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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Middle School Teacher Sent to Principal for Principles

Dennis Yuzenas, an American history teacher at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, wore a Barack Obama T-shirt to school after the election. Principal Elizabeth Kennedy, who saw the teacher wearing his Obama shirt on the school's TV news show, took issue with that action, claiming that it was against school board policy, and requesting that Yuzenas sign the following memo which would be placed in his permanent file:

"Last Friday, November 7, you wore a T-shirt that clearly showed which candidate you supported during the recent Presidential Election and appeared with students on the in-school news broadcast sharing your positive view regarding the outcome of the election," the memo read.

"As per the Code of Ethics and the above state School Board policy, students may not know your political view," it continued. "This could be construed as using your position to influence others. It is my expectation, that in the future as you teach students to clarify and express their own political views, you will remain neutral."

Yuzenas asserts that, despite his very liberal views, he remained very apolitical during the campaign. He even went so far as to park his car away from the school to prevent students from seeing his numerous bumper stickers. As for the T-shirt, Yuzenas said it was also part of his lesson plan that day:

"I was talking about the role of art in society," he said, "and tying in this T-shirt to Picasso's Guernica."

The shirt, which showed a red-and-blue image of Obama with the word "Hope" under it, is the work of Shepard Fairey, an obscure Los Angeles street artist. The image, which Fairey made into 300 posters, caught the attention of the Obama campaign, which liked it so much that the image was mass produced, becoming an iconic image of Obama.

"It's making education relevant to kids," Yuzenas said. "How much more relevant can you get in an arts school than talking about the role of an artist in an election?"

Yuzenas has refused to sign the principal's memo because he's not actually in violation of the ethics policy. Indeed, School Board Policy 2.59 allows teachers to express their own "political, social and religious values" if the "total presentations is essentially balanced and fair."

Teachers are expressly prohibited from allowing their interaction with students to further their own "political aims or views."Yuzenas pointed out if he's a propagandist, he must be a lousy one, because his students showed the strongest support for John McCain during a school-wide mock election."I don't want students to think like I do," he said. "I want them to think."

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Blogger Parson said...

Hopefully there aren't many kinds in middle school old enough to vote. If so, they have some much bigger problems.

title="comment permalink">November 20, 2008 9:24 PM  

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