When the teacher is wrong — and a bully

It’s illegal to disrespect the president, a North Carolina high school teacher told a student in an audiotape that turned up on YouTube. The social studies teacher raised the Washington Post story charging Romney bullied a high school classmate with long hair, reports the Salisbury Post.  A student responded that Obama has admitted bullying a girl in school.  (In Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that he pushed down an unpopular black girl in — I think it was sixth grade — after he was teased about her being his “girlfriend.”)

“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” (the teacher) says. Romney, she says, is “running for president. Obama is the president.”

When the student says they’re both “just men,” the teacher continues to argue that Romney, as a candidate for president, is not to be afforded the same respect as the president.

The teacher tells the class Obama is “due the respect that every other president is due.”

“Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” she says.

. . . Later in the conversation, the teacher tells the class it’s criminal to slander a president.

“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?”

The student responds by saying being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech.

“You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion. … They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.”

The student is correct, of course. The teacher is . . . Sadly misinformed and a bit of a bully.

About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m hesitant to judge a teacher based on a single, out-of-context episode. But this is pretty pathetic.

    She seems well-intentioned and earnest. But that’s the nicest thing I can think of to say.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    I suppose that depends on what you think her intentions were and what you think of them.

    Well, lot of people talked s88t about Bush.
    Yeah, he was s88tty.
    Maybe I don’t see the good intentions here.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      If you listen all the way through, it becomes pretty evident that, in her overbearing, inappropriate way, she really believes what she’s saying and she’s trying to get the kids to understand it.

      She’s grossly mistaken, and a bit of a bully. She seems intellectually insecure, too, despite her unwavering insistence on her points. But to my ear it doesn’t sound as if she’s being disingenuous.

      So… “well-intentioned and earnest.” Grossly mistaken and probably none too bright? Sure. Fit to teach? Probably not, based on this.

      But who knows… maybe she was just off her meds that day.

      • Christina Lordeman says:

        I think her intentions are irrelevant here. She’s ignorant, rude, and apparently knows less about the president she worships than this student does. I also question the intentions of any teacher who chooses to go on a tirade like that when she should be teaching, spending 10 minutes forcing her opinion on a student while the rest of the class sits there idly. Asserting her opinion was more important to her than doing her job. That’s how I see it, anyways.

  3. Isn’t North Carolina one of those right-to-work states where the teacher can be fired at will? (Rhetorical question — yes, it is.) I thought getting rid of teachers’ unions was supposed to eliminate bad teachers and solve all the problems of education.

    • Hmmm…I never heard those things would result from getting rid of teachers’ unions. Where did you hear that? Sources, please. I think you’ll find you left out a key phrase: “supposed to make it easier to eliminate…” Also, “solve SOME of the problems…” In California, what options would the school district have if this teacher remained recalcitrant after being made to sit through a high school civics class, then sensitivity training (in other words, due process)? You surely don’t think she could actually be fired, do you?

    • Christina Lordeman says:

      “Right-to-work” doesn’t mean there are no unions, nor does it mean teachers can be easily fired. It simply means that teachers cannot be forced to pay union dues (as they are in so-called forced-unionism states).

      • Teachers can be exempted from paying union dues in other states. And it’s just not true that teachers have union protection in right-to-work states. They do not. That’s false information.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Caroline, I’m sure you know this but some people may be getting the wrong idea. In “right-to-work” states, there are no prohibitions on starting or joining a union. The union is not prohibited from doing anything in the way of protecting its members.

          What is different is that teachers cannot be required to join a particular union in order to be hired. In many states, the union also has to collect dues itself. They are not automatically deducted from paychecks by the school system.

          Of course, this means that the union may have fewer resources to defend its members.

  4. North Carolina public school teachers have tenure after three years. After that, they may not be fired (or have their contracts not renewed) for reasons that are “arbitrary,” “capricious,” “personal,” “discriminatory” or “political”.

