No Facts in the Classroom, Please

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Commenter Jennifer's anecdote from the trenches of public school teaching in the thread for this post is worth repeating:

I taught "Merchant of Venice" to seniors one year; in it there's a line where one character is insulting another, by saying something along the lines of "He damns the ears of all who hear him, by calling him 'fool.'" One of the kids asked me what that meant, so I explained that one of the lesser-known verses of the Book of Matthew has Jesus saying that anyone who calls another a fool will be damned. (I recited chapter and verse, though I can't remember it now.) I went on to talk about the very funny use Voltaire made of that in his essay "The Jesuit Berthier" (an angel tells a priest to stop giving his stupid, boring sermons, because instead of winning souls for God he's endangering the souls of all who hear him, because they all call him a fool), and explained also that this is why cartoony villians in movies developed the habit of using "Fool!" as their default insult; for people familiar with the Bible, the fact that the villian always says "Fool!" is just one more proof that this is an evil, evil dude.

"So anyway," I said to the class, "back in Shakespeare's day, when people were far more familiar with the Bible than they are now, instead of insulting someone by saying 'You are a fool,' you'd say 'You are a--well, I can't SAY what you are because then I'd go to hell.' That's what he's doing in the play."

Next day I get called into the principal's office; some parents were FURIOUS that I had told their kids that Jesus said anyone who says 'fool,' will go to Hell.

"But he did," I pointed out.

"It doesn't matter, Jennifer. You can't insult kids' religions."

"Well, the kid asked me what that line from the play meant! What was I supposed to do?"

"Just tell him you don't know."

Probably not really a public/private thing—I can imagine this happening about as easily at a private school. Just an appalling illustration of the mindset that subordinates the pedagogical mission to the principle of never risking offense to anyone.

NEXT: They Flee From Wyatt

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  1. an appalling illustration of the mindset that subordinates the pedagogical mission to the principle of never risking offense to anyone

    I think the bigger "fools" in this story are both the kids and the parents who are so flabbergasted that some know-nothing teacher would be telling their kids stuff they themselves don't know.

    This is a case of anti-intellectualism run amuck. It is also a case of dumb parents putting too much weight on what their stupid kids tell them happened in class.

  2. Heh... Fools.

  3. My brother, a public school history teacher in California, had a tangentially similar experience back when he was scrambling around for a tenured slot.

    At one post six or seven years ago, he was asked in class about how the Germans could have possibly supported Adolf Hitler. He explained, best as he could, about the Versailles Treaty, hyperinflation, the wounded German national psyche, how the Nazi twerp made some people feel better, how Germans are weird; the usual stuff (I'm, uh, paraphrasing from memory; at any rate, he spoke of the plausible reasons why the Little Dictator originally became popular). A kid in his class, who was Jewish, told her mom that night that the history teacher was Defending Hitler. Mom called the principal. Principal called my bro into the office for a dressing-down or three. At the end of the year, he was not asked to return; he remains convinced that this was the biggest single reason.

    Which is all ironic, because as a child he forced me to watch approximately every WW2 movie ever made, and I'm pretty sure we always rooted for the good guys.

  4. I didn't go to public school, and, quite frankly, I don't know much about it. But I'm glad to hear that someone is teaching Shakespeare there. I'm a bit surprised to read that, of all the controversial parts of Merchant of Venice, this was the source of the controversy, and I must add that, even apart from my Libertarian convictions about school privatization, from Jennifer at least, these parents are getting a much better education for their children than they deserve.

  5. I agree with Will. The major problem here is that the parents are idiots.

    Do we want a public school system wherein the teachers and principals can say to the community "shut up; we'll teach your children whatever we want, and you'll have zero say in the matter"? No. That means we're stuck with the alternative, which is better but still lame -- a school system wherein parents (a.k.a. "people who've proven they can have sex, but not proven that they can hold an intelligent opinion about anything") are in a position to harass teachers who say things they don't approve of.

