Has PC Culture Gone Too Far?
“Bring Ben Back” read the pin donned by a multitude of Friends Seminary students, the slogan encircling a joyful and seemingly carefree man. However, the implication of these words seems better paired with a political cause or campaign, not a kindhearted geometry teacher at the New York City independent school Friends Seminary, who was fired after 34 years of teaching. His sudden dismissal has triggered various conversations about what many claim to be the hypersensitivity of New York elite schools. It seems as though, in an attempt to make communities feel more welcome and comfortable, we have begun to find reason to further isolate others.
According to students in his February 18th, 2018 precalculus class, Mr. Frisch had been using his arms as models to demonstrate an angle. A swift, three-second gesture during this math class ended Mr. Frisch’s career, as he lifted his straightened right arm in the air and, to the horror of many of his students, mistakenly demonstrated a Nazi salute. Following this accidental motion, Mr. Frisch, whose father was Jewish, declared ‘Heil Hitler’ to his dumbfounded students in an attempt to alleviate the awkwardness. The students promptly reacted with side glances, uncomfortable laughter, and silence.
The thought process behind why Mr. Frisch’s followed his motion with ‘Heil Hitler’ was, and remains, dubious, as the only person who knows why he did what he did is Mr. Frisch himself.
Although many believe that the extreme reaction from the administration was unjust, it is unfair to dismiss any emotions or feelings that students had regarding the event. Mr. Frisch was of a part Jewish family, which forces us to question whether there was malevolent intent behind his action. However, in that split second, staring at a teacher and community role model mimicking those who discriminated against and killed many minorities during World War 2, students had every right to react emotionally to what he did. Not only did the motion and ‘Heil Hitler’ speak to an unforgettable part of history, but it is also very much a reality of the present. With the Charlottesville protests involving white supremacists taking to the streets shouting, “Jews will not replace us” still fresh in everyone’s mind, this incident was extremely, and rightfully, triggering to his audience.
That being said, though, this was done seemingly accidentally. Assuming his good intentions, we must also remember that everyone makes mistakes, even those whose job it is to teach us how to avoid them. So, this begs the question: how much leniency we should afford teachers?
Hannah Raykher (‘19), a Packer senior, was of the opinion that “people f**k up….He was in a weird situation, and, standing like [that], he probably wanted to take control of the situation before anyone else did.” She added that, upon hearing of the incident, her response was, “Okay that’s stupid, but he didn’t deserve to get fired.”
The incident did shine a controversial, and arguably negative, light on Friends Seminary. However, every school, including Packer, experiences periods of turmoil within its walls; this same event could have very easily occurred here.
Though Mr. Frisch’s actions in his classroom were undoubtedly offensive, they did not come from a place of malice. Have we as a society become too sensitized as a result of the political correctness movement, which often disregards the question of whether or not someone’s intentions were noble? Does a lack of mal intent justify offensive actions, especially among educators? The case of Mr. Frisch is an unfortunate example of the hypersensitive New York City private school culture. Had this not been at Friends Seminary, a prestigious, primarily liberal private school in 2018, would the repercussions be the same?
When asked about his opinion on Friends’ reaction, a current Packer parent expressed his belief that “it was ridiculous.” When he was in school, teachers would exercise varying levels of harsh punishment toward students, which would be unacceptable by today’s standards, and to him, Frisch’s firing feels unnecessary.
Is this parent, along with Mr. Frisch, simply behind the times? Was his crime being oblivious to his students’ sensitivities, or was it the action itself? Our own parents are often confused by, and unaccustomed to, the intensity of PC culture at Packer and society in general, but we don’t blame them for it. Is it fair to hold teachers to a different standard?
At Packer, and at many elite New York City high schools, our perception of PC culture has become warped, straying from the movement’s initial intent of sensitivity to an environment in which we are often scared to speak our minds if our opinions risk controversy. Mr. Frisch’s actions, while far more extreme than many of the daily challenges Packer students regarding PC culture, do shed light on the necessity to reexamine the ways in which our standards have stripped people of the ability to think and express opinions that stray from the norm.
Given that internalized anti-semitism is prevalent in our country, it is imperative that we recognize the inappropriateness of his comments, and how it made those affected feel. Taking this into account, though, to what extent is PC culture destructive and how can we determine when it has gone too far? Overbearing PC culture cannot be our solution to accommodating both the sensitive and the more impervious.