Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 12:18 p.m. on March 23. A previous version incorrectly said the Saratoga Springs parents from the “Conservative Chicks” group did not identify themselves on “Fox & Friends,” when in fact they were identified by the host as Julie Tellstone and Marnie Messitt.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city school district drew fire this week from a national TV news outlet, after a teacher shared political cartoons comparing President Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini during a lesson on World War II.
Julie Tellstone and Marnie Messitt Saratoga Springs parents representing a local group called “Conservative Chicks” appeared on the conservative morning show “Fox & Friends” Wednesday morning to criticize the district for the lesson they deemed too liberal.
Tellstone told host Steve Doocy that the 10th-grade class discussion on fascism involved political cartoons portraying President Donald Trump in the likeness of fascist dictators Hitler and Mussolini.
A teacher shared political cartoons comparing President Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. (Via ToddStarnes.com)
“The fact that the Board of Education met last night and this was not discussed — not one word was spoken about comparing our president to brutal dictators who were responsible for killing millions of people — that’s not OK,” Tellstone said on the show. “Both students and parents are dealing on a daily basis with the political, liberal indoctrination that’s going on in our school system.”
The Conservative Chicks only appeared on the show after the school district failed to apologize for the incident, according to another group member who did not appear on the show and asked to be identified only by her first name, Jennifer. She said her children, who attend the school, are already bullied for having conservative political views, and she didn’t want to fuel the fire by being named in this story.
Attempts to speak with other members of the group were unsuccessful Wednesday. Jennifer, who also said she feared repercussions at her place of employment if her identity were revealed, said the Conservative Chicks — they have a Facebook page — formed during the presidential primaries last year and has about 50 members, most of whom live in Saratoga Springs.
“What alarms everybody the most is the answer that was given by the superintendent …” she said, referring to comments by Saratoga Springs Superintendent Michael Piccirillo included in a blog by Todd Starnes, the host of Fox News & Commentary and author of “The Deplorables’ Guide to Making America Great Again.”
“[Piccirillo] defended the lesson – telling me that ‘teaching about fascism as a political movement in the context of World War II is part of the curriculum,” Starnes wrote. “So how does President Trump factor into World War II?”
“The cartoons you referenced were used as examples to introduce a student debate regarding how some media may be portraying our government as exhibiting the early signs of fascism,” Piccirillo said, according to the blog post.
Starnes also wrote that the lesson plan had been posted on the school district’s website, but once he started “poking around and asking questions,” it was hidden behind a password-protected wall. Starnes said he asked Piccirillo if the teacher explained that the comparisons were “not only unfair, but also grossly inaccurate?”
“The superintendent did not answer that question,” Starnes wrote.
Piccirillo explained the lesson in a prepared statement released Wednesday, saying the cartoons were used in a PowerPoint on World War II and were presented without any context, which became the focal point of parents’ concerns.
“These concerns were brought to our attention, and an investigation took place,” the superintendent said. “As a result of the investigation, we were made aware of the complete content of the lesson.”
The class included a debate on whether the media’s portrayal of the president was fair and/or accurate, according to the district’s statement.
“Fascism is a concept embedded in the New York State curriculum,” the district said. “The cartoons in question were utilized within this context to present a visual display of potential media bias. The students subsequently researched fascism from a historical context and debated the question in teams. Students were free to debate using any example, past or present. The teacher facilitated the student debate and maintained a neutral position throughout.”
Piccirillo added, “We continue to reinforce the district’s policy, which states that employees will in no way impair the non-partisan position of the schools.”
Bob Turner, a political science professor at Skidmore College, a liberal arts school in Saratoga Springs, said one or two political cartoons used in class should not be the basis of evaluating an entire school district or even a teacher.
“The Saratoga teachers are actually pretty conservative,” he said.
Turner said political cartoons have historically characterized all presidents unfavorably, and he pointed to cartoons that insinuated Barack Obama was the heir to communist revolutionaries like Vladimir Lenin and Chairman Mao during his presidency.
“It’s been a hallmark of liberal criticism of Donald Trump from the beginning that he is a sort of extreme conservative, so a cartoon representing him as Hitler is a logical way to show polarization in today’s political climate,” Turner said.
Asked if the teacher’s use of the political cartoons in class was appropriate, he said, “I don’t have any academic expertise as to what constitutes appropriate political discourse for a 15-year-old.”
Matt Hogan, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee, said the classroom material concerned him because he has two sons in the district: one in eighth grade and another in ninth.
“Teachers should be teaching fact, not opinion, and they should let the kids learn about history and not be told what to believe in,” he said.