    Anyway, in my experience (as someone who attended both public and private schools, and whose parents and siblings have taught in both public and private schools) private schools are typically *worse* in this regard. Unless it's a high-end school with a long waiting list of qualified applicants, a private school tends to do all that it can to avoid offending the paying customers. Public schools are less accountable to the parents, because the parents don't directly pay them. In addition, private-school parents tend to view the teachers as *their* employees, and treat them as such.

  6. Why is it that whenever I hear about things like this I think of this character as the perp? I can hear him saying something like, "no, no, we can't offend anyone..."

    That said, I think MadTV sucks and I rarely see even parts of it.

    Also, The Lonewacko Blog has fallen from #421 on the Blogging Ecosystem's Traffic Ranking to #499. Please come on by! As a bonus, you can read next week's news today.

  7. No matter how good of a teacher you are, you can't teach if the kids don't want to learn and you can't generally get kids to be interested in learning if they know that they can run whining to their parents every time the school has the nerve to challenge their views or fail them at something. As much as I would like to blame idiot bureaucrats, liberal teachers and the NEA for our lousy school system, the numerous examples like this force me to admit that this country gets the schools it deserves.

  8. Harkens back to the controversy a few years ago over a teacher's use of the word "niggardly," and the furor that arose over the kids' hearing such a racist word.

    The parents in these situations must themselves be the products (victims?) of an increasingly inadequate educational system.

  9. Or you can go to Catholic school, where the bishop decides what you can learn about abortion, sex, and so forth.

  10. you can't generally get kids to be interested in learning if they know that they can run whining to their parents every time the school has the nerve to challenge their views or fail them at something.

    What makes you think that's what happened here? It's usually the *parents* who get pissed off when childrens' views are challenged, because it's usually the parents who gave them those views in the first place.

    A high school friend of mine now teaches middle school told me about a new school initiative wherein all teachers were supposed to encourage kids to read -- but, of course, not to encourage them to read Harry Potter books. This wasn't because they were afraid kids would complain about readying Harry Potter books (which are among the few things most kids *want* to read), but because they knew they'd catch hell if the *parents* found out they were encouraging kids to read books that portrayed witches and wizars in a positive light.

  11. Jennifer is also unfit to be a teacher because of her mere existence. Her skinniness is demeaning to the self-image of most students.

    Seriously, I almost posted something like this to the recent topic about government support of art.

    It's the new toy syndrome.

    Education, government, art.... toys.

    All these are so fascinating, when deeply comprehended, to each succeeding generation that they feel obligated to force-feed them to their fellows.

    Favorite Founder, Tommy Jefferson, was guilty.

    But, as they say: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't force-feed the beast.

    Save all life-changing insights strictly for the thirsty beasts on Hit and Run.

  12. Wow, wow, wow. Today, for the first time, I learned that someone I don't even know has linked to my Web page, and then I get home and found THIS! My poor boyfriend will just have to deal with the fact that I'll be positively OOZING smugness all night.

    Oh, and as for Ruthless' comment-I actually did have an administrator advise me once that I would "get more respect from the boys if you made yourself less pretty." Since the administrator in question was considerably less than pulchritudinous herself, I merely shrugged it off.

  13. I would've double-checked the spelling in my story had I known it would be posted.

  14. We love Jen! (polishes apple -- a Fuji?)

    Since when do kids tell their parents about school anyway? Is the standard adolescent reply to parents' "What did you learn in school today?" no longer a bored "nuuuuthing"? 'Twas in my day, consarnit (and I LIKED school).

  15. Psalms 14:1 "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

  16. >>As much as I would like to blame idiot bureaucrats, liberal teachers and the NEA for our lousy school system, the numerous examples like this force me to admit that this country gets the schools it deserves.

  17. chthus--

    Ha! Nice catch.

    Jesus must've meant "fool" in Aramaic. Apparently, it's cool in Hebrew (and presumably, any other language).

