Kearney Bans Taping

Remember Kearney, NJ? That was where history teacher David Paszkiewicz routinely lectured his students on the fine points of getting into heaven and about which trendy scientific theories were not scientific. I described the basic facts of the case in this post.

The case was remarkable not just because a teacher grossly overstepped his classroom authority, but because the community largely supported him against the student who recorded his classes. Rather remarkable behavior, especially from the blue states. The story was a useful reminder that all those folks who state so casually that the “vast majority” of religious people in America are of the moderate variety have little basis for that assertion.

Anyway, the New York Times reports on the latest development in the case:

After a public school teacher was recorded telling students they belonged in hell if they did not accept Jesus as their savior, the school board has banned taping in class without an instructor’s permission, and has added training for teachers on the legal requirements for separating church and state.

A junior at Kearny High School in New Jersey, Matthew LaClair, 16, complained to his principal after the teacher in his American history class, David Paszkiewicz, told students 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. He started recording the comments in September because, he said, he was afraid school officials would not otherwise believe that the teacher had made them. Matthew said he was ridiculed and threatened after his criticism became public.

Right. The problem was not that you had a gibbering lunatic instructing the youth, but rather that he was caught on tape in mid-gibber. And somehow I don’t think the problem with Mr. Paszkiewicz was his ignorance of the niceties of church/state separation.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    February 1, 2007

    Mark Twain said god invented idiots for practice, then god made school boards.

  2. #2 Ginger Yellow
    February 1, 2007

    You’d think a school would be pleased that its students are paying attention to what its teachers are saying.

  3. #3 Madrocketscientist
    February 1, 2007

    When you outlaw taping…

    Seriously, a rule for High Schoolers that taping an instructor is not allowed. Students return to class with ingenious hidden recorders in 3…2…1…

  4. #4 Girl sitting in a cafe in Rickmansworth
    February 1, 2007

    Anyone know if the audio is available on the Internet yet?

  5. #5 mark
    February 1, 2007

    On the brighter side, the Dover School Board will now be televising its meetings.

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    February 1, 2007

    GsiaciR:

    The audio and some amateur transcripts are available in this Pharyngula thread.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    February 1, 2007

    Great bolshy yarblockos:

    Meanwhile, Matthew said that Mr. Paszkiewicz recently told the class that scientists who spoke about the danger of global warming were using tactics like those Hitler used, by repeating a lie often enough that people come to believe it.

    I call Godwin on that!

  8. #8 Aaron Kinney
    February 1, 2007

    “…let’s go burn down the observatory so this will never happen again!”

    -Moe Szyslak, from The Simpsons, responding to a meteorite that almost destroyed his hometown of Springfield.

  9. #9 Keanus
    February 1, 2007

    Good religious practice: Burn the messenger if you don’t like the message. Bush may pick up on this and ban reporters at his press conferences.

  10. #10 JohnnieCanuck
    February 1, 2007

    It is hard to see how they can hide from themselves how foolish and deceitful this makes them appear to the world.

  11. #11 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 1, 2007

    For some reason this story reminds me of George Carlin’s line that we live in a country where cigarette smoking kills 400,000 people a year, so we ban artificial sweetners. Because a rat died.

  12. #12 BC
    February 1, 2007

    So, basically, the school board is reducing the population’s ability to watch its teachers, while the federal government is expanding its power to watch everyone else.

  13. #13 Jeb Baugh
    February 1, 2007

    @JohnnieCanuck

    Too bad those people don’t care how foolish and deceitful it makes them look. They do, afterall, have god on their side so they are automatically Right.

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    February 1, 2007

    The problem was not that you had a gibbering lunatic instructing the youth, but rather that he was caught on tape in mid-gibber.

    Nixon was pardoned by Ford.

