Teaching is about as old as civilization itself. Parents start filling this role from day one of a child’s birth — supplemented by other adults as the child matures. Teachers help mold a child’s thinking and values in life.
The worst thing one can do is undermine that evolving value system, unless a student is embarking upon the wrong moral path.
Enter California’s El Rancho High School history teacher Gregory Salcido and one of his senior students, Victor Quinonez.
Recently, as Quinonez walked to the front of the classroom to turn in an assignment, Salcido saw the 17-year wearing a Marine Corps sweatshirt. His teacher immediately queried Quinonez about his decision to enter the Marine Corps after graduation. Quinonez courteously explained why, triggering a rant by his teacher — one Quinonez surreptitiously taped after returning to his desk.
Proud of his family’s military tradition — his father and two uncles having served as Marines — Quinonez wanted to serve as well. All three relatives clearly were role models for the young student. They shared with him the challenges faced in the Marines, the esprit de corps encountered as a band of brothers and the pride of serving one’s country. Through his family, Quinonez embraced as life values honor, courage and service to country. For six minutes, Salcido demeaned those values.
Salcido, mocking those now serving overseas as failures, said, “Think about the people who you know are over there — your freaking stupid Uncle Louie or whatever — they’re dumbs**ts. They’re not high-level thinkers. They’re not academic people. They’re not intellectual people. They’re the freaking lowest of our low.”
Alluding to the world’s oldest profession, Salcido further adde:, “I don’t understand why we let the military guys come over here and recruit you at school. We don’t let pimps come in the school.”
Salcido managed to include racial slurs against Asians during his tirade: “We couldn’t beat the Vietnamese, they are a bunch of people this big throwing rice at us, and we couldn’t beat them.”
He then advised Quinonez not to join the Marines and instructed him never to wear the sweatshirt to class again. Salcido exhibited to the entire class every element of teacher incompetency one in the profession could possibly demonstrate.
Asked about Salcido’s comments during an interview, White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, minced no words. He said the teacher “ought to go to Hell.” One can understand Kelly’s anger: one of his two sons who served in the Marine Corps was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, Salcido also never heard a speech Kelly delivered only days after his son’s death, entitled “Six Seconds to Live.” Kelly spoke about two sons of other parents — young Marines whose last six seconds of life were caught on security camera footage. They were Corporal Jonathan Yale, 22, and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 20.
The two, along with several Iraqi soldiers, were guarding entry to a compound occupied jointly by US Marines and Iraqi soldiers. Suddenly, a truck raced toward the gate, failing to stop despite commands to do so. Realizing this was a suicide bomber trying to detonate the truck inside the compound, the Iraqi guards ran to seek safety. Yale and Haerter, knowing they remained the last line of defense protecting their comrades, held their ground. Putting out a wall of fire, they killed the driver. However, as the truck exploded outside the compound, both Marines were killed. Their unflinching courage in the face of imminent death to protect those depending on them to do so was incredible. Both were posthumously awarded the Nation’s third highest combat medal—the Silver Star.
Salcido’s unprofessionalism in demeaning a student’s desire to serve his country was despicable. And, this is not first time his behavior has been at issue. In 2010, he was temporarily suspended for allegedly making inappropriate racial comments.
What should be most telling about Salcido’s perspective on life is the comment he posted after receiving numerous text messages about his comments gaining national attention.
After stating he just “got out of an excellent musical…I turned my phone back on to unexpectedly see a storm. I don’t think it’s wise for me to make any specific comments, but I want my friends, family, and students to know we are fine and we respect the rights of free expression for all individuals.”
There was not a word of apology for his outrageous comments or for attempting to destroy a young student’s life dream. No, for Salcido, it was all about him and how he was doing.
While Salcido’s comments reach an all-time low for someone with teaching credentials, there does seem to be a lack of understanding by educators for those choosing to serve in the military. One veteran tells the story of his disappointment with a teacher’s response after proudly sharing he had been accepted at West Point. The response was, “You’re a smart guy. You don’t have to join the military. You should go to college, instead.” This veteran added, “What I will say is that when a 16 year-old kid is being told that attending West Point is going to be bad for his future then there is a dangerous disconnect in America, and entirely too many Americans have no idea what kind of burdens our military is bearing.”
With only 0.45 percent of our population serving today in the war on terrorism, this is not what our prospective young warriors need to be hearing from those they look up to as teachers.
In his speech, Kelly said of those serving in uniform, “All are heroes for simply stepping forward, and we as a people owe a debt we can never fully pay.”
Salcido needs to take a step backward and reassess what he can do to contribute to society. It definitely is not teaching.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.