  18. Self-important, guilt-ridden, easily offended baby-boomer parents. Maybe you gen-x pukes will do better, I hope so.

    I've got a dozen stories of the commie-lib social engineering bs spewed forth by public schools K-12. SFW. I guess it's still better than the madrasses.

  19. Oh, one more thing--I mentioned this in the original post, but it didn't make it into the excerpt: I don't teach anymore. Last June was the end of my three-year teaching career. My contract was non-renewed for various reasons circled on a form-letter, including "insufficient respect for student-body diversity" and "does not motivate students to participate in the learning process." (I'm paraphrasing a bit here; I have the actual form stashed away somewhere but don't feel like digging it out.)

  20. Jennifer,
    I've probably said it before, but you rock. You sound like the kind of teacher I liked when I was in high school. Fortunately, I didn't have to endure any oversensitive parents ruining a perfectly good education (most of my teachers that made similar educational sidenotes were tenured). Geez, I'm surprised no one made a peep about Shylock

    Matt,
    That's terrible about your brother. You'd think people would want context. I guess it's the same school of thought that avoids mentioning why people would want to use drugs or have sex and only focusing on the bad. You make people curious about something and it becomes more tantalizing. I hope your brother got into another tenure track position and didn't let this break his spirit.

  21. Mo-
    I too was surprised by the lack of uproar about Shylock, but I suspect it may have been because there was a bit of--not so much anti-Jewish sentiment, as anti-non-Catholic sentiment--at the school. Almost every member of the student body was a Roman Catholic of Portuguese descent; in the point-by-point rebuttal I wrote after losing my job, I mentioned the "diversity" charge and wrote "If I didn't respect it, that's only because it wasn't there."

    I'll admit, I was pissed off and non-sober. Bad combination. Add to that the knowledge that I no longer had a damn thing left to lose, and the result was pretty scathing.

  22. chthus,

    Do your realize how perilously close your nom de plume is to clitoris?

    Don't sweat it. I'm sure I'm the only one who noticed.

    Have a great weekend!

  23. The principal:

    "Just tell him you don't know."

    Hmm, sounds like the basis for a slogan for a brand new "war"; "THE WAR ON KNOWLEDGE". They could go with:

    "Just say you don't know."

  24. "I can't think of any other profession in America that works under the assumption 'The longer you do it, the less you know about it.'"

    There's really nothing unique to teachers here. In addition to doctors, as Julian said (including veterinarians), some engineers, business management types, scientists, and numerous other professionals are sometimes expected to take regular training classes to review old material and/or learn recent advancements. Of course they vary widely within and among professions in how voluntary they are, and I'm sure in how useful they are.

    And sometimes the teacher training classes are actually useful. No less illustrious figure than my very own mother (who teaches "computers," very broadly speaking, in a public elementary school) finds her regular training classes very useful. But I could certainly see how her classes, on new computer technology and new ways to use computers in teaching, would be a hell of a lot more useful than classes on new theories for teaching literature. And I don't think she has to pay for those classes either, although they are on her own time.

  25. 'I can't think of any other profession in America that works under the assumption "The longer you do it, the less you know about it."'

    Software engineering (computer programming).

  26. Of all the courses one might teach in high school, I imagine any sort of literature course would be the hardest. To instill an appreciation for the literary works while at the same time teaching kids to read, write, and speak, and on top of that dealing with the stupid-ass controversies arising from the fact that Huck Finn said nigger, Gene Forester drank beer underage, and The Merchant of Venice had a dirty dirty Jew in it - that's quite a task. I only had one good english teacher in high school; the others ranged from not good to terrible. My 11th grade lit teacher taught Hamlet mostly through vocabulary words and plot-point flash cards, for fuck's sake. We read some really good books in that class (Portrait of the Artist..., Things Fall Apart), but I enjoyed them in spite of the class, not because of it. If you taught it well, Jennifer, congratulations; and it's even more of a shame that you're out for stupid, trivial reasons.

