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Flag-stomping and wine tasting get teachers fired, but should they?

January 10, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
A couple of interesting stories today about a couple of good teachers fired for daring to do something a little different.

French teacher Daniele Benatouil was fired from the private Calhoun School in New York City because she let a group of 18-year-old girls have a glass of wine with dinner during a trip to France. The parents of the girls gave permission but the school board didn't and said Benatouil violated the school's "zero tolerance" policy. Benatouil allowed the girls to drink wine because she considered it part of the overall cultural experience. A glass of wine is traditional at an evening meal in France. It was also entirely legal for 18-year-olds to drink alcohol in France.

Benatouil sued for wrongful termination but the Manhattan State Supreme Court upheld her firing, according to the Daily Mail.

Also in the Daily Mail today is a story about a Chaplin, S.C. English teacher who stomped on the American flag in front of three sections of his English class. Scott Compton told his students that the flag is only a piece of cloth and doesn't mean anything. The article doesn't indicate the point of the lesson, though based on an article at the Huffington Post it sounds like Compton may have been teaching the students about difference between a symbol and the ideal that it represents. Nevertheless, parents complained, school administrators announced that teachers have been told not to air their personal political views in the classroom and Compton has been placed on administrative leave and is probably going to lose his job.

I think Benatouil and Compton were probably unwise, since the reaction from parents and the overall community in both cases was predictable. I also think they have taught their students lessons that they are not likely to forget.

Why shouldn't 18-year-old students exploring France have a glass of wine with their meal, the way that French adolescents do? And, though Compton's actions may make your blood boil, he's right that the freedom that the flag stands for is far, far more important than a mere piece of cloth. That very freedom the flag symbolizes allows protesters to desecrate the flag.

Students are in class to expand their horizons, not only to have what they already believe reinforced. Hopefully Compton's shocking action set a few teenagers to thinking about what freedom actually means.

 
 

Article Comments

(16)

TheDiogenist

Jan-22-13 4:56 PM

I definitely agree with Andrea's article; Benatouil's sacking was completely uncalled for, and though Compton's lesson was possibly in poor taste it was not worth all the attention it has received. His underlying message has been badly misconstrued in all the kerfuffle.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-15-13 2:41 AM

I find zero tolerance policies pretty troubling myself. It's justice (or injustice) meted out without mercy, usually to children.

rajiihammr

Jan-14-13 8:58 PM

I have no tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies.

muleskinner

Jan-12-13 8:37 AM

I guess I have never had a yearning to stomp on an American flag, but each to its own. Whatever.

Let's not only stomp on the flag, let's burn it. Form a union, Flag Burners United, includes book burners. Burn all the flags.

Let's burn the original document of the Declaration of Independence. It is being stomped on night and day.

We're burning the Bill of Rights, 24/7, night and day, so it only makes sense to not only stomp on our rights, but to burn the entire Constitution.

No big deal, it was a good idea, but it didn't work.

disgusted

Jan-11-13 9:15 PM

You're welcome.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-11-13 8:36 PM

Thanks for pointing out the error in the headline.

disgusted

Jan-11-13 7:44 PM

"supposedly been giving the same lesson for years without incident"

Just because something has always been done acertain way, does not mean that it is right. Stomping the flag is part of the freedom of speech. Did he take the lesson a bit further to include what action would be more mature and effective? Both teachers had the right to test the waters. Both schools had the right to expect the people to whom they pay a salary to follow the rules and standards they have set for their students and staff.

disgusted

Jan-11-13 7:16 PM

Flag-stomping and wine tasting get teachers fired, but should it?

Should IT? To what is the word 'it' referring?

AndreaJohnson

Jan-11-13 4:18 PM

My iPad changed some of the words in the original post. I meant "Someone" not "Some bone." I also left out a "W" on "We."

But to expand on that, I don't think I'd have fired that teacher, particularly since he has supposedly been giving the same lesson for years without incident and his lawyer says he is actually very patriotic. It sounds like a bit of attention-getting drama, perhaps a way to make a lesson on symbolism memorable. This came to light because one girl in the class objected and told her dad, who went to the school administration with a complaint.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-11-13 4:12 PM

I'd say you're kind of proving the teacher's original point.

Whether or not the U.S. has Flag Day or the majority of Americans revere the flag is irrelevant. The minute you say someone can't protest by desecrating that flag, you have diminished what that flag stands for. e don't have blasphemy laws here either so some bone can protest by burning the Bible along with the flag and be perfectly within his rights. Someone has probably already done both at some protest somewhere. the country I love is big enough to let obnoxious protesters do that and worse.

locomotive

Jan-11-13 1:10 PM

What the French teacher should have done was to inform her superiors about her plans to allow her students to "immerse" in French culture, before she presented the idea to the parents. Then the "no tolerance" policy could have been discussed beforehand, at length. What isn't told here: what was the teacher's personal view about that "no tolerance" policy, or did she know beforehand that the wine w/dinner in France would lead to her dismissal.

The teacher with the flag incident shows one important thing: you WILL face people with different ideals than you all the time in our diverse society. But I agree with others' sentiments that he should be dismissed. His "piece of cloth" belief is his own to possess, but his classroom, where he has responsibility and influence over his students, is not the place to demonstrate that belief.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-11-13 10:51 AM

However, courts have ruled that desecration of the flag is protected political speech.

I'm not saying this is something I would do or condone personally, but I think the principles this country stands for are hollow if people can't tolerate a bit of flag drubbing. I am a lot more worried about someone's rights being suppressed or taken away than I am about a flag being stomped on. America means a whole lot more to me than a flag.

WorriedAmerican

Jan-11-13 10:39 AM

I have to agree with hj & h4c on this one our nation's flag is more than just a mere symbol it represents who were are as a country. We drape it over our service men and women's coffins as a sign of respect for the ulitmate sacrifice they have made for all of our freedoms. It is not just a piece of cloth that can be stomped on or burned! Freedom of speech is one thing, but protecting our nation's Stars and Stripes which represents all who have fought and died for that freedom is something that needs to be protected and he deserves to be fired!

AndreaJohnson

Jan-11-13 10:09 AM

I have two little nephews and I do not want to see them ever drafted or otherwise sent to war. I also have a cousin who is on yet another deployment somewhere in the Middle East. He's career military. On the other hand, if more rich Senator's sons were forced to serve, we'd probably see less enthusiasm for going to war in the first place.

I stand by what I said about the actions of both teachers.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-10-13 6:25 PM

It's not a way I would protest, but burning it as a form of political protests IS protected speech and that is one of the rights you fought for. And, I would say, sometimes that sort of protest might be a way to be a good citizen. Democracy works best when people loudly protest something that isn't working right in their society and try to get it changed. This country was not founded by the polite, quiet conformists.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-10-13 6:10 PM

I'd say you fought for the country and the values that are enshrined in our Constitution. Thank you for your service, by the way.

The flag is a symbol of all that the Constitution represents but it is just a symbol. Flag desecration has been recognized as protected political speech, which tells me this country is big enough and sure enough of its principles to handle being dissed by some obnoxious flag burner. It's one of the reasons I'm proud of the country and why I'd be a little ashamed if Congress ever manages to pass an amendment outlawing flag desecration.

I think Compton probably should have been smart enough to know this could get him fired. I also think he was trying to teach those kids something about how the Constitution works.

 
 

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