  15. #15 DaveC
    February 1, 2007

    Everyone is carrying on about the tape catching the the orator (I cannot call him a teacher because he isn’t in this case) preaching in school. The most despicable part of this whole incident to me is the fact that when confronted in the headteacher’s office he denied all, and everything, expecting his word as an adult and a teacher to trump the student’s. It probably would have too, if it hadn’t been for the tape recording.
    The teacher lied in an investigation into unprofessional conduct. The teacher breached all ethical and professional guidelines by that one action alone and should have been disciplined for that. How can any of the student’s trust the words of a man who has so publicly proved he is willing to sacrifice the truth and a student’s future for his own gain.
    I guess lying must be ok if you lie for christ.

    my my I am depressed

  16. #16 Ginger Yellow
    February 1, 2007

    Good religious practice: Burn the messenger if you don’t like the message. Bush may pick up on this and ban reporters at his press conferences.

    Or just run them over with a tractor.

  17. #17 Greta Christina
    February 2, 2007

    Now that the top of my head has finished blowing off, I just have one question:

    Is the ACLU on this?

  18. #18 Jess
    February 2, 2007

    I wonder how the ruling would impact disabled students and their academic accommodations: taping lectures for later replay is a common tool for people who can’t process verbal info or write quickly. Sure, the student has legal right to reasonable accommodations, but this isn’t easily enforced.

  19. #19 Willy
    February 2, 2007

    As a former school board member (Not of Kearney, NJ) this makes me wonder what the board vote was on this…7-0 or 4-3? Was there a reasonable person in the room when they debated this?

    My problem is (from the NY Times article): “After several students complained to the school board that their voices had been broadcast on the Internet and on television news programs without their consent…”

    Couple of points here: 1) Students are not able to give permission (unless they’re 18); and 2) voices without attribution are surely anonymous, a key to whether the practice invades any student’s privacy.

  20. #20 matthew
    February 2, 2007

    this is disgraceful

  21. #21 slpage
    February 2, 2007

    Well, let’s not paint all school boards with a broad bad brush. I serve on our local school board, and of the 5 members, all have at least some college education, and 3 have post-grad degrees. The board’s make-up is roughly 2 conservatives, 2 liberals, and one moderate (so nothing ever gets done, right?). And none of us are extremists and since I have been on the board, our votes on issues ranging from budgets to resolutions to granting club charters have been unanimous (I will say we have not yet done curriculum issues).

    There are certainly folks in the community that would love to be on the board that would immediately try to force IDcreationism and prayer in the schools, etc., but I don’t think those folks would get elected, and even if they did, I doubt such measures would get passed by the board as a whole.

    But that is where I live.

    Clearly, they are places where loons get on boards and try to inflict all with their idiocy. This is one of the pitfalls of ‘local control’ of schools – it sounds nice politically, but when it is possible for a grade-school drop out or some extremist to get elected to a school board (it has happened), one needs to reconsider the politically feasible niceties of local control.

  22. #22 Dorid
    February 2, 2007

    When I was teaching in Florida, I had one substitute come into my class and the next day all of my classes complained about him. He was a youth pastor, and told all my students that they weren’t following today’s lesson plan, but that he wanted to talk to them about God. Then he went on to talk about how they were all going to Hell. One girl, whose mother had committed suicide after doctors changed her anti-depressants was singled out being told that her mother was in Hell because she killed herself AND if she’d had enough faith, Jesus would have taken her illness away.

    When I went to the administration I was told that this individual was a friend of the district, and a personal friend of the administration, and that the kids needed to hear what he had to say. They refused to ban him from substituting, but I was allowed to ban him from my classroom.

    There are some school districts now who routinely tape their teachers… and yet are upset if a STUDENT brings in a tape recorder. I taught in one of THOSE in GA.

    I’m afraid the problem is broader than what teachers say in the classroom; it’s that there are no checks and balances when it comes to the power held by the administration.

  23. #23 Frank
    February 2, 2007

    We should eliminate tenure. That way the school board could fire the bad performer.

  24. #24 Grumpy Physicist
    February 2, 2007

    Frank: maybe the IDiot has tenure, does that protect him from dismissal because he BLATENTLY LIED to his own school administration about what he had done, during the investigation of the dispute?