  27. If you think about it, you?ll agree that the only real issue up for consideration is what Jennifer may do in the future. Regarding the past tense ?fool? issue, she could not control the reaction of the students, the response of the parents, or the resulting reaction of her principal. The only thing Jennifer could and can control is her own behavior. My experience as a high school English teacher has taught me to be true to myself and let the chips fall where they may. I?ve gotten in lots of so-called ?trouble,? but it?s only trouble if you see it as trouble. I haven?t been fired yet. True, I don?t get the plum duties or the classes I want, but I figure that?s a price I pay for being true to myself in the company of others who are fearful or close-minded. The only other option is to quit. To blame the students, the parents, or the principal misses the point, it seems to me. If you can?t live with yourself, how ya gonna live with all those other folks?

  28. Wow, Jennifer does rock.

    There is one thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet though...the principal does not belong to the union, so isn't one of the morals of these stories (Matt's bro's story included) that it is not "just the union"?
    My years of eduaction, between 5-18, was pretty evenly split between private and public education. And frankly, they both sucked. I went to a top rated prep school, yet I can't say it was any better than public school I attended to complete my HS ed. The pros and cons were different for each, but in the end they both fell very, VERY short.
    That's the reason I stumble on school vouchers, I can see the point, but from my own expereince the problem was free market for both public and private.
    It is my opinion,and only mine (I also worked in special ed from '87 to '95) that both the public and private systems are giving people EXACTLY what they want, the problem lies in that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY WANT.
    I have met lousy principals, lousy teachers, lousy students, lousy parents,lousy administrators, lousy school boards, lousy union reps.
    But I have met great principals, great teachers, gerat students, great parents, great school boards, great union reps.
    Schools, as far as I can tell are still run on a 16th century model.

    I suspect schools, both public and private are exactly what the people want. Inefficent, and undefined, because that's the collective onus we place on them.

    To blame any one part of the system, without looking at the whole is very 16th century.

  29. Steve-
    I WAS true to myself, which is why my contract wasn't renewed. In Massachusetts, after a teacher's third year she has to either be given tenure or be let go. The principal chose to let me go, and even the union could not help me, because an untenured teacher is hired on at at-will basis. In retrospect, I suppose it is TECHNICALLY possible that I could have kept my head down for three years until I got tenure, but realistically I don't think I could have pulled that off. Besides, most of the things for which I got in trouble were things I couldn't possibly have foreseen as trouble, like answering the question "What did Shakespeare mean when he said 'He damns the ears of all who hear him?'" or giving a grade of "zero" to a paper taken word-for-word off the Internet. (You see, the kid already had a D-minus average so if I gave him a zero he wouldn't have graduated, and the administration explained to me that that was too harsh a penalty for him to face.)

  30. Question for J: do parents object more to the portrayal of the Jewish character in Merchant, or the presense of one?

    As a Jew myself, I don't feel my religion's been insulted by statements that Jesus condemned calling other people fools. I can't even figure out why other non-Christians might find that offensive.

    Unless it's that any mention of some religion I don't follow throws me into a paroxysm of offendedness. It didn't even have that effect when I was in high school.

  31. Pavel-
    When I was teaching I would gladly have accepted more pay but really, I would have kept at it, low pay and all, if only I hadn't had to put up with so much surreal bullshit like my Merchant of Venice story. I remember reading an anecdote once, either in the NEA magazine or in the local Massachusetts edition, which said that something like ninety percent of teachers who left the profession did NOT cite the low pay as their reason for leaving, but low morale, lack of support from administrators, abuse from parents, that sort of thing.

    Incidentally, the Mother Jones article didn't mention that teachers are constantly expected to take ever-more classes (usually paid for out of pocket, and always on our own time) to 'keep current' with our professions. I can't think of any other profession in America that works under the assumption "The longer you do it, the less you know about it." I calculated once that if I had remained a teacher through retirement, I would have had to accumulate almost two additional bachelor's degrees worth of college credit by the time I retired.

