August 22, 2011

A Letter From The Teacher #15: Opinion vs. Behavior

Anytown High School, Any State, USA

To: Mr. Martinez
From: Mr. English Teacher
Re: Opinion vs. Behavior

Dear Mr. Martinez:

Thanks for your e-mail. Your niece Aracelli is doing well and if you help her with her weekly vocabulary, I'm sure her English skills will rapidly improve. As you suggested, the more she speaks and reads English, the faster she'll improve, and I'll be happy to loan her books that will help. She's a bright girl and I'm glad to have her in class.

I'll do my best to address your other question, but please bear with me, as I make sure we're talking about the same case. I believe you're talking about the Florida teacher, Mr. Jerry Buell, who was recently suspended when he expressed his opinion about gay marriage on his Facebook page. Here's a link to the story in case you missed this particularly account.

Let's keep in mind that neither of us knows all the facts, but as I understand it, the man is an excellent, experienced teacher who was the Mount Dora (FL) High School teacher of the year last year. Apparently his record is unblemished and he is well liked and respected.

The trouble apparently began when someone complained about his Biblically-based, internet-posted disapproval of gay marriage. School officials contend that his opinion is "disturbing" and that students might be frightened or intimidated by that opinion. Keep in mind that Mr. Buell is not accused of any actual intimidation or improper behavior, but is suspended because school officials worry that unnamed students might possibly, at some point in the future, be intimidated by Mr. Buell's opinion expressed on a Facebook page in July. The Mount Dora School District obviously intends to fire Mr. Buell, or at the least, to humiliate or figuratively speaking, beat him into line.

In this case, the school district is completely wrong. Their behavior is ill-considered and excessive and damaging not only to Mr. Buell, but to the reputation of the entire school district. It seems clear that Mr. Buell wrote his opinion on his own time, using his own resources. It is equally clear that he did not represent his opinion as the official policy of the Mount Dora School District. It was written on his personal Facebook page, not in any school forum.

Some may claim that because the internet potentially reaches millions, one may not express their opinions there, and the Mount Dora SD is taking just this position, that despite posting his opinion on his personal Facebook page, it was not private, but they miss the point. It is principle that matters, not the means by which Mr. Buell's opinion was disseminated or the size of his audience. If freedom of speech exists, it matters not whether the audience for such speech is five people in a teacher's lounge or the most heavily trafficked website on the Internet. The principle is the same.

The actions of the Mount Dora SD are politically correct idiocy. Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are acting in what they believe to be the best interests of students rather than the purity and power of their obviously leftist politics, they are no less wrong and no less foolish. One does not protect students by teaching them that the First Amendment may be suspended at the whim of school administrators.

Their fundamental mistake is in conflating opinion with behavior. Mr. Buell may hold any opinion about any topic he pleases no matter how horrifying some people might find any of his opinions should they somehow become known to them. It is not only possible, it is common for professional teachers to disapprove of gay marriage or even homosexuality in general while still treating homosexual students, parents and others with kindness and respect.

In this case, there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Buell is anything but a professional teacher that understands and universally respects the boundary between personal opinion and professional practice. In fact, Mr. Buell has a 22-year record of doing just that. Presumably he has held this opinion for most, if not all of those 22 years, yet has obviously been a very effective teacher. Considering this, it would appear that the people who have no idea of the boundary between personal opinion and professional practice are Mr. Buell's employers.

School officials may not demand uniformity of thought. They may not establish thought crimes and appoint themselves the thought police. They can legitimately expect that teachers treat everyone professionally. It's impossible and insane to believe that one may regulate the very thoughts and beliefs of others—particularly when such thoughts and beliefs have not even a tenuous connection to school facilities, publications or business--yet that's what Mount Dora school officials are doing. They are elevating one group of people—homosexuals—above all others and awarding them special, protected status, but protection against what?

The Mount Dora SD wishes to provide homosexuals with protection against experiencing any possible—as opposed to real—offense. One of the most ephemeral foundations upon which political correctness shakily stands is the bizarre idea that there is such as thing as a right never to be annoyed or offended. Thankfully, no such right exists (although many of America's universities are doing their best to establish one).

We are all subject to the disapproval and criticism of others, express or implied, real or imagined, in hundreds of ways and for hundreds of reasons. Learning to deal with disapproval, without being annoyed or offended, without lapsing into quivering victimhood which requires the full force of the state for protection and relief, is an essential life skill, a skill without which one is singularly unsuited to survival in the real world where the overly tender sensibilities of any individual tend to be unimportant, to say the least. The state may be legitimately involved only when opinion is manifested in actual behavior that rises to the level of a crime such as a breach of the peace or an assault. This is so because most Americans realize that attempting to regulate or punish the thoughts and opinions of others is practically impossible, constitutionally impermissible and morally repugnant.

We must judge others, as Dr. Martin Luther King suggested, on the content of their character, which we can know primarily through their behavior, through the way they treat others, and secondarily through their record of accomplishments. In this case, Mount Dora school officials are punishing an exemplary teacher for the potential—not the real—discomfort of some potential homosexual students—which might occur at some point in the future, not which has actually occurred. To them, apparently the mere possibility that a homosexual might—at some future date, in some way—be offended, is sufficient justification to destroy the career of what appears to be a loyal and effective public servant. This is the stuff of totalitarian thought crime, not of professional, rational management.

I would hope that that logic would prevail and that Mount Dora school officials could calmly and dispassionately examine their actions and correct their errors, but understanding human nature and Leftist thinking—such as it is—that is unlikely. Political correctness has a deranged, self-propelling logic all its own. Mr. Buell will almost certainly have to fight a protracted legal battle, and the students of Mount Dora High School will be deprived of an excellent teacher until Mr. Buell eventually wins, as he surely will, if the Constitution and common sense still exist in Mount Dora, Florida.

Mr. Buell and his attorneys also have a strong case based on his related First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The Bible clearly disapproves of homosexuality, and Mr. Buell reportedly made reference to the Bible in his Facebook writings. Should Mr. Buell choose this path as well as the freedom of speech path, his case will be strengthened in that Christian tradition and practice is to disapprove of sin, but to love human beings, all of whom sin. Again, Mr. Buell appears to have practiced just this for 22 years at Mount Dora High School, while Mount Dora school officials seem to worship at the alter of political correctness and victimization.

I hope I've answered your question satisfactorily. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you, or for Aracelli.


Mr. English Teacher

Posted by MikeM at August 22, 2011 10:25 PM

Well put. In essence, government officials are punishing him for his religious beliefs and for exercising his free speech, all on the premise that someone may be offended.

Apparently, the current political class has decided that restrictions on the First Amendment now extend not only to physical harm, but to the "harm" to an ego, psyche, esteem, feelings, or any other subjective classification the government may want to dictate.

That is, of course, if the speech or religious views don't conform to politically correct government "standards". Obviously, in this teachers case their denigration of his religious beliefs and free speech are not considered insulting or a "harm" to an ego, psyche, esteem, feelings, etc.

Posted by: SouthernRoots at August 23, 2011 09:48 AM

Off-topic, but our contempt of cop cop has a third video out:

More death threats, more lack of apparent probable cause. And he conveniently parked his car so that the dashcam didn't point at the suspect car.

Posted by: Phelps at August 26, 2011 11:10 AM