A certain restlessness is plaguing America’s schools, after Donald Trump cinched an unexpected presidential victory last week. Coming on top of reports of bullying and social unease on schools, a high-school history teacher was put on leave after he compared Trump to Adolf Hitler.
Frank Navarro, a Holocaust scholar who has taught at Mountain View High School in California for 40 years, was asked to temporarily leave the school on Nov. 10 after a parent complained about statements he’d made in class to students. According to Navarro, the complaints were over a lesson in which he noted “remarkable parallels” between Trump and the Nazi leader, including similarities in both individuals’ attitudes towards racial minorities to win an election as well as promises to make their countries “great again.”
My intention was to connect the history of the 20th century with this ongoing history now. It is consequential. As a fellow, as a writer, I don’t see any other way around it. I feel strongly about this: To stand quiet in the face of bigotry and to turn your eyes away from it is to back up the bigotry—and that’s not what I, or any history teacher, should be doing in our work.
The school’s principal called Navarro’s suspension a “time out” and said it was for the school’s own good in the face of the election. “Regardless of their political affiliation, many of our students show signs of emotional stress,” the principal said in a letter to parents, adding that the suspension helped to create an “emotionally safe environment” for students.
Yet the debate over the appropriateness of Navarro’s original comments in an educational setting is by no means over.