  32. Well, there's medicine. Doctors are required to take periodic classes to keep current on the state of the art.

  33. Julian-
    I could justify that by making two points: first, if doctors make mistakes people will die, and second, medicine truly does evolve over time, and doctors today have tools available that they wouldn't have had twenty years ago.

    Compare that to literature: as a little girl I learned that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, a book using an adulterous woman to demonstrate the hypocrisy of Puritan values. When I got to college Hawthorne was *still* the author of the Scarlet Letter, which still dealt with the themes of hypocrisy and such; Hawthorne will likely remain the author of the book, which will continue to discuss hypocrisy, long after I am dead.

    Furthermore, the more I'd teach Scarlet Letter the better I'd do, since every time I'd read the book I'd notice little details, or make little connections, which had eluded me the first time. (Not until the third time I taught "Catcher in the Rye" did it occur to me that Holden's "every person I see in Manhattan is a loser" viewpoint gave me a perfect forum to teach the kids a bit about Occam's Razor.)

    Understand this: I would not have minded having to take periodic tests to prove that I still knew my stuff; what bothers me is the notion that a woman who dedicated her life to reading, writing and the pursuit of the intellectual life can't be trusted to learn on her own, but must invest a lot of time and money supplementing her Master's degree with baccalaureate-level literature survey courses, and asinine classes about the latest soon-to-be-discredited educational theories.

  34. It just occurred to me: if teachers are allowed to learn things by reading on their own, someone might make the connection that perhaps kids could do the same, and then I guess we wouldn't need teachers anymore. (I always said that kids who wanted to should be allowed to pay their money and take AP tests without first taking the AP courses, an idea which made me rather unpopular with some of my former colleagues.)

    Ah, how I love it when I can answer my own questions.

  35. To the guy who made the first comment up there (will)

    Kids are not stupid.

    Their parents and society (media, other people, etc.,) make them stupid after time.

    Please show more respect to kids.

    FooL.

  36. It always seemed to me that the problems with schools arise from three fundamental issues:

    1. Schools are, at root, holding pens for people aged 5-18. We corral them together for hours at a time, away from all but the most minimal contact with anyone but themselves, and then wonder why they succumb to "peer pressure."

    2. Primary/Secondary education is the only service industry where feedback from the true customers (the students)is not only unwanted, but is summarily dismissed.

    3. Primary/Secondary education is the only service industry in which the failure to provide the service sought (a decent education) can regularly be blamed on the customer rather than the provider.

  37. Wicks Cherrycoke:

    What you're describing is what Edgar Friedenberg calls a "conscript clientele":

    "Although they are called "clients," members of conscript clienteles are not regarded as customers by the bureaucracies that service them since they are not free to withdraw or withhold their custom or to look elsewhere for service. They are treated as raw material that the service organization needs to perform its social function and continue its existence. It does not take many hours of observation--or attendance--in a public school to learn, from the way the place is actually run, that the pupils are there for the sake of the school, not the other way around."

    "[Public school spending] is money spent providing goods and services to people who have no voice in determining what those goods and services shall be or how they shall be administered; and those who have no lawful power to withhold their custom by refusing to attend even if they and their parents feel that what the schools provide is distasteful or injurious. They are provided with textbooks that, unlike any other work, from the Bible to the sleasiest pornography, no man would buy for his personal satisfaction. They are, precisely, not 'trade books'; rather, they are adopted for the compulsory use of hundreds of thousands of other people by committees, no member of which would have bought a single copy for his own library."

    Although Friedenberg treated public schools as the most obvious example of a conscripted clientele, they were by no means the only member of that class:

    "Ultimately, bureacracies with conscript clienteles become real clients of one another, mutually dependent for referral of cases. They create conditions in one system that generate clients for another...." For example, the schools process human raw material to be taken over by the "human resources" bureaucracies of private industry (with the transition made as seamless as possible by the school-to-work movement), or by the bureaucracies of the welfare state and prison-industrial complex.