    Yeah, maybe there’s a contract issue. The guy should have to wear a big “LIAR!” sign around his neck for the remainder of his teaching career.

    And if the school board follows through in banning student tape recording, then they might as well change the school mascot to the Ostrich, while they’re at it.

  25. #25 Ben
    February 2, 2007

    Unfortunately in my experience a lot of Administrators aren’t exactly interested in teaching or the quality of the education people are recieving. Either through personality flaws of their own or through years of being institutionalized… they’re more interested in “keeping order.” There’s a very anti-student bent to some Administrators… also… An administrator only has to deal with a particular student for a few years at most.. they have to deal with those teachers for decades.

  26. #26 JohnnieCanuck
    February 2, 2007

    And Ford convinced himself he had to pardon Nixon lest he himself be judged. Ford hid his deep religious convictions because he didn’t want to use them the way Bush does, to get votes.

    Unfortunately his Sunday school progamming gave him to believe that there would be consequences for him in the afterlife, if he didn’t pardon Nixon.

    Too bad a test for the absence of religion couldn’t be applied to seekers of public office. [/tongue in cheek]

  27. #27 arensb
    February 2, 2007

    There are devices that can be attached to my PDA and iPod to allow them to record sound. My cell phone can record something like half an hour of video. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gameboys and watches could do the same. So how exactly are they planning on enforcing this ban?

  28. #28 BirdAdvocate
    February 2, 2007

    Ignorance is it’s own punishment.

  29. #29 Clutch
    February 2, 2007

    The problem is not tenure. The problem is not that he can’t be fired. It’s that the board and the community are on his side. They don’t want him fired; they don’t want him disciplined; they just want the troublemaking atheists (kid and his father) to shut up and leave the decent, god-fearing community insider alone.

  30. #30 J. J. Ramsey
    February 2, 2007

    arensb: “There are devices that can be attached to my PDA and iPod to allow them to record sound. My cell phone can record something like half an hour of video. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gameboys and watches could do the same. So how exactly are they planning on enforcing this ban?”

    They could certainly ban iPods, cell phones, and Gameboys from the classroom on the grounds that they are distractions. A PDA might be harder to justify banning.

  31. #31 Jake
    February 2, 2007

    Ignorance is it’s own punishment.

    I’m punished by others’ ignorance all the time.

  32. #32 arensb
    February 3, 2007

    J. J. Ramsey:

    They could certainly ban iPods, cell phones, and Gameboys from the classroom on the grounds that they are distractions. A PDA might be harder to justify banning.

    My point was not that such things can’t be banned. Courthouses already ban cell phones with cameras, because they ban cameras; likewise, the school can ban PDAs with microphones because they ban recording devices.

    Rather, I was pointing out that recording devices are ubiquitous, so the policy really won’t prevent anyone from recording anything, as long as they’re reasonably discreet about it. Hence, the policy can’t be enforced.

    Yes, there’s the fact that next time, the student won’t be able to confront the principal with the evidence without admitting that he broke the rules. But that just means that the next recording will “mysteriously” pop up on the Internet, rather than being brought out in the principal’s office.

  33. #33 Christopher Bingham
    February 4, 2007

    Isn’t there a really solid argument that the teaching works in a public school are public domain and the district CAN’T ban the taping? We pay for the teaching, the kids have a right to tape. All through college a lot of kids I knew just taped the lectures, rather than taking notes.

  34. #34 Andy
    February 5, 2007

    Back in the mid 90s, I had a high school world history teacher who devoted two weeks of class time to his life story and how he became a christian. He then showed the class a creationist video. We studied very little world history that semester, but I do recall that we focused on the protestant reformation. If I had known then what I know now, I would have taped it and gotten him fired….

  35. #35 TheFallibleFiend
    February 6, 2007

    My 17 yo is taking 11th grade history. The teacher told two stories to the students about ghosts … no, not the fake stuff, these are the REAL ghosts. (snort!)

  36. #36 David D.G.
    February 6, 2007

    Hey, TheFallibleFiend: Who ya gonna call?

    ;^D

    ~David D.G.

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