Student Clashes with Teacher on Political Ideology

I’ve been following this story since it cropped up last week and I interviewed 18-year-old Celeste Finkenbine on my show (audio here, date is 5/18). Myself and my producer have made various attempts to include the district’s side of the story on the show, which they have refused, saying that neither administrators or the teacher, Ms. Debra Blessman, would be granting interviews.

An excerpt from their press statement:

The Francis Howell School District is aware that Michael Moore’s documentary about healthcare, Sicko, was shown to a high school communication arts class as part of an assignment analyzing the different forms of persuasion. The assignment required students to not only use higher level thinking skills, but to apply their acquired knowledge in a real world situation. The District has procedures for approving the use of supplemental materials as part of the curriculum. Although the movie was not preapproved, an alternative assignment was offered. This issue has been addressed, and our procedures have been reinforced with all faculty and staff.

Although the student is free to speak about this issue, there are personnel and student privacy issues that legally prohibit the District and the teacher from providing any further information.

I’ve said repeatedly on air that I hope the school looks into the matter not just for the allegation that Ms. Blessman called Finkenbine a “teabagger” in front of the class but for showing a movie, “Sicko,” that the district admits was not on a “pre-approved” list. I’ve had numerous parents emailing me about this with similar incidents of their own and it reinforces the idea that schools should be safe places to express honest, free, academic curiosity.  Finkenbine has apparently experienced bullying as a result of speaking out, with people throwing tea bags on her lawn. Finkenbine has apparently also decided to not walk in her upcoming graduation. Sad.

Blessman’s class, a literature and composition course, was to view the movie and write a paper after which accounted for 50% of their final grade. It was a lesson on the elements of persuasion, an incredibly easy lesson in which a student could have simply written “the persuasive technique in this film was flawed, mediocre, and essentially a cobbling-together of lazy ideas and outright lies in order to convince the viewer of a socialist premise.”

When MTV’s Kurt Loder says as much, you know there exists a problem:

Unfortunately, Moore is also a con man of a very brazen sort, and never more so than in this film. His cherry-picked facts, manipulative interviews (with lingering close-ups of distraught people breaking down in tears) and blithe assertions (how does he know 18,000* people will die this year because they have no health insurance?) are so stacked that you can feel his whole argument sliding sideways as the picture unspools. The American health-care system is in urgent need of reform, no question. Some 47 million people are uninsured (although many are only temporarily so, being either in-between jobs or young enough not to feel a pressing need to buy health insurance). There are a number of proposals as to what might be done to correct this situation. Moore has no use for any of them, save one.

A few more for posterity:

Human Events:

What “Sicko” purposely didn’t tell you about Cuba is that, other than being a Gulag police state, there are very few —if any —functioning health centers.

From NY Daily News:

Unfortunately, Moore is more concerned with promoting an anti-free-market agenda than getting his facts straight.


Moore ignores the fact that 85% of hospital beds in the U.S. are in nonprofit hospitals, and almost half of us with private plans get our insurance from nonprofit providers. Moreover, Kaiser Permanente, which Moore demonizes, is also a nonprofit.

What’s really amazing is that even the intended beneficiaries of Moore’s propagandizing don’t support his claims. The Supreme Court of Canada declared in June 2005 that the government health care monopoly in Quebec is a violation of basic human rights.

The alternate assignment for this should have been the viewing of “Michael Moore Hates America.”

Was this film presented as fact in the classroom? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility given the track record of certain educators to present liberal ideology as fact and has even before ended in a court case in the UK. This, coupled with the allegation that Blessman called Finkenbine a “teabagger,” troubles the situation further; taking the bullying and the tea bags in the lawn of a teenager complicates it even more.

I realize that some will (and have) rushed to condemn Finkenbine, just as always done in any case where a woman speaks out about what she feels as an injustice. Instead of grabbing pitchforks and pulling a quasi “Carrie” on someone, we should encourage the school board at Francis Howell to get to the bottom of the matter (did Debra Blessman call Celeste Finkenbine a “teabagger?” Why was she showing a movie unapproved by parents?) instead of remaining silent with the hope that the issue will go away.

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