    Edgar Z. Friedenberg. The Disposal of Liberty and Other Industrial Wastes (1975), pp. 2-6.

  38. Having read teacher profiles (both anonymous and open tales from the trenches) in Gig, The Vice Guide, and even the current Mother Jones, (highly recommend all three) I can't understand why and how people do it...ever.

    From the little I've read, people have to find something redeeming about their position to make up for all the bullshit. Whether it's a cheap deal on weed from the kid they caught smoking in the bathroom, or having open access to an assortment of soon-to-be-legal girls.

    I suppose these things can tip the scales (if you're male especially). Otherwise though, I'm confounded.

  39. Hi Jennifer,

    I didn't mean to imply that you were not being true to yourself. My point was that no matter what you do, you really have have very little control.

    I was called in to the principal's office my first year teaching. A parent complained because I used a prose poem by Robert Hass ("A Story About the Body") which has the phrase "double mastectomy" in it and the poem contained the line "I know you want me, and I'd like that, too."

    The principal wasn't personally offended by the poem; he was upset that a parent had complained. He told me that in the future I should use more discretion. I thought about this quite a bit. What did that mean? How was I to anticipate every possible offense that someone might take?

    It's an impossible situation. What I figured out was that as long as I could make what seemed to me to be a reasonable case for educationally-sound behavior, that was the best I could do.

    If someone wants to fire me, they will find a way. Teacher unions are toothless in NC (where I live and teach) but our tenure rules and regs are fairly protective of teachers. It takes three years to get tenure, which I have. So I suppose I'm speaking from a protected postion. Having said that, our public schools are structured such that if a parent, co-worker, or administrator wants to make life miserable for you, they can.

    It seems to me that one of the biggest problems in public education is fear. Students, teachers, administrators, everyone---all running around in fear of the what-ifs. Bad test scores, low-performing school, etc etc etc. Hardworking, dedicated peope are kjilling themselves out of fear...

    I decided to stop being afraid. If thoughtful, reasoned behavior gets me fired, then so be it. I don't have to teach--I can do something else, and have. I'm doing the work because I choose to. Now, I don't want to get fired... But I would rather get fired than live in fear.

    When we give in to fear, we lose our freedom.

    When my students are fearful over their grades, I commiserate with them and then follow up with this line, "Hey, get over it; it's just school, you know..."

    It's just school.

    Steve

  40. Here's a story about annoying parents:

    In addition to my day job I teach part time in the evening at a small private college. We teach in short, compressed terms, so that students take a couple of intensive classes every term rather than 4 classes over a longer term.

    A student missed my midterm. I said on the first day of class that I would fail anybody who misses the midterm. He showed up late to the next class with a very lame excuse for missing the midterm and no documentation. (Isn't it funny how sick grandparents and car accidents never happen during spring break, but inevitably happen on the day of a major test?) I told him that if he had contacted me right away about his alleged situation I could have made some sort of arrangement, but I won't bend over backwards for somebody who comes to me after the fact with no documentation. I told him that I'm within my rights to not accept late work, and to fail people who don't do all of the work on time.

    So then I get an email from one of his parents, a very wealthy and powerful person. (I didn't know this when I kicked him out of my class, but I googled the parent's name, found a CV, and my eyes grew wide.) And this parent spoke to me in legalese and demanded to know the policy which authorizes me to fail him.

    So I spoke to my supervisor and learned that, contrary to what I had understood, I can't flunk somebody for the entire class based on a missed midterm, I can only assign an F for the percentage of the grade that's based on the midterm according to the official syllabus (which I don't have the authority to write). Other instructors have tried to do this and been shot down by the administration, which is very fearful of lawyers. (I didn't know this previously, as I'm fairly new.)

    Anyway, I know that technically I'm in the wrong since what I tried to do runs contrary to the official interpretation of school policies. (In all fairness to myself, the information that I had been given in faculty meetings suggested that I have quite a bit of latitude to maintain standards, and when I had previously failed students for similar reasons I hadn't gotten in any trouble.)

