Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kearny High School and David Paszkiewicz make the NY Times again

Today's New York Times contains an editorial criticizing the "strange silence in Kearny" in response to David Paszkiewicz's proselytizing in his U.S. History classroom:
The vast majority of Americans deplore such proselytizing in public classrooms. But the truly disturbing aspect of all this, described earlier this month by Times reporter Tina Kelley, is not that one teacher so blatantly crossed the church-state boundary but that so few school officials and community residents seemed bothered by his behavior.
The editorial points out the bravery of Matthew LaClair:
The only reason anyone knows about Mr. Paskiewicz’s behavior is that one student, Matthew LaClair, 16, had the courage to speak up in September. Before doing so, he taped Mr. Paszkiewicz for eight classes because he feared officials would not believe him. He has since received one death threat, lost many friends, and says he can “feel the glares” when he goes to school.
The editorial concludes:

In recent years, the divide between religion and the classroom has been narrowed as conservative courts have ruled in favor of tuition vouchers for religious schools, ruled that religion clubs can meet in public schools and allowed federal money to be spent on computers and other instructional equipment for parochial schools. But even groups like the Rutherford Institute, which provides legal help in religious freedom cases, says that Mr. Paszkiewicz appears to have crossed the line against outright preaching in the public schools.

That he did. While he certainly has the right like anyone in this country to voice and practice his beliefs, he doesn’t have the right to do so while standing in front of a captive audience of students to whom his assertions carry the ring of authority.

The silence among senior school officials is disheartening. Instead of ducking, they should be writing guidelines making it clear that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated in public classrooms.

Until Kearny High School administrators take some real action, this issue won't just go away.

UPDATE: Paul LaClair lays it all out at the KearnyontheWeb forum:
The New York Times quotes me today as saying that we will consider litigation in the proselytizing teacher matter unless Kearny High's students are properly educated regarding Paszkiewicz's anti-scientific mis-statements and the Constitutional separation between church and state. I am opening this topic to explain to the community why we believe this is important.

I hope we all agree in principle that the schools, both public and private, exist to educate our young people. That means teaching them science and enough law so they can function positively as citizens in a democracy. When a teacher mis-states and distorts science and law to such an extent as David Paszkiewicz did (and I suspect has done for quite some time), corrections are mandatory if the school system is to fulfill its educational purposes.

This is especially true when the teacher is popular, as appears to be the case here. The worst possible scenario educationally is that a popular teacher convinces young people that his twisted views of science and the law are true. That also appears to have happened here, judging from student reaction and from the absence of any correction in the past. All the rationalizations aside, the real reason Paszkiewicz is being defended is that some people think his ignorance and his bigotry are acceptable.

I am personally disgusted as a taxpayer, a parent and a citizen that the adminisration in the Kearny school district seems not to care. It is unacceptable that these remarks go uncorrected, especially when so many members of the community and even a fellow teacher (anonymously quoted in The New York Times on December 18) see absolutely nothing wrong with what Paszkiewicz has been doing. This is intellectual poison, I can give it no less strong a term. The only thing worse than no information is misinformation, and this was misinformation.

It is not acceptable that our schools in Kearny are training our young people to be "ignorant and scientifically illiterate," as Dr. Tyson, the astrophysicist who heads the Hayden Planetarium, put it in a letter to The New York Times. That is why Kearny is in the Times again today, and remains in the news. While I truly am reluctant to use the word "stupid," it does come to mind.

Must we really fight with the school board and the administration to ensure that the students receive an education in science, instead of the 2006 equivalent of flat-earth science? Must we have a legal team straighten out the mess Paszkiewicz has made of the students' understanding of the Constitution? This is insanity.

I understand that some people think the issue is resolved, and don't like our continuing to press it. There is a very simple solution, and I address this to the board, the administration and the teacher: admit your mistakes, make appropriate corrections, and let's move on. We've been asking for that for nearly three months now, and obviously these parties have no intention of doing that.

OK, so we'll do this the hard way. We would never have imagined that we would have to fight a bitter battle with this school system to force it to do its job, but apparently that is what will be necessary. I invite concerned citizens to speak up, or to contact us to try to resolve this in an appropriate way, so that the world can say the citizens of Kearny spoke up and demanded a proper resolution.

This post has resulted in the following posted threat, apparently from a Kearny resident who supports Paszkiewicz:
Nice. And that's the version that the KearnyontheWeb moderators "edited for content"!

Is there any question who's got the moral high ground in this dispute?


misterniceguy1960 said...

Very, very painful. Looks like it's time for a Federal human rights investigation in this Kearny place.

Einzige said...

Again, I predict this Paskiewicz idiot is still going to be actively teaching high school a year from now.

AlisonM said...