    • But @MikeP, who is to ensure that? Teachers in North Carolina have no unions to ensure that any of those rules are followed.

      So again, this conclusively blows out of the water the constant blame of teachers’ unions for all the challenges of public education.

      Norm, if you start following the education policy discussion you’ll immediately notice this. It’s the primary message, the bread and butter, of the billionaire-funded so-called education “reformers.”

      • Here’s a far-right diatribe against teachers’ unions from a right-wing policy shop commentator:
        “The Golden State’s education tailspin has been blamed on everything from class sizes to the property-tax restrictions enforced by Proposition 13 to an influx of Spanish-speaking students. But no portrait of the system’s downfall would be complete without a depiction of the CTA, a political behemoth that blocks meaningful education reform, protects failing and even criminal educators, and inflates teacher pay and benefits to unsustainable levels.”

        The LA Times ran a shorter commentary from this same guy last week. Again, this is the so-called education “reformers’ ” main theme — teachers’ unions are the primary culprits for the problems of public education. And it is regularly echoed in the mainstream press — editorial boards are almost totally bought in.

        So, how do they explain this bad teacher in blissfully union-free North Carolina, which based on their arguments should be one of the states with the nation’s highest academic achievement, along with all the other non-union states?

        In reality, by the way, the union-free states consistently have the lowest academic achievement, and the states with the highest academic achievement are the states with the strongest unions. The so-called “reformers” (and the inexplicably true-believing editorial boards) just ignore that reality.

        • CaliforniaTeacher says:

          And for the record, Finland has one of the most highly unionized teaching forces on the planet.

          I’m just sayin’.

          • Plenty of teachers in N.C. are members of unions, and those unions will and do defend them during disciplinary actions or firings.

  5. It’s ironic that a high school social teacher doesn’t know what rights that a person is entitled to… such as freedom of speech. Basically, the student is just saying “they’re nothing special to me.” The social studies teacher confuses the student’s value of President Obama with slander. But yea, by that student stating the value of President Obama, she is stating something about herself (i.e. how she feels about President Obama rather than what President Obama is). I think it’s just because the social studies teacher reveres presidential status so much that she considers it slander.

  6. Years ago the sociologist David Reisman (The Lonely Crowd ) recommended that Social Studies not be part of the pre-college curriculum since, he wrote, many teachers would not resist the temptation to indoctrinate students. State (government, generally) provision of History, Economics, and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers and broadcast news media would be, and are in totalitarian countries like Cuba and North Korea.

  7. Ignernt Person says:

    There is a difference between slander (saying what is untrue) and calumny (saying what is true yet unpleasant).

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    If she revered the office of president, she wouldn’t have said Bush was s88tty.
    She clearly reveres Obama and will blow off his documented–presuming that Obama saying something counts as documenting– bullying of a black girl because…he’s Obama.
    IOW, she represents about half the American electorate.

    • There is no ambiguity about Romney’s bullying incident – at age 18 he was an instigator, if not the ringleader, of a group of his peers in attacking a younger student and cutting the boy’s hair off. That’s pretty much a textbook example of bullying.

      On the other hand, you have an incident in which a pre-adolescent child was being hounded by his peers about having a ‘girlfriend’ and responding in a manner he admits was inappropriate (but is quite understandable if you know a whit about the behavior of school aged children) by giving her a slight push.

      If you’re going to say that Obama’s incident is “bullying” or to try to create a false equivalency between Romney’s act and Obama’s…. Now that you have established that you are willing to strip the concept of bullying of any real meaning, in the manner of the worst of the worst anti-bullying policies, and don’t care about the facts, there’s really nothing more to say.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Aaron. There is some ambiguity. One issue is whether it actually happened. None of the witnesses, so-called, were actually there, the family disputes, in vague terms, the incident.
        But the point is not making an equivalence betweem the two incidents–sorry I had to bring that to your attention since you were clearly hoping to slick it past us–but whether the vetting of our candidates is even-handed. Of course it is not, and this is one example of many.
        The other issue here is that the teacher refuses to accept it.
        Hell of an excuse for Obama, too. He was a bully.
        Visualize transparency.