    I still think it's ridiculous that an instructor needs an official permission slip to fail a student who doesn't take the midterm, especially when the course is so compressed and intense. But for fear of lawsuits it's been turned around so that students can only fail based on very specific criteria.

    But I won't quit. I need the money and the letter of recommendation. I'll just have to wait until I'm a tenured professor somewhere. I used to think that tenure was a bad idea because it removed accountability. But seeing first-hand how students can threaten teachers with lawyers, now I think that tenure may be very necessary to protect faculty from students who don't want to be held to high standards.

  41. anon for obvious reasons,

    I believe this all is much more indepth than can be covered here. And I have severe empathy with you based on my own expereinces working withing the school system in the late 80's and early 90's...but I need to share a story from my 3rd year of HS hear in IL.

    I had tried to complain about a bus driver who showed up on my corner drunk as the proverbial skunk.

    Turned out the "Shop Steward" for the teachers union was one of the oldest teachers in my HS, he was also my US History teacher, he was also my first period class.

    And worse for me...he was friends with the family that owned the bus company.

    On the day of my last three tests, as well as my final, I was sent to the deans office (he was interesting as well, he carried an illegal Cook County Sheriff's badge, and used it).

    Can you guess? I recieved a failing grade for the semester. Even though I had no grade an any assignments lower than c+ (it later turned out that my average grade for "homework was b-") I had taken all tests, except the ones that I was in the Deans office for, and had averaged b+ on those.

    We did hire a lawyer, and I was allowed to retake the class the following semester with a different teacher.

    While working in the system years later, I saw students abuse the legal system, as in the cases described here, but I have also seen the system save students lives.

    Unfortunately the "bad guys" in all of these stories are human beings, and the fight for what is right is fought on all sides.

  42. A few years ago, when I was teaching "Technology & Civilization" at Auburn University (its their version of World History), I was confronted with the following question from a sophmore:

    "What is a Pope?"

  43. I never said all conservative Protestants were knowledgeable about the Bible. I said I would be surprised if one objected to his/her children having an authentic Bible passage pointed out to them.

  44. Charles,

    I would certainly assume most of these sorts of criticisms of Merchant of Venice and Shylock are about his stereotypical Jewish greed, etc., as opposed to his very presence. But I?m sure there are others on this board who could give more informed answers, and I?m sure there are some very interesting banned books pages with lots of info about it too.

  45. Charles-

    Some Christians don't like it when people call attention to the fact that there are all kinds of rules in their holy book that they would find difficult to impossible to keep, since it ruins the whole "ignorance of the law" excuse they were working on. Y'see, if they knew Jesus didnt like it, they'd actually have to work on being nicer people. Nobody wants that.

  46. Skeptikos, I sympathize with your story, but I should say 2 more things in my defense:

    1) This apparently isn't the first time that the kid has gotten his wealthy and powerful parent to threaten the school.
    2) My grading policy wasn't totally out of line or incompatible with school policies. There's nothing in the official syllabus which says I can fail a student solely for missing the midterm, but there's nothing that says I can't either. The risk-averse administrators have decided to err on the side of the irresponsible students, diluting the value of the grades and degrees earned by more responsible students.

    I'm not the first faculty member to try this, apparently. The school I teach at is very career-oriented, rather than a liberal arts college, and other faculty have pointed out that if students in the real world miss even one assignment the client could fire them. So you'd think that the faculty would be quite justified in flunking any student who misses a major exam. Then again, maybe when these students get out into the real world they'll just hire lawyers and sue any client who refuses to pay for an incomplete job. You can sue for hot coffee nowadays, so why not sue a client who demands his money back over incomplete work?

  47. Since pedantry is the issue, I'll point out that Jesus didn't say people _would_ be damned, at least in the KJ translation.

    Matthew 5:22 ". . . whosoever shall say 'Thou fool', shall be in danger of hell fire."

