If what happened to a math teacher at the Friends Seminary, a Quaker school in New York City, were not so tragic, it would be comical (“A Teacher Made a Hitler Joke in the Classroom. It Tore the School Apart,” The New York Times, Sep. 9).
Ben Frisch, who taught at the school for 34 years was using his arms to demonstrate angles when he inadvertently realized he was pantomiming the Nazi salute. Embarrassed, he said: “Heil Hitler.” News of the incident resulted in his termination after a few parents threatened to pull their children out of the school and enroll them elsewhere.
In doing so, the administration broke with the Quaker ethos. But it also underscored how precarious the status of teachers is in all schools today. I bet there are other teachers who have sincerely regretted a comment they’ve made in class. Only an enlightened administration or a strong union would prevent them from being terminated.
Teachers are only human and are subject to momentary lapses in judgment that in other fields would not be controversial. I don’t think the punishment at the Friends Seminary fitted the crime. Frisch is not an anti-Semite. He is well liked by students. I’m sure he is still mortified by his action and wishes he never uttered the two words. There is no such thing as a guaranteed “safe space” in life. Today’s high school students are far more sophisticated than those in past generations. I seriously doubt they have been harmed by Frisch’s words.
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