Opinion

POTTS: Good Teachers Shouldn’t Lose Their Jobs Over Political Correctness

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Chris Potts Alliance Defending Freedom

The final straw in Peter Vlaming’s career as a French teacher at West Point High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, came when he made a spontaneous effort to save one of his students.

Vlaming was a seven-year veteran of West Point whose warm enthusiasm and versatility (he’d done everything from coaching teams and sponsoring clubs to managing faculty funds and driving the school bus) had made him popular in both the faculty lounge and the classroom. His professional evaluations indicated solid teaching skills and a creative style that cheerfully inspired his students’ zeal for learning French.

One class exercise, for instance, involved pairing off students; one would wear VR goggles, and the other would give directions. The student with the VR goggles relied on their partner to guide them around obstacles. It was a fun way to engage the students in a class exercise, but it required the seeing member of each team to stay alert.

The exercise was underway one morning, out in the hallway, when one student became distracted, and Vlaming looked up to see that student’s begoggled partner striding toward a glass case along the wall. Instinctively, Vlaming cried out, “Don’t let her hit the wall!”

“Her.” That was the word that caused all the trouble.

Within the last few months, the girl in question — a favorite of Vlaming’s for her quick wit and enthusiasm — had decided to begin identifying as a boy. She confided to Vlaming her new masculine name and told him she’d also like to change the French name she went by in his classroom. (All Vlaming’s students were invited to use a French name in class.)

Vlaming was a little concerned; he believes sex is biological, not psychological, and that nothing a person does can change that simple fact of life. As both a teacher and a person of strong religious faith, he won’t teach or endorse an idea that he doesn’t believe is true.

But he also believes that young people have to make such decisions for themselves. The girl in question had her mother’s strong support, and Vlaming agreed not only to let her choose a new, masculine French name for class activities, but to offer the same option to all of his other students … to keep her from being singled out any more than she wanted to be.

What’s more, in class, he made it a point to avoid referring to her with feminine pronouns. Indeed, he rarely used pronouns in class at all, referring to each of his students by name instead. That plan worked fine until the near-accident in the hallway, when Vlaming’s concern for the girl’s safety momentarily overrode his pronoun constraints.

The student and her mother quickly complained to West Point administrators, who directed Vlaming to begin actively using pronouns in his class and to make sure the pronouns were aligned with what each student wanted to hear.

Vlaming tried to explain why, in good conscience, he couldn’t do that. He cared very much about his students, and would go a long mile out of his way to accommodate them, in every way he could. But this was one inch too far for his convictions.

He couldn’t use the pronouns without implying his agreement with them. Doing so would mean denying both the teachings of his religious faith and objective reality. It would mean sacrificing his constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and conscience, if — for the sake of his job — he allowed administrators to force him to express ideas he doesn’t believe in.

So, Peter Vlaming was fired.

Not because he performed poorly at his job. Not because his students weren’t learning a great deal of French. Not because his colleagues didn’t trust and respect him. Not because he wasn’t — by administrators’ own written evaluations — an excellent asset to West Point High.

And not because he didn’t treat the student in question with kindness, compassion, and respect.

Vlaming lost his job — over the protests of a number of students and their parents — because he wouldn’t conform to a social crusade, now popular with government and school officials, that says there’s only one way to deal with a person struggling with questions of gender and personal identity — and that’s to indulge their every emotional whim.

He’s not the only teacher in this country losing his job for that odd reason. Nor is he the only one to sue institutional officials for denying his constitutionally protected freedoms. Like most of the others in his situation, he’s not looking for an official endorsement of his point of view … just the freedom to hold that point of view without being punished for it.

The school board and its administrators say that’s no longer permissible. But it raises an increasingly important question: What exactly do we expect of our children’s teachers if professional expertise, personal integrity, and kind compassion are no longer enough?

Chris Potts is a senior writer for Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends), which represents Peter Vlaming in his lawsuit against the West Point School Board in Virginia.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.