Educrats say the darndest things
When I was much younger, there used to be a TV variety show called The Art Linkletter Show. At the end of the show, Art would gather young children around him and ask them loaded questions. This segment was called "Kids Say the Darndest Things." The answers from the children were often funny and sometimes profound.
During my teaching career, I heard the educrats I worked with say some of the darndest things as well. They didn't say profound things, but the words they said revealed disturbing things to me about American public education.
The high school where I began my teaching career had a revolving door on the principal's office. Every two years or so, the Board of Education would change our principal. During one of these transitions, I spoke to another teacher about "the newest guy." After checking around for eavesdroppers, he said to me softly, "This new guy isn't like us." I asked him to explain, and he said, "He's gay."
With this new information, I made my way to see one of the assistant principals at my school. He waved me in and I asked if I could close the door. I told him what the other teacher had said, and his countenance changed. He then told me he was teased recently at a meeting of educrats because he was now the only heterosexual member of our school's administrative staff. He told me how uncomfortable he was at social events mingling with the same-sex partners of the school's administrative team. The uncomfortable administrator who revealed these things to me warned me not to raise these issues publicly, because that would adversely impact my career.
On one occasion, I sent a boy to the office with a referral for disrupting my class. After school, I went to see that student's administrator to follow up on the referral. I gave a narrative of the incident and asked what consequences the young man would receive. The administrator assured me that the young man understood his error and would not repeat it in my class. When the educrat understood that I was not satisfied with the consequences given to the disruptive young man, he added impatiently, "I am an educator, not a disciplinarian."
Once, I attended a beginning-of-the-year faculty meeting where an educrat basically announced that expulsions of students would no longer occur in our county. I did not raise an objection in the large group, but I did speak privately with one of our administrators. I told him that I found this change outrageous. He did what he could to mollify me. I told the him that this change gave me a good idea: I would run for governor on the platform that I would end all crime in Maryland. He smiled and asked me how I would I would keep my promise. I told him I would make all behavior legal. When he heard my answer, he was no longer smiling. He simply said, "You can't say that."
For several years, I sat on the Faculty Council at my high school. During one of the meetings, I raised a concern about dress code. I told the other teachers and administrators that my 12th- grade English classes were beginning to look like a job fair at Hooters. The other members of the Council, mostly female, said I was making too much of the issue. I then asked them if they found exposed cleavage distracting. The female principal chairing the meeting closed the discussion, stating that the situation was much worse at other high schools. I was not comforted.
As the pushback to my non-conformist thinking increased, I got bolder and probably more annoying. I once spoke about my concerns about American public education to my union representative. He looked at me and said, "Let the politicians worry about that stuff. It is not for us to question the wisdom of the Board of Education."
My principal called me in into her office for counseling during the last year of my teaching in 2016. I was having some conflict with my department chair, so she invited my assistant principal and the department chair to attend as well. As we tried to sort through the issues, I mentioned some of my criticisms of American public education to these three women, who were clearly not very happy with me. When I finished, my department chair told me to "worry about the kids and your class and not fret about the larger picture."
Just before retiring, I began to teach Rahim Khameni's novel, The Kite Runner. Since much of the story involves Muslim culture, I spent some time teaching my students the its basic elements. Not long after I began this unit, my principal called me to her office. She informed me that the mother of one of my students objected to my pro-Islamic proselytizing. I explained to my principal that I was merely sharing the basics of Islam with my students and that I was not endorsing Muslim beliefs. My principal accepted my account but asked me to assign another novel to the student who had complained. I told my her I would — and then she said something that I did not expect. "It's too bad," she said, "that we don't live in a communist system. In that case, we could assign the book, and that would be that."