Mountain view, California: Home of Googleplex, the corporate headquarters for Google, Inc, and home of Mountain View High School. The School has been under scrutiny following recent reports that a teacher who has been there for 40 years, Frank Navarro, was asked to take paid leave on Thursday, the 10th for teaching a lesson drawing comparisons between Hitler and the rise of Donald Trump.
Mr. Navarro is a Mexican-American, an expert on the Holocaust, and teaches World Studies, Civics/Economics, and Special Education. After he was asked to leave school for talking about the similarities between the rise of Hitler and Trump, Mr. Navarro stated:
‘This feels like we’re trying to squash free speech,’ he said. ‘Everything I talk about is factually based. They can go and check it out. It’s not propaganda or bias if it’s based on hard facts.
Navarro was accused of calling Trump a racist and by Hitler’s own name, but he insists that is not true and that he instead made comparisons, such as the fact that Hitler campaigned about making Germany great again; Or the example that Hitler focused on the Jews while Trump focuses on Muslims.
— Prevent Genocide Org (@PrevGenocide) November 14, 2016
The school Superintendent, Jeff Harding, published a statement on the Mountain View High School website stating that the reason for Mr. Navarro’s dismissal was not as reported by many in the media.
As some of you know, the MVHS Oracle published a story regarding a teacher who was placed on paid leave pending the investigation of inappropriate behavior. I am not at liberty to share specific personnel matters but I can state that – despite what the various media headlines say – the teacher’s paid leave was not for teaching a lesson comparing Trump to Hitler.
The administrators involved were responding to a specific parent and student complaint of a serious nature. It is our duty to investigate such a complaint to ensure the emotional safety of all of our students. The teacher was absent from his classroom for only a portion of one afternoon, and with full pay, while the situation was investigated. He was reinstated as soon as we were confident that the environment was safe for students and is back in class this morning.
I understand that the headlines around this issue are stoking some of our worst fears about censorship following the recent election. And I am very appreciative that there are parents willing to reach out and speak up for values that are important to our democracy.
Thanks for your vigilance.
The school’s student online newspaper, the Oracle, reported that the school Principal, David Grissom, sent an email on November 9th instructing teachers to be neutral about political issues. Navarro disagreed:
‘He wanted us to be neutral in discussing the election. But neutral means overlooking and not talking about the way Trump talks about Mexican history. Should I not say that?’ Navarro said. ‘Should I not say that Hillary has experience as a senator for eight years, as Secretary of State? I refuse to be intimidated from talking about the facts. I see this as an issue of free speech.’
One student in the class claimed that the class discussion had been one-sided:
‘I do agree with some of [Trump’s] policies, and when I’d try to talk about it, [Navarro] just told me to shut up or said something super rude,’ [the student] said. ‘I like to treat people the way I want to be treated, and I would never treat a teacher that way. That’s super disrespectful.’
Navarro denied this:
‘I never told a student shut up, never ever uttered that. I have agreed with comments about Trump, especially regarding economics,’ Navarro said. ‘I do not feel bad because it did not happen.’
Navarro claimed he was threatened on social media following the news of what happened. There has also been enormous support on social media. A Change.org petition received nearly 35,000 signatures at this writing, calling for the return of Mr. Navarro to his teaching duties. The Oracle confirmed that he returned to class today.
‘Words cannot begin to express my gratitude and love in my heart that has come from the outpouring of responses from community, students, parents, former students,’ Navarro said. ‘I am moved and deeply appreciative. I cannot thank everybody enough.’
— EIHR (@EIHumanRights) November 14, 2016
The news following the election has been saturated with stories showing that Trump’s rise to power has caused an upsurge in bigotry and hate crimes. One teacher in Los Angeles was even caught on tape threatening Latino students with deportation. It is clear that remaining neutral in light of these events is not an effective way to teach America’s future leaders about how to respond to bullies and bigots.
The best response to all of this was found in a Mountain View High School student’s comment on the school newspaper below. Let this enlighten teachers out there on how to address a Trump Presidency:
According to our school website, the mission of our administration is to “create a collaborative learning environment in which students and staff respect the diversity of our society” and to teach students to “think critically, solve problems creatively, and participate ethically at MVHS and in our greater democratic society.”
After the election, our principal instructed all MVHS teachers to be “neutral” in addressing the results. Many followed this mandate. Frank Navarro did not. In his classes, he asked students to complete activities which fulfill and exceed the expectations set out in the mission statement. He asked students to compare and contrast candidate’s stances, learn about their social views, and make connections to world history. And for this he was put on administrative leave.
Not only does this fail the institution of our school, but it shortchanges students. In order to maintain the quality of our education, teachers need the power to address the real world, both past and present, in the classroom. In order to “respect the diversity of our society”, we need to be able to protect the individuals in our school.
Standing by and saying nothing not only directly disrespects both that diversity and fails to grow our student’s ability to “participate ethically … in our greater democratic society”, but is an active threat to the minorities of our student body, which is more than three quarters either female, of a race other than white, LGBTQ+, or multiple of these, all of which have a history of systemic oppression and are the victims of hateful rhetoric. When those with power fail to take a positive stand, oppression can only be perpetuated.
If teachers are not given the freedom to follow the very mission statement of our school and protect our students, that is a failure for which we can look directly to our administration.
See more about Frank Navarro in this video below: