Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Lot of Blarney in Kearny: When Bad Things Happen to Good Students

Why Do So Many People Hate Matthew LaClair For Being Right?
Matthew LaClair would prefer to be just another junior at Kearny High School in New Jersey. Unfortunately, his history teacher David Paszkiewicz won't let him.
In a story that's gaining in national traction, especially after yesterday's New York Times piece, LaClair recorded the teacher telling his students that if they didn't accept Jesus they would go to hell. For good measure, he proclaimed there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, and that there was no scientific basis for evolution. And let's not forget, Paszikewicz intoned, only Christians would be allowed in heaven.
"Basically, what he said is this is the truth," LaClair told Brian Lehrer on WNYC. (Click here for the interview).
The sad part about the Times story was to find out that LaClair has become a pariah for having the temerity to protest when the church-state boundary was repeatedly trampled on by Paszkiewicz, who's a youth church minister outside of school. LaClair has lost friends and even received a death threat.
Paszkiewicz was described by the school's principal as an "excellent" teacher, even though he appears to have a rather fuzzy knowledge of the Constitution. Judge for yourself from these clips.
And judging is what many people in Kearny, a blue-collar, perhaps too-close-knit town about 10 miles from Manhattan, are doing.
The level of hate directed at LaClair and his father Paul, a lawyer now considering suing the school district is startling and scary. Reading the message boards at Kearnyontheweb.com make the town seem more like a 21st-century version of Salem.
Give Paul LaClair a lot of credit for giving as good as he got on the boards, and for shredding Paszkiewicz and the district that tolerates his proselytizing, in a letter to the local paper, The Observer.
For now, school officials are hiding under the "it's a personnel matter" excuse to decline to say what actions they belatedly took against Paszkiewicz, who likely would have continued on his "fire and brimstone" approach to history were it not for LaClair.
But the fact that they dawdled in the face of incontrovertible proof of Paszkiewicz's pedagogical malfeasance, and that so many people have blindly rushed to support him, tells you a lot more than you need to know about Kearny.
The odd part, this whole episode may be the best education Matthew LaClair's ever received in Kearny. Suffice to say, he deserves a lot better.

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