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Bill O'Reilly Calls Teenagers "Dumb"

Reported by Marie Therese - February 25, 2005

During The O'Reilly Factor that aired on 2/22/05, Bill O'Reilly and his two guests, both teachers, discussed so-called "anti-war" letters sent by 6th graders in Brooklyn, New York to various soldiers. While other FOX News hosts went off on diatribes against the teachers, O'Reilly's guests actually discussed the process of teaching middle and high school students about the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

His guests were Brian Crosby who teaches journalism and and English at Herbert Hoover High School in the Los Angeles area and author of the book, "Good Teachers Deserve $100,000 a Year." The other guest was Cathy Hensford a teacher of 8th grade Social Studies at Gen. John F. Reynolds Academy in Philadelphia.

Both teachers seemed moderate and very willing to allow students the leeway to form their own opinions. O'Reilly, however, argued that kids are dumb and really have no information upon which to base an opinion. I found his attitude quite illuminating. It comes as no surprise to me that he couldn't hack it as a classroom teacher! And who in heaven's name would buy "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids" from a man who thinks kids "don't know anything?"

As someone who has taught children for thirty years, let me tell you that I am always blown away by the middle and high school students. They understand a lot more about the "real" world than people like Bill O'Reilly give them credit for, and, while somewhat inarticulate in expressing themselves, most preteens and teenagers have genuinely interesting and unique perspectives on the world. More importantly, they enjoy having a lively two-sided conversation with an interested adult.

A hidden benefit of such dialogue is that they will also tell a trusted adult when things are not going so well in their lives. Timely ntervention can only happen if the youngster in trouble confides in someone who can then connect the dots with the parents and the school. I know. I've been that "dot-connector" on more than one occasion.

This segment worried me for another reason. I wondered if the reactionary right wing is targeting middle and high school teachers as well as university professors.

The transcript follows.

O'Reilly: Are they [high school students] engaged in the war on terror? Do they know what's going on and how are they forming their opinions?

CROSBY: High school students in general they get their news from their TV and also from their music. So, I wouldn't say that's the most reliable source. Some of the journalism students that I teach to, part of their daily requirement is to read a daily newspaper, so they're pretty much keeping abreast of what's going on, because they know, if they're going to write about anything going on, including the war, they have to be informed.

O'Reilly: How influential are parents in these kids forming their opinions?

CROSBY: As children get older, they rely on their parents' opinions less.

O'Reilly: Because I can't imagine a 6th grader writing a letter to a soldier in South Korea, saying "Hey, you're killing civilians." I mean, where do they - I mean a 6th grader's not readin' the New York Times or the L.A. Times.


O'Reilly: He's gettin' it from his parents, right?

CROSBY: Exactly. I think most - the letters I looked at, it looked like they were influenced probably from their parents and that how all of us ...

O'Reilly (interrupts): Miss Hensford, how do you see it in Philadelphia? Where are the kids getting their information about the war on terror?

HENSFORD: Well, Mr. O'Reilly, I think ... that the students are getting their information from the news media, television and music - rap songs. As a matter of fact, I asked some of them and they were able to mention some artists and the lyrics they tell regarding the war. So they...

O'Reilly (interrupts): Alright. So that's mostly anti-war stuff, right, comin' out of that genre?

HENSFORD: A lot of it is, yes. But they also read the print media and listen to the news.

O'Reilly: It's interesting. You both mentioned the music, so these kids take these lyrics very seriously and literally and they form their opinions on serious issues by listenin' to this rap music, huh?

HENSFORD: Well, some take it more seriously than others, obviously. But, yes, I do think that it helps them to formulate an opinion.

O'Reilly: Mr. Crosby, the division we have in America - red state, blue state - is this in high school, too? Do you have the conservative camp and the liberal camp? Are these kids back and forth or are they apathetic? You know, when I was in high school, most kids didn't care about politics. That was before Vietnam really kicked in.

CROSBY: Well, I think before Iraq kicked in, you're right, they were apathetic, but I think this has definitely brought up opinions and students aren't afraid to express their opinions and, yes, I do see this division and that's what we try to do in our student newspaper, have a pro and con when it comes to controversy.

O'Reilly: How about the teachers? Do the teachers engage in these kinds of discussions? I know you teach journalism, but, in the history classes and those kinds of classes, do they give their opinions like they do in college campuses?

CROSBY: Well, they're not supposed to.

O'Reilly: You're told not to?

CROSBY: No, but I feel you're not supposed to do that. I know I'm very careful with my opinion because you don't want to influence these children. They look up to the teachers and the teachers should take responsibility ...

O'Reilly (cuts him off): Yeah! But, if the rappers are influencin' the kids and you're not, if seems to me that you might want to jump in. Now, Ms. Hensford, in your school do the teachers engage the kids on the war on terror and the war in Iraq?

HENSFORD: Well, I believe they engage the students. I think in any school you want to encourage students to critically think. You want to involve them in current events and that sort of thing. However, you want to give them the opportunity to formulate their own opinions.

O'Reilly (interrupts): But - what's - that's interesting though. (louder) But they DON'T KNOW anything!!

HENSFORD: You'd be surprised.

O'Reilly (louder, excited): You know, when I used to teach - I taught high school. I mean, they can form their own opinion, but they don't know anything!! You're saying "OK. Now, I'm against the war in Iraq!" and you say "OK. Now, there's a map!! Pick it out!! Where's Iraq?!" And they don't know where it is ...

HENSFORD: But, do ...

O'Reilly: ... or what happened there!! So, yeah, it's nice to empower dumb kids, but where's the responsibility to shape young minds?!!

HENSFORD: But, Mr. ....

CROSBY: Well, you see, this teacher in New York, what he could have done is - it's a learning experience. He could have taught them how to write a letter ‘cause I noticed some of the samples ...

O'Reilly: Yeah!

CROSBY: It doesn't look like they know how to write even a basic letter.

O'Reilly: Nah. They don't!

CROSBY: And you could teach them, too, who's your audience. Any writer knows ...

O'Reilly (interrupts, loudly): Or, if you're gonna say to a soldier "Do you know you're killing civilians?" you can say "Well, how to you know they're killing civilians?" and back it up!!

CROSBY: Exactly.

O'Reilly: But Miss Hensford, in your school and in Philadelphia, there are a lot of kids who go from school right into the army.

She nodded her head in agreement.

O'Reilly: And I'm just wondering whether they know any - know enough to make those kinds of decisions, whether to serve or not?

HENSFORD: Well, I think they do and I mean my students are 8th graders and, of course, they have their high school years ahead of them, but I recently had an activity where they had to write a letter to President Bush. And I gave them the opportunity to either write pro or con, regarding the war, that is, to say, they could write a letter asking President Bush ...

O'Reilly (cuts her off): Right! How did it break down?

HENSFORD: Actually, 100% of the students wrote persuasive essays asking President Bush to bring all the troops back home.

O'Reilly: Interesting. Miss Hensford, thank you very much. Mr. Crosby, appreciate it.

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