Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Imprint of Fear

This country is failing our teachers and the national dialog about schools sounds as though its been scripted by Fox TV News.

Nathan Fisher resigned because he's a rookie easily intimidated by loudmouths to whom a fearful Board and administration cower with resignation. The lawyers advising school boards are near worthless clerks who earn their money by changing the grammar of school policy manuals every few years without the aid of an automated find/replace function key (cha-ching!) but they will tell everyone in listening distance not to say a word. Don't speak. Board members can't converse via email. No. Shut up and be scared like everyone else.

Some Educators simply sleep-walk through the nightmare of Bush America.

Elaine Cunningham's blog is the most affecting testament to how pathetically treated teachers are in this country. They talk about fear of teaching the subjects they love. Of having to rename famous art so as to slip in some culture. Fear, stress, and anxiety that they might easily be the next Nate Fisher.
One of my high school English teachers was a young woman, probably just out of college. I wasn't happy with everything she did--such as leaving my test scores out of the bell curve--but I appreciated the fact that she tried to expose us to new ideas and forms of expression. One evening she invited several girls from the class over for homemade root beer, an interesting apple cobbler with peanut butter in the biscuit topping, and recorded folk music. I remember Odetta in particular, and I remember privately acknowledging that even though I didn't understand or even particularly enjoy the music--bluesy folk was a bit too far outside my experience at the time--it was undeniably powerful. Since this teacher knew I liked to read, she lent me books from her own library. I zipped through War and Peace and asked for other Russian writers. She happily handed me a collection of Chekov short stories.

One of these tales puzzled and troubled me. The narrator was a young sailor who, along with a grizzled, dissolute old wretch, drew the lucky straw for the two peepholes into a passenger cabin belonging to a pair of newlyweds. As they watched, an older, powerful-looking man entered the room. There was an argument between him and the bridegroom, but after a while the young man left the room. As the older man advanced on the horror-struck young bride, the old sailor bid the younger peeking tom to come away, as there were some things unfit even for the likes of them.

I had a general idea, of course, but I wasn't quite sure what was going on in this story, and why. So after class, I handed the book to the teacher and told her I was missing the subtext. She leafed through the story. Her face began to flame. She closed the book and quietly said, "I shouldn't have given you this. It was a mistake. I'm very sorry."

Much later, it occurred to me that if I'd brought that story to the attention of the school administration and made a sufficient fuss, she very likely would have lost her job. And let me tell you, it's fairly easy to make a fuss among Seventh-day Adventists. My mother taught in the local two-room school house for years, but as I recall, there was some concern about her losing her job when complaints were sent to the school board and the church conference about the pendant watch she wore. Strict Adventists didn't wear jewelry at the time. (Not sure if this is still the case.) Watches were fine, even pins were considered okay, but absolutely NO rings (including wedding rings), necklaces, or ear rings. This was Worldliness. It was a transgression of scriptural admonition to--and I'm paraphrasing from memory here--"Let not your adornment be gold and silver, but a meek and quiet spirit." (Come to think of it, I suspect that the complaints might have had as much to do with the lack of meek and quiet as it did the presence of gold....) The thing is, Mom can't wear watches. She puts them on, they stop. She takes them off, they'll start up again. No one knows why. She needed some way to carry a timepiece, especially during outdoor recess, so she wore a simple pendant watch along with her other "ornament:" a whistle on a chain. (And FWIW, no one bitched about the whistle.)
The comments Elaine received on her additional observations I will only blockquote in snippets and I'll defer to Elaine's blog for author references.
One of the reasons I've never given teaching in the public school system serious consideration is because of how politicized the administrative landscape is. As a result, you get kneejerk reactions when parents threaten legal action.
I was once caught in a similar situation. A parent believed that I had made a sexual advance towards a student (some rumor was circulated somehow). (this was a private school) and I was forced to apologize to each class I taught, with the principal looking on to ensure I did it. If I hadn't apologized I would have been fired (I tried to resist, but I as in my first year of teaching) and it wouldn't have done any good anyway. I was never told the student's name no even really told the situation in which I had said the thing (I had no memory of it), or what I said.
it's not worth the risk. In fact, I read a projection somewhere that by 2020 or so there will be virtually no male elementary-school teachers. That's sad, because it's probably one of the things that will contribute to long-term societal collapse. But it's just not worth the risk.
But it's cases like this that make me rethink my career goals. I'm a teacher who thinks outside of the box, and more and more, that kind of thinking just lands you into trouble. So I have to ask myself, is it worth it? Does my passion for teaching outweigh the restrictions placed on public (and some private) school teachers?
I know nothing about this story, or the graphic novel in question, but it made me think of a couple that tried to bully my mother into sending one of her eight year old students to a school for retarded children for saying the word condom in class. (Mum had reacted by telling her that word was unfit for school and the girl didn't say it again. The couple's daughter however kept repeating it despite reprimands.)
it seems like the local media have already made up their mind that the teacher was a predator, and don't seem real interested in digging further.
Please take the time to visit this site - I'm just scratching the surface.
Why are we allowing our teachers to be treated like criminals first and human beings as an afterthought.

We need to get the effin' politicians out of the schools. Schools in America need to be treated like embassies bestowing diplomatic immunity from all the bullies and special interest lunatics who have turned learning into an exercise of walking on eggshells. We need to restore America's schools by allowing teachers to teach with passion and integrity - NEO-CON THEORISTS BE DAMNED.


Captain Scurvy said...

I'm a friend of Mr. Fisher's and have spoken with him regarding the incident. I can understand why you might feel that his decision to resign lacked courage, but my understanding is that he was afforded two choices by the Guilford Superintendent:

1.) Resign.
2.) If you don't resign, you will be terminated in such a fashion as to guarantee by law that you will never be permitted to teach in a public school in the United States again, ever. (I am told this is possible due to the unique way in which public teacher's contracts are processed).

As Mr. Fisher hopes to teach again, despite all that has happened to him, he went with option number one.

Frank Krasicki said...

Thank you, Cptn'

This blog is one of the many JulieGroup portals on the internet. Although this case is not part of that group's charter I can assure you it has the attention of more than a few members.

Thank you for providing tangible information regarding the back story of this case.

Please encourage teachers and students and inside witnesses to offer verifiable accounts of impropriety in the handling of Nate Fisher's case.

Do not let anyone lie to you to say that you can't talk about it. Confidential postings here stay confidential and are passed along to select law enforcement individuals, legal sources, and journalists.

Truthful accounting of this case will be heard.