Sunday, November 27, 2005

Political Expression

The main project for the day is to look at and comment on the first drafts of the seventh graders science fiction stories. This time, they wrote about a journey to the center of the Earth. They are supposed to make up a story, but integrate facts about the composition, temperature, and depth of each layer. These stories seem better than the last, so far. I allowed a few kids to choose to do comic books again, those who did a good job last time and one or two others who looked at the ones posted on the bulletin board and felt they could do as well.

One boy's comic book - remarkably well drawn, we're going to be buying these things from him before long - involves tricking President Bush into going to the core as a way of getting rid of him. I am going to sit down with the author and talk about the problems with bumping off the president in a school assignment. It's a tricky one. First off, his work really isn't that different from lots of grown-up humor out there about the administration. And this boy really does intend it to be both humorous and a form of political expression. And it's highly fantastic - it would be more problematic if it was a realistic depiction of killing the president, but this is clearly in the realm of the imagination. On the other hand, the work doesn't include any real political content except a dislike of our current president - no criticism or satire of policies, for example - which discredits it as a form of political expression, in my eyes. And it's just not okay to make killing someone a joke, especially not when you're still a kid, especially not when it's a school assignment, especially not when the victim is the current president of the US.

Anyway, the conversation should be interesting, and I do intend it to be a conversation - "What makes something good political humor?" "What are the risks of depicting the president's death in a work of art, even if you don't intend it to be serious?" - not just a teacher cracking down - "You're not allowed to do this, start again!" We will have to find some kind of compromise because he already put a huge amount of work into this project, so I don't want him to have to start from square one, especially if he's invested in this project as it is now. I'll let you know the outcome...

Here's an article discussing some of these questions in regards to a novel (written by an adult). I think I'm going to print it out and share it with the student. I am in favor of almost-complete legal freedom of expression, by the way, but I am also in favor of thinking carefully about how you use that freedom.

(And by the way, the project does integrate the necessary Science facts!)

PS. Hi FBI/CIA/NSA agents, welcome to my blog! It's all pretty innocent here, just working out some ethical issues in my classroom... you can go back to googling terrorists, now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, you're gonna yell at this kid for expressing himself because he doesn't like the president. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no inherent risk to the child that comes with an early expression of his own political views. I hope you choke.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Muriel said...

Hey congrats to you... One cool thing about this event is that your student feels safe enough in your class to express his 'political' views. To me it shows that he feels that you have the integrity to judge his work on mastery of the content and not on the opinions he is expressing. Pretty cool in my humble point of view...

2:44 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:48 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

The deleted comment is mine, by the way. I decided instead of replying, I'd just let the first commenter's post speak for itself.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

Ms. Fizzle:

I don't think you should take what the kid said so lightly. If you ask the student why he/she doesn't like George Bush, you will probably not get an accurate answer, just what the student has heard from others. This is simply basic disrespect by our students to adult authority figures, including teachers!

In my AP Environmental Science class I taught a topic on federal Environmental Law and asked how the Bush Adminestration has handled the environment. As expected many of the students said Bush did poorly. When I asked them to give me specific examples (there are many) they could not. I challenged them to justify their belief by browsing the internet for homework. Only then could they come up with some proof.

It is up to all teachers to challenge students who make statements without proof.

6:16 PM  
Blogger KC said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:10 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I think it's okay for the kid to write that.

It's "highly fantastic" right? So, he knows it's not real... and how cool that he put so much effort into a literacy-related activity. (I'm an English teacher, so I'm especially interested in that kind of thing.) Have you read Newkirk? His book is called Misreading Masculinity, and he talks about how to handle boys writing about violence in school. I know you don't have extra time, but that might be a worthwhile summer read.

I do think your plan about talking to him about the implications of such humor is a good one! Looking forward to hearing about it.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...


"I think it is okay for the kid to write that"

You must be kidding???

I do not believe any hate speech is appropriate. Ignorant kids become ignorant adults. Take a look how ignorance has given rise to all the various hate groups and gangs.

I guess I can't see that killing our President as "highly fantastic". Please keep your pusedo-social analysis to yourself. ITS NEVER okay to write
about killing our president? Or anyone else for that matter.

In my school when a student writes about killing people they are automatically sent to the social worker with the parents present and are then sent to the hospital for evaluation. Ms. Fizzle should talk to the school social worker about it to protect herself and her school.

The bottom line it is NEVER okay to write about killing somebody.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe he could just trick the president into going to the center of the earth as a way to turn him into a rock - as opposed to a stated desire to get rid of him or kill him.

And Chaz - damn. You'd send a kid to a social worker. YOU sound like the one who needs a social worker.

And duh - if you'd read Ms. Frizzle's post, you'd have known that the reference above to "highly fantastic" was from HER post. It means its heavily FANTASY based. Not that killing the president would be fantastic. Doof.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Delurking to say that I really don't think this is as big a deal as some commenters are making it out to be. Like Muriel says, the kid feels comfortable enough in his class to express potentially 'touchy' opinions like that, which is great.

I don't think he should be made to abandon the president idea altogether, but I do think talking with him is a good idea. It should be fairly easy to find a middle ground, in which he could use, as you said, criticism or satire of particular policies. It should be fairly easy to explain that THAT is the 'socially accepted' method of personal attack - that which has definite reasons - and not just 'I don't like you.' Better, he could gain some true political knowledge from such a talk.

