High School teachers have the awesome power to shape minds. They also have the equally awesome responsibility not to abuse that power. In a politically charged time, one teacher in Virginia lost her mind over her personal politics. Politics and the poisonous acrimony of the election don’t belong in the classroom, at least not as political rants. The teacher in this video has become a propagandist and political provocateur, rather than mentor and educator. Sadly, some people can no longer separate their real lives from the political anger and activism they consume in their self-selected, opinion-reinforcing, social-media echo chamber. This week, a concerned citizen sent to me a video tape of a recording obtained from inside a Northern Virginia high school classroom. The political rant caught here on tape is troubling.
The tape was only edited by me to ensure that glimpses of student faces in the opening and closing two seconds were not seen. Nothing is cut from that tape that changes the political, deliberately false, sneering commentary made by a teacher to her class about events surrounding a Senate Committee hearing on a Trump cabinet appointee. Indeed, the only thing cut from the end of the tape was the teacher remarkably finishing her rant by saying, “I don’t want to get political.”
The students in this class, to my understanding, were primarily freshman. For those of us who have High School kids, we certainly understand how impressionable they can be. Notice, this teacher begins discussing the importance of “checks and balances” in our country. No one disputes that. She then says that “the Republicans, which are in the majority in the Senate, the House … and everything else, have decided to do what they want.” By this she infers that the GOP has upset the checks and balances she says are in the Constitution. She then claims that while the committees, like “clubs” have rules, the Republicans decided on that day to “suspend the rules and do what they want.” Of course, the key to her deception is and the GOP malfeasance manifests itself when she explains to the students that republicans can do this because the “democrats weren’t there today.”
Nowhere in this description of events does she give her students context about the committee, its rules, or far more importantly, why the democrats were not there that day. In fact, if you listen to the tape closely, she almost misspeaks by telling the truth that the democrats, in political protest, refused to attend the committee hearing in order to prevent a vote. Instead, she tells these 13, 14, and 15 year-olds that the democrats just weren’t there, and so the republicans changed the rules on them, as if they waited until they went to lunch to steal their Twinkies.
As this teacher describes our political process, the Republicans said, “let’s just throw out the rules and do what we want.” She later tells the students, “that’s exactly what they did.” She then lets the kids know she gets her description from “reading the news … the real news.” She doesn’t tell the students what the real news source is, nor does she explain her statement about real news versus fake or false news. Her very powerful statement to those kids is unmistakable. Her message was harsh. I am giving you the news … from a trusted source and through a trusted source. I am telling you, the Republicans unfairly changed the rules today when the Democrats were away to do what they want and to eliminate our system of checks and balances.
This can’t happen in a high school.
She ends with a dramatic statement saying “there’s no laws all the sudden.” She also says, with the same unmistakably sneering voice, that the Republicans decided, “well … we don’t like the rules today, so we are going to suspend them for today. And, that’s exactly what they did.” Almost nothing this teacher says in this tape is true. To the extent it is true, it is falsely and dangerously misleading to the students because of how it was presented.
Discussing hot issues and current political events with this age group requires tact, knowledge, fairness, and accuracy. This teacher used none of those skills in her presentation. For example, rules governing committees in the Senate are made up by the Senate, and they are not “laws.” Likewise, they are not Constitutional checks and balances. They are rules for how the deliberative body will work. While the Senate, in the interest of comity, permits the minority party a voice and a set of procedures, the rules are a function of the majority. Of course the Senate follows tradition of prior years, and the closer the Senate party split, the more balanced those rules tend to be to afford the minority a voice in our governance.
In the situation described above, the teacher leaves out the critical fact. How does she not tell these kids that the minority refused to participate in the hearing. The minority did not have the votes to stop the nominee, and it ran out of rules and procedures for delaying the vote. Accordingly, without the votes to stop the cabinet appointment, the Democratic senators on that committee and others decided not to show up. They did this to try to stop the vote and deny the President a cabinet by effectively shutting down the committee work. The rule that was changed was the rule requiring a certain number of Senators on the committee to be present in order to have a quorum and call a vote. Without that change, the minority would have abused the rules and denied the vote. Not a single slice of this information was shared with the young students in this class.
Likewise, this teacher might have noted that of the prior four presidents, they all had most of their cabinet set within 14 days of Inauguration. Bush 41 had 9 of 14. Clinton had 13 of 14. Bush 43 had 13 of 14, and Mr. Obama had 12 of 15 nominees approved. After 18 days, with an all GOP majority, Mr. Trump still didn’t have 11 of his 15 cabinet members.
Mind you, undoubtedly many kids in this class have parents who are republicans, or the kids may themselves identify with the republican party. The teacher essentially tried to paint them as part of a group that cheated the Democratic Senators, changed the rules, and effectively destroyed the checks and balances this teacher described to her class.
When I first heard the tape, I thought perhaps that the teacher was simply ignorant or misinformed. That is, so incredulous was I that it occurred to me that this person may not fully understand any of this process, in which case she is at fault for setting out an example without sufficient knowledge. However, after my second, third, and 20th listen, it was obvious from the tone, the intentional slip-up in the description, and the way the entire issue was framed that this was pure, political, misinformation. This teacher meant to misinform students and to denigrate any student who would align with people who would cheat our checks and balances.
I was not present in this room when the class continued. Is it possible she cleared all this up afterwards? Sure, but I don’t think so because of the way she misrepresented the facts.
The political opinions of teachers don’t belong in public high school classrooms. They certainly don’t belong masquerading as facts when they are flagrantly incorrect. Indeed, a class discussion about this subject, cabinet appointments, Senate procedures and rule-making is great. I’d love to teach that. And, this teacher has every right to do so. Her students would be better for it. Giving her opinion, without facts, is not the way to do it. Moreover, for every kid in that class who identifies as a republican, a rant like this puts them on notice that their opinions are best kept to themselves. That chilling effect on student participation is why I can rarely imagine how, at this level, disclosing one’s political bias to children in the classroom, even fairly and honestly, is useful.
We have all heard these stories, and my own kids can tell stories of teachers who have brought person political opinions into a classroom. Those opinions have no space in our public high schools, no matter what side of the aisle or issue.
I don’t have any interest in a political witch-hunt with respect to this teacher. Nor am I suggesting that she should lose her job. However, she needs to apologize to her class, and the district and department need to clarify the boundaries of political speech by teachers inside our public schools. There’s apparently, all the sudden, no check on political propaganda in our schools.
Author: Richard Kelsey
Richard Kelsey is the Editor-in-Chief of Committed Conservative.
He is a trial Attorney and author of the new book on higher education, “Of Serfs and Lords: Why College Tuition is Creating a Debtor Class”
Rich is a former Assistant Law School Dean and Law Professor. At Mason Law Kelsey conceived of, planned, and brought to fruition Mason’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, known as CPIP, drawing on his expertise as a former CEO of a technology company specializing in combating cyber-fraud.
Before returning to private practice, Rich taught legal writing and analysis and an advanced litigation seminar. In 2014 he was elected by the graduating class as the faculty speaker at their graduation.
He is a regular commentator on legal and political issues in print, radio and on TV. Rich has appeared on hundreds of stations as a legal expert or political commentator. He provided the legal analysis for all stages of the Bob McDonnell trial and appeal for numerous outlets including NPR and WMAL.
Rich also writes on occasion for the American Spectator and CNSNews.com.
In his free time, Rich is part of the baseball mafia of Northern Virginia, serving on numerous boards and as a little league and travel baseball coach.
His Twitter handle is @richkelsey.