Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
A history teacher at Mountain View High School has been placed on paid leave after drawing parallels between Republican President-elect Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler in his lesson plan.
Frank Navarro, who’s taught at the school for 40 years, was asked to leave midday Thursday after a parent sent an email to the school expressing concerns about statements Navarro made in class. Mountain View/Los Altos High School District Superintendent Jeff Harding confirmed the incident Friday but declined to describe the parent’s complaints.
Navarro, an expert on the Holocaust, said school officials declined to read him the email and also declined his request to review the lesson plan with him.
“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.”
Though Navarro said school officials originally told him to return on Wednesday, Harding said he could return as early as Monday.
“We are interested in getting Frank back in the classroom…we’re just trying to maintain our due diligence,” he said. “We have a heightened emotional environment right now with the election. It’s always a challenge to maintain a line in a classroom.”
Tensions have run high throughout the Bay Area after Trump’s victory, with many protesting in the streets and hundreds of students staging walkouts. Navarro’s suspension came on the same day Milpitas High School Principal Phil Morales was placed on administrative leave for using a profanity about the president-elect during a student walkout in protest of Trump.
Though he said he regretted the language he used, Morales stood by his actions and said he would continue advocating for his students.
The Oracle, Mountain View High’s independent student newspaper, said some of Navarro’s students alleged his lessons were one-sided and that Navarro said things about Trump that his supporters would find offensive. Other students defended Navarro. A change.org petition calling for his return had more than 1,200 signatures as of Friday evening.
Meanwhile Navarro, who also teaches special education, argues his lesson plan was not based on personal opinion, but historical facts. The 65-year-old was named a Mandel Fellow for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1997 and has studied at the International Center for the Study of the Holocaust in Jerusalem. Hitler’s persecution of Jews and rise to power has “remarkable parallels” to Trump’s comments on Latinos, Blacks and Muslims in his own bid for power, he said.
“I said (to 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 we where I’m wrong.’ And there was silence,” he said.
Navarro, who is Mexican-American and was raised in Oakland, said he’s concerned for many of his students during this political climate.
“I’ve had Mexican kids come and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Navarro, I might be deported,’” he said.
“Is it better to see bigotry and say nothing? That’s what the principal was telling me (during our conversation). In my silence, I would be substantiating the bigotry.”
In case there’s any doubt, Navarro is working in the world of facts. He sees the same parallels between Trump’s and Hitler’s political rhetoric as does Robert Paxton, America’s leading scholar on fascism. Although Paxton (like Navarro) takes pains not to establish an equivalence between Trump and Hitler, he does see parallels, or what he calls “echoes” of Hitler and other fascist leaders in Trump. Paxton told Slate earlier this year:
The echoes you can deal with on two levels. First of all, there are the kinds of themes Trump uses. The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. “Making the country great again” sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline, that was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately, because the country isn’t in serious decline, but he’s able to persuade them that it is. That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline. That’s another one. Then, there’s a second level, which is a level of style and technique. He even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.
I read an absolutely astonishing account of Trump arriving for a political speech, somewhere out West I think, and his audience was gathered in an airplane hangar, and he landed his plane at the field and taxied up to the hangar and got out. That is exactly what they did in 1932 for Hitler’s first election victory. No one had ever seen a candidate arrive by plane before; it was absolutely dazzling, the impression given, the decisiveness of power, of authority, of modernity. I suppose it was accidental, but wow, that is an almost letter-perfect replay of a Hitler election tactic. And the capacity of Trump to enlist working-class voters against the left is exactly what Hitler and Mussolini were able to do. There are definitely echoes.
Paxton has been teaching European history at Columbia University since 1969–a little longer than Navarro has been teaching at Mountain View High School. Presumably, Columbia’s administrators have given Paxton the freedom to write and teach history without regard for whether he’s drawing “emotionally safe” conclusions. And there’s no reason a high school history teacher shouldn’t enjoy the same privilege.