I'm wondering if anyone is tracing some of these people back to their ISPs and charging them with terroristic threats? Normally on the Internet, there's enough anonymity to make these things bluff and bluster, but I think it's different when threats are being made against someone whose name and address are well-known and could be carried out. I'd love to see some of these violence promoters called out in public for these posts.

baby boo said...

haha . this paskiweicz idiot? wow . i bet your some grown person calling him an idiot . paskiweicz is a great teacher , aside from his religious beliefs but when he brings it up he always asks if everyone is comfortable. so the uncomfortable student (LaClaire) is the idiot here.

Jim Lippard said...

Baby Boo: Add yourself to the list of Paszkiewicz's students whose ability to write and argue cast serious doubt on the claim that Paszkiewicz is "a great teacher."

Don Sheffler said...

Judging by baby boo's comment, David Paszkiewicz is popular because he refuses to correct bad spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

And he's right with God!

A U.S. History teacher with zero understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Amazing.

drummer4468 said...

Okay, the media has definitely blown this topic WAY out of proportion, never mind context. As a student at Kearny High School, I can vouch for the fact that Mr. Paszkiewics is an excellent man and teacher. While he may have blurred the boundaries between church and state, he refuses to bring religion, and specifically his beliefs, into any conversation unless all parties involves are comfortable with the subject matter. Because of this, Paszkiewics always verbally confirms that his students are okay with him voicing his beliefs. This by no means implies that he ever pushed the topic. What the media likes to keep quiet is the fact that Matt LaClair was strategically starting and stopping the recorder while asking pointed questions, eliminating the portions where he (LaClair) was speaking, making it seem like it was Paszkiewics delivering an unwanted sermon to his students. Of course, LaClair's daddy is a lawyer, and is taking advantage of that fact accordingly.

(By the way, I am personally a firm atheist. I know that has nothing to do with the argument itself, but I dont want people thinking I'm just partial to the religious corner of this boxing ring)

Jim Lippard said...

drummer4468: Why are you posting this in September 2008?

I've heard the recordings of Paszkiewicz, and he's an awful teacher and an ignoramus. I didn't notice any unusual breaks in the sound, either, so I think you're wrong about the recording being strategically turned on and off.

You also fail to mention that Paszkiewicz lied about what happened in the classroom when LaClair brought his complaint to the principal, until he realized he had been caught on the recording. He also lied about lying about what happened, but LaClair had that recorded, too.

You say that Paszkiewicz always had student consent to talk about religion. But student consent isn't sufficient to give him the right to proselytize in the public school classroom. He can proselytize all he wants in the public square and in his Sunday School class, but not in the public school classroom.

Jim Lippard said...

I'd guess that drummer4468 is also "ilovedave." at Dispatches from the Culture Wars who posted this comment there on November 17, 2006:

"I would just like to let everyone know that this situation has actually been blown way out of proportion and Mr. Paszkiewicz is one of the most admirable men I have ever met. Coming from Kearny, NJ and spending my high school years with him were more rewarding than anything else. And, no, I am not Christian in any sense of the word. He respected me just as much as any Christian, Atheist, Jew, etc. Kids in class would always be interested in what he believed in since he is so devout and would induce him to speak about it in class. I would think that sparking discussion is a good thing, don't you?"

Wouldn't surprise me if this were Paszkiewicz himself. It's clearly somebody with a grudge against Matthew LaClair.

Another comment at that Dispatches post from Matthew's father Paul points out:

"This is Matthew's dad. I have heard the audio several times. Paszkiewicz initiated nearly every topic in this 40-minute class session, except as otherwise noted. The topics, in order of appearance are:
(1) He does not want his children dressing certain ways on Halloween;
(2) He home schooled his children until recently.
(3) Kearny is a good town (student initiated)
(4) Criticism of public education, e.g., cannot read from the Bible
(5) He believes in sin and man's fall
(6) His children must follow his religion until age 18
(7) Purposes of public school (student initiated and quickly disposed of by Paszkiewicz)
(8) The Christian scriptures are not religion
(9) Evolution is not science
(10) The Big Bang could not have happened
(11) Faith (student initiated)
(12) A being created the universe
{At this point, for the first time, Paszkiewicz asks, "Is this bothering anyone?"}
(13) Christian faith is proved by Biblical prophecies, which have "come true to the letter and verified"
(14) God told Moses what he had done before there were people to observe it, that's how Moses knew what to write
(15) Suppose you were God. God gives choice
(16) My son's reply: I wouldn't send my children to hell for eternity.
That is what "elicited" the comment about belonging in hell.
What happened is that Matthew challenged his theology, and Paskiewicz responded accordingly. Draw your own conclusions."

Nothing in that list has anything to do with what Paszkiewicz was supposed to be teaching--U.S. History.