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Posted at 5:25 PM ET, 03/18/2010

Teacher who hung Obama in effigy should go

By Valerie Strauss

At the Rhode Island school where all the educators and staff were recently fired, a teacher hung upside down a foot-tall effigy of President Obama in a classroom, apparently in reaction to Obama’s support of the firings. The mass firings were wrong, but this teacher ought to go.

The teachers union today condemned the teacher and the effigy, which was found in the teacher’s third-floor classroom at Central Falls High School by Supt. Frances Gallo, the Associated Press reported.

Gallo told CNN that the foot-tall Obama doll was hanging on a white board from its feet and was holding a sign that said "Fire Central Falls teachers."

Here’s a statement
from Central Falls teachers union President Jane Sessums:

The Central Falls Teachers Union strongly condemns the actions of a Central Falls High School teacher who placed an effigy of President Obama upside down in his classroom as part of what he described as a lesson plan. Simply put, the teacher’s actions were wrong and cannot be condoned under any circumstances.The teacher has apologized verbally to his students and has asked Superintendent Frances Gallo for permission to apologize to them in writing. He understands that his actions affect not just his students but all of us. There is no excuse for what he did.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued this statement:

“No facts or circumstances can justify the actions of a Central Falls High School teacher who hung a doll of President Obama upside down in his classroom as part of what he described as a lesson plan. The teacher’s actions were wrong and unacceptable. The teacher has apologized to all his students, and understands that his actions affect not just them but all of us. As teachers, we hold ourselves to a high standard, and must do everything possible to promote respect and fight bigotry.”

The worldwide web is not expansive enough for me to list all the reasons that this act is stupid--and a fireable offense.

I recently wrote about my opposition to mass firings at schools, which is what happened at Central Falls High, the only high school in the smallest and poorest of Rhode Island’s cities. (Up to half of the teachers could be hired back under the reconstitution scheme.)

That was the remedy under the No Child Left Behind law chosen by Gallo to deal with the school’s continued low student achievement. Single-digit statistics about very low graduation rates and student achievement were cited by the education committee that approved the firings, though teachers have said they were exaggerated.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded the move, saying the firings showed “courage,” and Obama, who doesn’t ordinarily talk about the teacher firings, jumped in:

“When a school board wasn’t able to deliver change by other means, they voted to lay off the faculty and the staff. As my Education Secretary Arne Duncan, says, our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.”

Mass firings, unfortunately, aren’t the right thing to do for low-performing schools. It’s been tried many times in actions affecting a few hundreds of thousands of teachers in more than half of the states -- and only in a small minority of cases has it helped. The fact that Obama and Duncan want to continue this remedy in their proposed revision of No Child Left Behind is worrisome.

Getting rid of all the adults in the Central Falls High School hardly seems like the answer to a chronic low-performing school, especially when there have been four superintendents in less than eight years in the district and several principals in five years. The high school has for five years been under the control of the supervising committee that decided to get rid of the teachers. Maybe the members should fire themselves.

There have been communications between the Central High teachers union and Gallo over a resolution to the mess that would be less drastic than replacing the entire staff. It is unclear where that is going; I hope some settlement is reached.

But no matter how angry the teachers are at any public official for their involvement or support of the firings, the behavior of the Central Falls teacher was unacceptable.

In fact, someone with such poor judgment shouldn’t be teaching. That teacher should go.


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 18, 2010; 5:25 PM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind, Teachers  | Tags:  President Obama, central falls, rhode island school, teachers fired  
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So, why is hanging someone in Effigy wrong and a fireable offense? How is that different than the school teachers that taught hymms of praise for Obama?

Posted by: BradG | March 18, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

A friend of mine in publishing was once in Washington talking with an administration official about his book. He got a call from the President (Nixon) and told her that he would have the secretary handle all the other calls, and if his phone rang she should answer it because it would be him letting her know if she should wait of if he was going to be tied up for a while.

A short time later the phone rang and President Nixon apologized for disrupting her meeting and told her he had sent her name to the White House Mess and she should go have lunch on his tab. She thought Nixon was one step short of the devil, but she found herself leaping to her feet before she said, "Thank you, Mr. President."

You might not like an official's politics, but they are legally elected officials and due as much respect from the teachers as an unpopular teacher demands from the students.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 18, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

BradG: If you knew that your boss / principal / supervisor / etc. and possibly other higher-ups had certain religious, political, philosophical views (but let's suppose they kept them to themselves), and then you displayed scornful images or effigies of the people whom they respect/admire or who represent their views in your own home, that would be one thing, but the effigy was on display in a classroom. I'm sure that at least some of the parents of the pupils at Central High would strongly object to a teacher behaving as if to condone open expression and display of mockery, contempt, and hatred in such a racially charged manner.

Posted by: metonyme | March 18, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Although I can sympathize with the superintendent's decision to "wipe the slate clean" with a new teaching staff, she is crazy to expect politeness and civility from the teachers whose lives' she ruined. She cried when she saw a doll hanging by its feet. If that political display offended her delicate sensibilities, imagine how offended she would be at being told that her failures helped deprive thousands of children of good futures; that she was being fired for those failures; and that her years of service were irrelevant. Even if it were true, the superintendent would surely take it as a mortal insult, just like her teachers. Her expectation of smiling acquiescence is utterly unreasonable.

It is a little like a break-up. Even if the relationship is horribly unhealthy, and all third parties agree it should end, no one expects the ex to take it with a smile. Telling someone it's over is the equivalent to telling her she's not good enough in the ways that count. The best you can hope for is a quick and clean separation with no contact for a long time. The teachers here are like the ex who is told, "I don't love you, and you've failed as my partner, but I hope you'll keep doing my dishes, making my bed, and smiling at me while you live in my apartment." The superintendent's criticism and pseudo-distress are incredibly insensitive.

Posted by: Volucre | March 18, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to know why anyone who runs for and is elected to public office expects to be treated with kid gloves after they publicly spit on the entire teaching staff of this school.

Courage to fire the entire staff? Hardly. It would take real courage to tell the community-teachers, administrators, students and parents that they are all responsible to varying degrees for the performance of the students at this school, and there are no easy, quick fixes.

Posted by: sanderling5 | March 19, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

a teacher hung upside down a foot-tall effigy of President Obama in a classroom,
Yes the teacher should be fired simply for doing something so counter to his job as hanging up an effigy in his classroom.

At the same the President should start to be more aware of his comments.

Kicking individuals when they are down leaves is not the norm for Presidents of the United States.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 19, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Why is hanging an effigy of Obama "bigotry"? Was it due to his race that the effigy was hung, or his policy? Is it just because Obama is partially non-white? Wasn't the effigy hung upside down as opposed to "lynched" in a more traditional manner?

Posted by: danjo1 | March 19, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Talk about bias reporting. So many reporters trying to make something of substance out of this trivial event.

Effigy of President Obama hung in classroom - turns out to be a 12 inch doll that was hanging upside down.

Since when is a 12 inch doll an "effigy?" I think the technically correct term is "action figure."

Imagine the career opportunities that would be available in education if every teacher who had been disrespectful to a Republican president were fired.

Posted by: jvillec | March 20, 2010 2:05 AM | Report abuse

"The high school has for five years been under the control of the supervising committee that decided to get rid of the teachers. Maybe the members should fire themselves."

We need to start holding the administration and other leaders of schools responsible for the decisions they make. They often destroy the lives of the teachers and the children, but because they are in power - AND THUS ARE NOT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE - get away with their destruction.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 20, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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