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Teacher's T-shirt ban reflects toxic politics, cultural war
The Cherokee Ledger-News - 10/4/2017
The case of River Ridge High School math teacher Lyn Orletsky is symptomatic of the toxic politics and cultural war of our time.
Orletsky was placed on administrative leave by the school district after telling two students to leave her classroom for wearing T-shirts imprinted with "Trump" and "Make America Great Again," the slogan used by President Trump in his presidential campaign and since his election.
A video recorded by a student showed Orletsky telling the students, both boys, "Just like you cannot wear a swastika to school, you cannot wear that slogan." She told the students to turn their shirts inside out and to leave the classroom. Another student asked if the students had to "flip their shirts inside out because it says Trump on the top?"
Orletsky replied: "Because it says ?Make America Great Again.' The Neo-Nazis? .I'm not saying about Trump, but the slogan." Explaining later in an interview with an Atlanta newspaper, she said her action "was about a statement that has been adopted by certain groups" and was related to her wanting students "to feel comfortable in my classroom," specifically Hispanics, African Americans, Middle Easterners and Asians.
The slogan "Make America Great Again," Orletsky said, "has been appropriated by a number of hate groups, a number of neo-Nazi groups" since the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month during a rally by white nationalists and some fringe hate groups including neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. Counter-protesters including far-left fascists groups known as antifa fought with the protesters in bloody encounters during which a woman was killed and 19 other persons injured when a white man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Orletsky's action quickly came under fire from a candidate for governor of Georgia, state Sen. Michael Williams, who demanded that the Cherokee County school board hold a special meeting and fire the teacher or else he would organize a protest at the school. That had the earmarks of a political stunt that
in no way should intimidate the school board.
The most troubling problem here is this teacher's decision that the "Make America Great Again" slogan was to be banned because it had been "appropriated" by hate groups and neo-Nazis. That's illogical. If some people in some hate groups used the slogan in Charlottesville (or anywhere else), that does not mean they now own it or that anyone else using it henceforth is somehow engaging in or endorsing hate groups and neo-Nazis.
What the teacher did fits with the anti-Trump campaign by Democrats and other leftists seeking to
paint the president as racist and worse. In Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year, she accused Trump of bringing racism into the mainstream with his campaign, and her husband, Bill, said this about Trump's slogan at an Orlando rally: "That message where ?I'll give you America great again' is if you're a white Southerner, you know exactly what it means, don't you? What it means is ?I'll give you an economy you had 50 years ago, and I'll move you back up on the social totem pole and other people down.'"
But guess what? Bill Clinton himself used the identical phrase in his own presidential campaign. Announcing his candidacy on Oct. 3, 1991, Clinton said: "I believe that together we can make America great again." And here in Georgia on Sept. 23, 1992 at a rally in Albany, he told the crowd: "And now you are being called upon, every one of you, to secure a better future for your children and your grandchildren and to make America great again economically, educationally and socially." He later used the phrase again at least once, saying he wanted to "make America great again."
So it's the usual hypocrisy from Trump's political enemies bent on delegitimizing and crippling his presidency. Unfortunately, a high school teacher in Cherokee County bought into the anti-Trump narrative, feeding the divisiveness tearing apart the country and jeopardizing her job. Of all people, our teachers - and especially math teachers - should be able to think clearly and help their students to do likewise.