Two weeks ago, this paper reported that Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, accused me, a civics teacher at Central High School, of distributing partisan campaign flyers to my students during school hours. He personally called Superintendent Hite, ensuring that I would be muzzled while the school investigated this claim. DiGiorgio repeated this claim on talk radio, claiming that Philadelphia teachers were using our positions for “liberal indoctrination” of public-school students. The story was soon picked up by Breitbart Media, where readers across the country called for my firing — or worse, violence against my students and me.
The only election-related papers I ever handed out to students were voter registration forms. So why would the GOP target my students and me?
Is it because we’re in the run-up to an important election on Nov. 6, and I’m the organizer of the nonpartisan Philly Youth Vote! campaign to get all 12,000 of Philadelphia’s public-school seniors out to vote? Is it because Philadelphia’s diverse population of young people tend to vote for candidates who are not Republicans? Whatever the reason, neither bullying nor smears will shake my commitment to our young people. As public servants of this city, all Philadelphia teachers have pledged to provide our students with the necessary tools to understand their civic right to participate in the democratic process. The future of our city depends on the engagement of this vital constituency.
That’s why good educators bring debate into their social studies classrooms to examine current events. They teach students how to take positions, to form arguments based on evidence, to vet their sources for bias and quality. These skills are fundamental for civic engagement and developing critical thinking. At Central, like schools across the city, teachers on all points of the political spectrum engage one another outside the classroom, challenging and learning from one another. That alleged “flyer” that Chairman DiGiorgio broadcasted? It was actually a cropped photo of a poster that hung in a staff office that had other political materials, including a 2018 Ronald Reagan tribute calendar and a Black Lives Matter poster.
The 2017 calendar that preceded the Reagan calendar was a pro-Trump piece that featured the MAGA slogan. In 2016, lawn signs for both Trump and Clinton were in the office prior to Election Day, all without objection or concern by the administration or School District.
We’re not threatened by opposing viewpoints. We welcome them.
And we won’t be intimidated by false accusations. I will continue to maintain a professional classroom and work with utmost dedication to the empowerment of my students and the young people of Philadelphia.
And Chairman DiGiorgio? He should have known better. He’s not only a lawyer sworn to uphold the Constitution, he’s a Central grad.
His teachers taught him better than that.
Thomas Quinn is chair of the Social Studies Department at Central High School