But Chaz. Whoa. Get a grip. The kid isn't talking about taking a gun to DC and attacking Shrub personally. He's writing a comic book about a journey to the earth's core, for heaven's sake. And you have to admit, targeting the president for something like that is a wee bit different than targeting a classmate or teacher. If THAT were what he was doing, then I could maybe understand being concerned. But it isn't.

And as the anonymous poster said, the "highly fantastic" comment was in reference to actual FANTASY, i.e. the intended writing style, not in the sense of 'boy, wouldn't killing Shrub be fabulous.' Get it now?

Anyway, let us know how the talk goes, Ms. F.

*slides back into lurkerdom*

7:01 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

I think that challenging the student's point of view is a more worthwhile endeavor than lecturing the kid about self censorship. If the student disagrees with Bush's actions and has different values and politics, get the kid to explain them. Make the student question her/himself instead of giving the student the message that, no matter what you think, you should be afraid of standing for your beliefs. If the student starts to seriously think about politics (more than sending the President to the center of the earth), you may have taught an extra lesson that will last a lifetime.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous goethe girl said...

Interesting that the first comment, by Anonymous, before saying he wished you would choke, immediately leapt to accusing you of "yelling" at the kid for expressing himself. Doesn't that sound like what we said to our parents as teenagers when they ASKED us to do something: you're YELLING at me! Which is a short way of saying that liberals are adolescents. They can't stand criticism, but, more imortant, they don't know how to argue or discuss, so they call you names or mischaracterize what you said. What you are doing is the right thing: you recognize a child has a certain point of view, and you encourage him to articulate why he hold that view. You may help him to identify real reasons to dislike the president, and he will be able to discuss those reasons -- rather than telling the opposition simply to choke -- and you may also draw him away from the infantile way of reacting that characterizes folks like Anonymous. Good luck.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...


Either you are ignorant of DOE regulations or just plain ignorant. If a student writes or talks about killing people (even in a comic book). Your first action as a teacher is to alert the school social worker. The social worker, a trained professional will make that evaluation, not you, me, or Ms. Fizzle.

Will you represent Ms. Fizzle when she is sent to the "rubber room" if the student becomes violent and hurts somebody? I think not!

Unless you have a licence as a social worker your statement that "I think its okay for the child to write that" is an inexcusable statement.

Ms. Fizzle; better safe than sorry. I have been teaching too long for you to do the wrong thing here. Protect yourself and inform your school social worker.

6:11 PM  
Blogger KC said...


I've never incited such excitement! (Or been so virulently responded to!)

Violence in student writing is interesting in complicated, that's for sure. I've never had much luck with definitives like, "It's never okay to write about killing somebody." It seems there's always a grey area -- a place for satire, parody, black humor, and, well, open-mindedness to various and unpredictable situations.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Goethe Girl - adolescents are also known for 'pigeonholing' people, lumping everyone into self-defined categories. Please don't accuse ALL liberals of being so infantile. Some of us really do know what we're talking about, and not all of us agree with Anonymous.

Also, if we're going to get technical, there are just as many conservative 'adolescents' as liberals. There are just as many kids raised in conservative homes who think exactly the opposite of Ms. Frizzle's student - with equally few facts to back them up - who might have been drawing similar cartoons had Kerry won the election.

Bottom line: Democrats don't have a monopoly on stupidity. You're entitled to your opinion, but please don't use comments on someone else's blog as a way to bash the other side. That makes you just as infantile as those whose comments you criticize.

That being said, I do agree with most of the second half of your comment (and believe I said about as much in my first comment as well).

6:18 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

And thank you KC, for your comment about gray areas. You posted that while I was writing mine. :) That's exactly what I think. As I said before, if the threat had had any 'real' overtones to it, I might have been concerned, but the president? In a comic book? Being sent to the earth's core? Frankly, I think it's pretty goddamn funny, not to mention creative. Worse satires and cartoons are published online and in local newspapers every day. Chaz needs to simmer down. Also, he needs to learn to spell Frizzle. (Unless he's doing that on purpose, in which case it's a pretty mean joke.) Anyway, sorry for flooding your comment page, Ms. FRizzle. Good luck with the situation, however you choose to handle it.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous goethe girl said...

Jess, thanks for your comments. You sound like a thinking liberal, and, for sure, conservative parents pass their views on to their kids, but as an academic I can tell you that the indoctrination is almost entirely one way in universities. If fact, college students are so used to liberal indoctrination by professors -- after years of grammar schools like the one where Ms. Frizzle labors -- that they are resentful when you ask them to EXPLAIN why they think as they do. Their teachers have told them what is politically correct, and the kids have got through 12 years of school by simply parroting it back. Having grown up in a conservative household, I would also say that most conservative people don't discuss politics in front of their kids. I may be wrong, but living on the Upper West Side I am constanly amazed at the sheer amount of loquacity among kids here. I also don't think I was using this blog to bash the other side; besides, pointing out what I see the other side as doing, I was trying to give some support to Ms. Frizzle. I've had a lot of teaching experience.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

To Jess:

You miss the point "IT IS NEVER OKAY TO WRITE ABOUT KILLING SOMEBODY"! Even in jest. There is no gray area here. Why don't you ask you school social worker about it? Ms. Frizzle (sorry about the r) could be subject to a disiplinary hearing for failing to report it. That is the DOE regulation, like it or not.

At the very least, Ms. Frizzle should talk to the chapter leader for guidance not people who have no clue about the wacky world of Joel Klein's DOE.

7:31 PM  

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