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2 Words Uttered in NYC Classroom Caused a Firestorm

Friends Seminary terminated Ben Frisch over the incident
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2018 5:07 PM CDT
Updated Sep 9, 2018 6:53 AM CDT
File photo.   (Getty Images / halbergman)

(Newser) – It costs nearly $50,000 a year to send your kid to Friends Seminary, a private Quaker school in Manhattan founded in 1786. Two words uttered there cost Ben Frisch much more. While teaching a Feb. 14 pre-calculus class, he lifted his right arm up and down during a demonstration on angles of depression and elevation. Realizing his movement was mimicking the Nazi salute, he was "mortified," writes Jonathan Mahler for the New York Times Magazine; Mahler notes that two of Frisch's great-grandmothers died at Auschwitz. Fumbling for a way to bring levity to the situation, Frisch settled on two poorly-chosen words: "Heil Hitler!" Mahler writes that Frisch, seeing his students' surprised reaction, realized his "stab at Mel Brooks-style parody" had flopped and he tried to explain that jokes about Nazis were once not so taboo.

That was then, this is now: After 12 days of meetings, Frisch was told by school principal Bo Lauder and a number of board members that he could resign or be fired; he ultimately refused to resign. The case is now in arbitration, with a decision in the coming weeks as to whether to return Frisch to his position or stick with the termination. But Mahler's piece is about much more than just the various schools of thought on Frisch's case: It's about being a Quaker institution that is increasingly going toe-to-toe with other posh NYC schools—and possibly sacrificing its Quaker values in the process. With Frisch being the only Quaker teacher at the school and one whose firing didn't involve the community at large (as Quaker decisions are historically made), "the fight over Frisch’s termination became a proxy battle in this larger war," writes Mahler. Read his full piece here. (Read more Longform stories.)

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