        • Richard, what you said is false. A number of the witnesses quoted in the news report of the incident were present and participated. Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz broke the story, and started by quoting Matthew Friedemann, who participated in the incident.

          Excerpt from article: “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

          He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

          A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

          The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them — Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal — spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be identified. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan. All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections.

          “It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber.

          *** end of excerpt

          The article indicates that all the men named were present at the incident.

          It’s kind of mind-blowing that the response from the Romney side is to falsely claim that the Post report didn’t quote any witnesses. Flat-out lying is the best they can do?


  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Aaron. Thanks for the article. The only WaPo piece I saw was the “witness”
    who said he’d heard about it for the first time several weeks before.
    Now, having said that, as I said above, the ac tual issue about this incident is not whether Romney was a bully, in any sense other than some adolescent males get above themselves. It’s about like the Bush drunk driving charge surfacing just before the election some time back. Stuff happens and some of it is relevant and some of it is not. The relevance of this to some depends on party affiliation. Clearly, those who blow off Obama’s association with Ayers and his unspeakable wife will have no problem with the youthful Obama’s assault on a black girl. That’s clear from your sympathetic description.

    The issue in this case is whether the teacher accepted the student’s question about whether we need to think that Obama was a bully, as well.

    • Actually, very few people would have engaged in the type of attack attributed to Romney, and far fewer would forget their participation in such an attack.

      That said, the relevance of Romney’s conduct is not so much that he engaged in a sadistic act when he was 18. It goes beyond a “prank”, or however Romney is choosing to characterize it, but it’s still something that you can grow past. We all have stupid things we’ve done in the past, we all have things to be sorry for, most of us are a lot more mature at 40 or 60 than we were at 18.

      The relevance is that Romney either cannot remember his act, or is lying in order to avoid having to acknowledge or apologize for his act. If it’s the former, one can only question how regular that sort of brutality was on Romney’s part, such that the attack could fade into a blur of similar “pranks” – the other participants who have spoken out seem haunted by it, and Romney appears to be the only person who claims to have forgotten what happened. On the other side of the equation, if Romney is lying, that also tells us something about his character.

      Please don’t project the supposed criterion that “It only matters if it hurts my party” onto others. If you’re saying that’s how you filter information, that’s good to know, but it’s far from universal.

  10. I think this discussion has deviated from the main point – that this Social Studies teacher made it plain to her students that Obama has a special status other people don’t get to have, that (at least in her class) that he is above reproach, not just another man (as one student made plain to her; he’s just another man – we’re all men [and women] – as Shakespeare said of the King, without his fancy robes on, he is “but a man”).

    In other words, in her eyes, he is divine.

    Scary precendent? Yes. Equally scary was her telling these students that saying something bad about the President (not threatening; just something like “he’s a jerk”) could get you arrested. What does she teach these students about U.S. History, World History, U.S. Government, and Economics that doesn’t get recorded on kids’ iPhones?

  11. The problem is that we have devolved to the point where we have such hero worship for the stars of our resepctive teams (‘blue” and ‘red”) that any sort of honest evaluation of them has fallen by the wayside. We see it in the insane ranting of this teacher (listen to the whole nine minute recording- she makes no sense whatsoever). We also see it in people like Richard Aubrey who first claims that there were no witnesses to Romney’s bullying (without bothering to inform himself of the basic facts of the issue by reading the article) and then, when corrected, tries to say that Obama’a acts consitute something worse than bullying (assault!). His inability to discuss Romney’s acts in an honest and analytical manner mirror this teacher’s inability to discuss her subject matter in an honest and upfront manner. Is this the way of the future? If so, we are done for.

