A few weeks ago reader David Rimple sent in this link to a video of Brick Township, NJ high school teacher Stuart Mantel making a jackass of himself in front of his classroom. I didn't think much of the video because you can hardly see anything, I was pretty much unsurprised that a baldheaded, mustachioed, Heinrich Himmler-looking rageaholic would be teaching a technical class at a New Jersey high school (that's just about only variety of teacher we had back at dear old ACHS), and I was only curious about how long it would take before Mantel's catchphrase "I don't wanna hear a SOUND not a SOUND!" showed up as a regular sound effect on the Howard Stern show.
But I guess Rimple has a better news sense than I do, because Mantel's hissy fit continues to take the nation by storm. The anti-Mantel side of the debate says the teacher is a dangerous lunatic who should be punished, while pro-Mantelists (including, believe it or not, Bill O'Reilly) claim the kids themselves were a bunch of punks who needed to be disciplined. (Inevitably, there now appears to be a Rodney King-esque missing section of tape that we are to imagine reveals the authority figure as a great hero undone by the out-of-control forces of political correctness.)
I don't see how one argument cancels out the other. Can't the kids be punks and the teacher still be an idiot? For better or worse, in loco parentis customs are normal at the high school level, and on that basis alone, Mantel clearly belongs in another line of work: Whatever stern measures or even physical punishment might be necessary to discipline your kids, throwing a spaz attack is not one of them. It's simple: If you're going ape while the kids you're supposed to be controlling are having an extended laugh at your expense, you've lost.
Since none of my own Mantels of sainted memory ever got canned for this kind of stuff, I'm not expecting such a reaction here. What's more interesting is Brick Township's proposed solution to the problem: Banning cell phone use by students. Is this a variation on the old "Doctor, it hurts when I do this" joke? What are these publicly-funded teachers getting up to that they have to be shielded from public scrutiny? There's also a safety consideration: It's not clear that cell phones actually saved any lives during the Columbine shootings, but it is clear that public high schools are institutions of involuntary confinement where kids spend the day getting hollered at by idiots. You want your kid out of contact the next time some Private Pyle cracks under the strain?