On Monday, Eureka (IL) high school teacher Rhett Felix was suspended for showing segments from “The Daily Show” in his government and law class. It’s a reminder of how little freedom K-12 teachers have in America, and how easily a right-wing crusade can silence freedom in the classroom.
According to the newspaper report, “During the public portion of the meeting, parents complained about bleeped obscenities and some sexual content of the segments and about a perception that Felix appears to have a liberal political bias.” Got that? Felix was suspended not for using obscenities or for showing a program with obscenities, but for showing a TV program that had “bleeps” in it.
The newspaper reported what Daily Show segments caused the problem: “Two segments involved the allegations of sexual harassment involving Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, and a third was an interview with a former U.S. House member about giving health insurance discounts to people who exercise. The segments also included comments by host Jon Stewart about a prominent politician whose name turns up in Internet searches as an obscene term.” Felix was condemned for advising students not to search for the name (I’m going to assume this is “Santorum”), because parents felt that advising teenagers not to search for something would lead them to search for it.
So Felix was suspended for being liberal, showing a TV show that had “bleeps,” and advising students not to search for sexual terms on the internet.
Amazingly, the school board was denounced not for censorship, but for failing to suspend the teacher earlier. Eureka Mayor Scott Punke appeared at the meeting to declare, “I believe when a serious accusation or complaint has been made against any individual in the school district, that measures should have been taken to place the individual on administrative leave pending the investigation. That has not been done. The individual has been allowed to teach all last week and today even given all the complaints that you’re obviously aware of. I think that doesn’t put the children first.”
One parent, Thomas Enterline, told the School Board: “I didn’t find any humor in what I saw. I look at what happened out at Penn State. Even though this doesn’t rise to that particular level, I would ask that this board look at these allegations and respond with appropriate resolve.” Mr. Enterline not only lacks a sense of humor, he also lacks any sense of perspective. I suppose we should be grateful that he informed everyone that showing clips in a class about politics of a brilliant TV show about politics does not rise to the level of raping children. Unfortunately, in central Illinois, it does rise to the level of a teacher’s suspension and permanent removal from class.