A teacher made a Hitler joke in the classroom. It tore the school apart

Source: New York Times

Ben Frisch opened his Feb. 14 pre-calculus class at Friends Seminary the same way that he opened all his classes over the course of his 34 years at the private Quaker school in Manhattan: with an invitation to his students to share anything that was on their minds, followed by the gentle ringing of a chime and a long moment of silence. He then introduced the day’s lesson, involving the calculating of angles of depression and elevation. Frisch straightened out his right arm to demonstrate. He lowered it down and then raised it up. Glancing at his arm, now fully extended and pointing slightly upward, Frisch realized something: He was inadvertently pantomiming the Nazi salute. Frisch is a practicing Quaker, but his father was Jewish, and two of his great-grandmothers were killed at Auschwitz. Mortified, he searched for some way to defuse the awkwardness of the moment. And then he said it: “Heil Hitler!”

A few students gasped; others exchanged surprised looks or laughed nervously. Instantly aware that his stab at Mel Brooks-style parody hadn’t landed, Frisch lowered his arm and tried to explain himself, telling his students that it used to be common to make fun of Nazis. Only recently, he said, had such jokes become taboo. He resumed the lesson, and the weird moment seemed to be over.

News of the incident spread quickly. A student mentioned it to Friends’ director of diversity and inclusion, Jason Craige Harris, who in turn told the dean of co-curricular programs, Leitzel Schoen. The following day, Schoen called the school’s principal, Bo Lauder, catching him on a plane to visit a sick relative in Alabama. Lauder decided that Frisch should stay home until the school figured out what to do.

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