Saturday, March 04, 2006

The President On Trial

If you're a high school teacher looking to get some attention, here's one sure fire method:
A mock war crimes trial of President George W. Bush at a Parsippany high school continued Friday, despite criticism from people across the nation who heard about the classroom exercise from a prominent Web site and talk-radio programs.

Parsippany-Troy Hills School District interim Superintendent James Dwyer said the hearing in the 12th grade politics and government class would continue, but a verdict by a five-teacher "international court of justice" panel would not be rendered as originally planned.

Speaking after a two-hour meeting with school board president, the high school principal and a curriculum superintendent, Dwyer said Friday the project was in keeping with the district's curriculum and had received prior administrative approval.

The class is an advanced placement elective, he said, and the lesson explores current events and foreign policy in an interactive way.

"The focus is on the process itself, not on any outcome," Dwyer said.

The course's instructor, Joseph Kyle, has taught in the district for eight years. Speaking at a news conference Friday afternoon, he said the tribunal was conceived as a learning exercise, not an opportunity to bash Bush.

"I'm incredibly proud of these students," Kyle said, adding that he did not mind being personally criticized but was angered by suggestions that his students were not capable of forming their own opinions.

"For anyone who thinks a teacher could propagandize and instill everything they said ... I'd have to be the most powerful man in the universe," Kyle said.

"Mentally, they're already beyond college," Kyle said of his advanced placement class.

Dwyer said he and the school's principal have received more than two dozen e-mails and phone calls about the course since the Web site "The Drudge Report" linked to a newspaper article about the class. Talk-radio programs also apparently have discussed the course, Dwyer said, and listeners contacting the district were 10-1 against allowing the mock hearing.

But students involved in the project, which began Monday after several weeks of research, said the decision to hold a trial over Bush's alleged "crimes against civilian populations" and "inhumane treatment of prisoners" was agreed upon by all 27 classmates.

Catherine Galdun, one of the student prosecutors, told the Daily Record of Parsippany for Friday's newspapers that she would have been upset had the trial been halted.

"I would say that we're doing this in a fair and balanced way," said Galdun, 18. "We're looking at both sides of it. If (critics) don't believe that's right to do in a classroom _ to debate both sides of an issue _ I don't agree with that."

Township Council Vice President James Vigilante, a U.S. Air Force reservist, said he could see both sides. "I'm a Bush fan. I don't necessarily, myself, agree with the lesson plan, but on the flip side, I wouldn't condemn the teacher," he told the newspaper.

Vigilante, a Republican, added, "For me, it's the right of free speech."

The mock-hearing is expected to conclude next week. Parsippany, a community of about 28,000, is 30 miles west of New York.
Significantly, when the administrators in the district had their little conclave to decide whether or not to let the "trial" move forward, they did not invite the teacher to the meeting.
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