ‘The student had the right to do what he did,’ the man said. As for Mr. Paszkiewicz, ‘He had the right to say what he said, he was not preaching, and that’s something I’m very much against.’”

    I am not surprised that teacher didn’t want to give his name, considering how skewed his sense of reality is. The student was “right” to report the man, who wasn’t doing anything wrong?!? What nonsense! That’s worthy of Lewis Carroll! And “not preaching,” indeed! What the heck else can it be called, especially when HE is the one initiating it all, repeatedly, and making arrogant religious judgment calls against students not of his religion?

    So there are at least two teachers at this school who see no problem with proselytizing to captive student audiences against the express commands of the Constitution and the Supreme Court, and apparently the majority of the local population — or at least of students and administrators at this school — is right in step with them. It seems that this “blue state” has an awfully strong concentration of infra-RED in this one community!

    Poor kid. I hope he gets through this okay, with no more than the mostly anti-geek harassment he’s gotten so far — certainly no more death threats or the like. THAT needs to be stomped on, hard; if the administration has ANY integrity at all, it should be condemning any such actions stridently. And I hope that this entire school gets a thorough investigation into the apparently endemic religious fundamentalism that has crept into it; that needs to be expunged, at least as far as expressing it while “on the clock” is concerned.

    ~David D.G.

  2. #2 Elijah
    December 19, 2006

    The public reaction to this is downright frightening. I checked out the public message board for the town – pages of primitive personal attacks against Matthew. I found a thread in support of the family’s actions, but my comment didn’t immediately show up… because the board is moderated. What’s the point of moderating if you allow dozens of posts along the lines of “ur STUPADS adn i haet u”? Bah. They don’t eveb moderate out the death threats. I wonder if they’re only moderating the people in support of his actions?

  3. #3 Jon S
    December 19, 2006

    Elijah, I guess we all get moderated, depending on what sites we try posting to. Even me!

    Anywho, I agree the teacher has the right to say what he said, and the student certainly has the right to do what he did. That’s not nonsense, that’s simply the way it is. And if you hate Christians, well, that’s ok too, but we still have constitutional rights that we’re allowed to exercise. This really should be a non-issue. Even atheists do their share of preaching in public schools. The only issue I do have is the death threats… I think we can all agree those are uncalled for and morally wrong.

  4. #4 nausikaa
    December 24, 2006

    Excuse me, Jon S, but I AM a Christian. I believe that when Jesus of Nazareth said love thy neighbor, HE MEANT WHAT HE SAID. He DIDN’T “really” mean, “trash thy neighbor whenever thee gets the chance, if his views don’t exactly correspond to thine.” I just hope I’m not the only Christian left in America who feels heartsick at what is being done by people like Davis Paszkiewicz in the name of Our Lord.

  5. #5 Jon S
    December 24, 2006

    nausikaa- I’m glad you’re a fellow Christian. I agree that Jesus never said ‘Trash thy neighbor whenever thee gets the chance, if his views don’t exactly correspond to thine.’ Do you agree with my views? And are you trashing my views simply because you don’t agree with them? If you are trashing my views, then you’re being hypocritical, which Jesus condemed the Pharisees and Saducees for. Now I’m not sure what I posted that you’ve taken offense at. I don’t think I trashed anybody, or said anything offensive. I think you’re being overly sensitive. My post was simply my opinion, and it doesn’t really matter how many Christians would agree with me or not. I believe my opinion is quite rational and well thought out. The teacher, in fact, does have a constitutional right to say what he said. The Constitution protects free speech, and does not prohibit religion. It does prohibit congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I’m not sure how you can be critical of the teacher when he did nothing wrong. Perhaps you don’t like what he did, or my response. But that’s irrelevant. Teachers do a lot of things I don’t like, but here’s one who’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes and is being attacked by liberal atheists, and I think that’s wrong. But I do know I’m not the only Christian in America who feels heartsick at what is being done by atheists in the name of atheism. How about you?

  6. #6 T. Smith
    January 5, 2007

    Bravo Jon S!

  7. #7 Penny
    February 1, 2007

    I’m not American and I’m confused. Does your Constitution really say it’s acceptable for a teacher in a publicly funded school to say a student is condemned to hell? I thought freedom of religion meant at least partly freedom from religious persecution, what this teacher was doing to the non-Christian students sounds like religious persecution. And I understand about free speech, but I don’t understand how parents could allow a teacher to teach 6th graders that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark. Free speech doesn’t mean I could keep a good teaching job while promoting a flat earth, does it?

  8. #8 Horia
    January 13, 2008

    scary…i`m shocked , terrified…and that will probably degenerate in even more anger against each and all theists , but then again i`m only human . Teaching religion as fact to kids is highly irresponsible if not downright criminal