  12. It is quite surprising that a teacher would attempt to suppress the right to free speech within such a context…especially since the right to free speech is usually a point that is hammered home and promoted in most social studies classes. I suppose though that, just like in any job, there are always going to be different levels of knowledge and ability as well as a vast array of opinions – teaching isn’t an exception.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    I used the term “assault” because that’s what it is. My dtr, as I said in another thread, was shoved by a student and the juvie system calls it “assault”. So it’s “assault”.
    Worse, it appears that Obama’s little tormenters were making him feel bad not merely about having a girlfriend–in the sixth grade, that’s fighting words–but that his “girlfriend” was “black”. His response was to shove her. ?????? How about shoving them?
    It is not an equivalence, as I say, and people who support Romney aren’t trying to make it such.
    In the context of the teacher, it’s an example of two items. One is the difference in vetting–Obama and drugs, Obama and hanging with Marxists (all self-described) plus many others ignored ((asbestos & Altgeld)), vs. the usual proctoscope directed at republicans.
    It’s also an example of the teacher’s inability or insistence on not accepting reality if it conflicts with near-worship of Obama. It is, however, a fantastically valuable lesson to the kids of how these things go in public. education.
    I do not worship Romney or the republicans. It happens, however that he/they are the only ones opposing the democrats at this time. Practically, therefore, I have no choice but to vote republican. Which I will until I die, after which I will vote democrat.

  14. Actually, according to the Tinker decision by the USSC, student speech may not be censored simply because one finds it distasteful, insulting, or derogatory, but can be controlled if it is deemed ‘disruptive’. This teacher (who is now on suspension with pay, BTW) should do herself a favor and educate herself on student free speech rights before she returns to the classroom.

    Also, calling the president names is indeed protected free speech, just as calling a police officer four letter words (which has been upheld by numerous state and federal court rulings), but calling the president bad things like a ‘jerk’, ‘idiot’, ‘moron’, etc isn’t enough to get you arrested (or even charged) in the U.S. (and I imaging any school trying it would get slapped with a civil rights lawsuit by the ACLU).


    • I don’t think it’s valid to assume that the ACLU would sue over calling the president a jerk, an idiot or a moron (the scenario doesn’t make sense anyway — a school, as an official policy statement, calling the president a jerk, an idiot or a moron??). The ACLU achieved fame for speaking up for the right of neo-Nazis to march in a Jewish community, standing up for free speech over all.

  15. Christina Lordeman says:

    The off-topic comments on this post are unfortunate. This video is truly tragic. How can we as a nation continue to live with ourselves when we not only let such ignorance and anti-intellectualism into our schools, but actually PROTECT it once it gets there? There are bright, intelligent, educated young people who would probably love to have that woman’s job (and would promote critical thinking and intellectual discussion guided by actual knowledge of American history and politics, without shouting obnoxiously and denying students the right to ask questions and express their own views), but our education system takes this woman’s side over theirs. (And for the commenters above: “right-to-work” has nothing to do with it.)

    Frankly, I am fed up with it. This woman should not be teaching. Period.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Christina. Your concern is laudable. Your questions–how do we “protect”–are clearly rhetorical.
      I think some of us may forget how we played along with butthead teachers to get a grade and went away knowing some things not in the lesson plan.
      There are two issues here: One is that the kids may be miseducated about some things, although in this exact case a number of them may be searching the intertubes for examples of people being arrested for disrespecting a president. IOW, such factoids can be corrected rather easily. The other is the lack of education when an entire subject or issue is simply skipped. That’s tougher to fix later on.
      Interesting series of comments on Ace of Spades.

      • Christina Lordeman says:

        This woman is clearly wasting her students’ time. She should not be teaching.

        What else is there to discuss about it?

  16. I think this is an example of someone’s own political view crossing over into their work environment.

    This isn’t an issue if you are discussing with your office colleagues but when it comes to certain professions like the police or teachers, these personal views should not be reflected in the job. This is even more important when teaching younger kids.