Frank Navarro, a high school social studies teacher in Mountain View, California is back in class. Navarro is an honored fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and an expert on teaching the World War II era European Holocaust. He was placed on "administrative leave" with pay Thursday afternoon when a parent sent an email to the school district complaining about a lesson Navarro taught his ninth grade students. In the lesson, Navarro drew parallels between the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and forces propelling Donald Trump to the Presidency in the United States today.
In Trump World, if you don't like facts (my teacher presented scientific evidence that climate change is real), a teacher, or your grade, have your parents send an email complaining about a lesson and get the teacher suspended; anyway, as Donald Trump has already made clear, because Navarro is Mexican-American so he must be biased.
Navarro's suspension ignited international protest including a flood of emails from Germany, Sweden, and New York and an online petition on Change.org with almost 40,000 signatures. He returned to the classroom on Monday. Since there was no school on Friday, his suspension effectively lasted about one class period.
In a letter to parents, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District Superintendent claimed Navarro was not suspended because of the lesson, which he termed a "very appropriate academic comparison," but to give District authorities time to investigate the parent's complaint. Navarro was originally ordered banned from the school until Wednesday while the district conducted its investigation into his actions.
In an interview with a local newspaper, Navarro said his lesson plan was based on historical fact and described Hitler's persecution of Jews and rise to power as having "remarkable parallels" to Donald Trump's statements about Latinos, Muslims and African Americans. When questioned, Navarro told school officials: "I'm not pulling these facts out of my hat. It's based on experience and work, and if I'm wrong, show me where I'm wrong." He reported school authorities responded with "silence."
Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, the United States is not Weimar Germany, and history never exactly repeats itself. But some of the parallels between politics in 1920s Germany and the United States today are very disturbing. In 1922, when Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party were first emerging as a political force in the German state of Bavaria using anti-Semitism to mobilize mass support, a report in the New York Times described him in eerily similar ways to how moderate Trump supporters dismiss some of the Donald's antics and statements.
According to the Times article, "He is credibly credited with being actuated by lofty, unselfish patriotism. He probably does not know himself just what he wants to accomplish. The keynote of his propaganda in speaking and writing is violent anti-Semitism . . . But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes. A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: "You can't expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them."
In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published an allegorical political novel It Can't Happen Here about a rightwing Senator elected president after a populist campaign promoting a return to prosperity, patriotism, and traditional values (Make America Great Again?). Once president he dismantled civil liberties and tried to establish a fascist United States.
Frank Navarro's suspension is the kind of thing that terrifies teachers into silence and turns classrooms into boring infomercials and test prep academies devoid of discussion and critical thinking. Bravo Frank for standing for principles and to principals. If teachers are afraid to teach because someone might send an email to their supervisor, maybe it can happen here?
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