    I was startled once when someone said to me "I don't know much about the Bible. I was raised Catholic." I hadn't realized until then that Bible reading was less important to Catholics than to Protestants.

    In the Middle Ages the Church refused to authorize translation of the Bible into any language but Latin. The less the common people knew about the Bible, the better for the priests who "interpreted" it to them.

    Maybe this story just reflects a continuing disinclination on the part of Catholics to engage the Bible directly. I would be surprised if conservative Protestant parents objected to their children being shown something actually in the Bible, no matter how much it troubled them. Liberal Protestants, OTOH, might object that if violated separation of church and state.

  48. The last "if" was a typo for "it". Sorry.

  49. As posted elsewhere:
    I'm a relatively new teacher (in my 3rd year) at a small rural school in central Florida. I have a BA in History and my MED in Social Studies. In an effort to broaden the learning and educational opportunities of my students, I inquired as to how I would go about establishing an Advanced Placement program in the history department. I was told to forget it. The school board had no interest in spending the funds to send me to the training classes or buying the texts. More importantly, I was told that the school board had no interest in establishing a program that MIGHT have a high rate of failure.
    As a side note, the valedictorian of my school chose to attend community college because she did not want to write the essay for a four year school. I have been shocked and discouraged by how horrible the student skills are in writing, and how little effort they wish to put in their work. I had students in my honors class complain because they had to read and write alot and the class WASN'T honors ENGLISH after all!
    These kids don't want to learn. They want everything handed to them pre-packaged. I am seriously reconsidering my career choice.

  50. 'Offending' parents has always been my biggest concern. My first year, at a parent-teacher open house held after the first month, a student's parents complained to me that I was teaching their child the whole 'man-ape' nonsense as I taught about the rise of man and early civilization.
    This past year, my wife was concerned that I was showing naked men and women to my students. She was worried about how the parents would react. These pictures were of Holocaust survivors and of Mengele experiments. The students, I am pleased to say, handled them with maturity (except for a couple of idiots that found them humorous-I am afraid to say that I had to send them out of the room).

  51. David Tomlin,

    Growing up in the primitivist Church of Christ, I can tell you that I've many rather conservative Protestants who don't know jack all about the Bible.

  52. David-
    How's this for irony: when I taught Puritanism to 11th graders I told them about the Catholic ban on non-Latin translation (a student asked me why the Puritans spend such a huge amount of time reading the Bible; I told them about the former ban and suggested that part of the Bible's appeal may have been the lure of the previously forbidden. William Tyndale, the first man to produce an English translation of the Bible, was burned at the stake for his efforts.) When I taught Puritanism, and in other classes when I taught about the Reformation, I was always nervous that I might get in trouble for "Catholic bashing," yet I never did. Students and parents understood there was nothing inherently anti-Christian about discussing abuse by Christian power brokers, but mentioning what the Bible actually says? Horror!

  53. I thought that Pearl Harbor happened because Japan invaded Ethiopia as revenge for the post-WWI settlement imposed by the Ottomans. And all of this happened after the pre-emptive US invasion of China. Was I wrong?

  54. So is anyone working with the Free State Project to recruit all the disgruntled teachers visiting here to start a private academy, free from the usual balderdash, somewhere in NH?

    Kevin

  55. you know, while it is worth giggling about, and i certainly think high school history is about as boring and misleading as anything can possibly be...the holocaust CAUSED WWII?

    it makes the pearl harbon question seem tame in comparison.

    won't someone think of the children? or help them think? or think for them?

  56. Anon's comments remind me of one more reason why I'm going to leave academia for a while after grad school:

    Academics deal with office politics, whiners, regulations, and general bullshit for low pay.

    Industrial scientists, on the other hand, get paid handsomely for putting up with other people's bullshit.

  57. I'm not sure which is worse: A 'teacher' who would shield his/her students from the facts of a given issue, or one who would teach "facts" they had to know were wrong. Having experienced both, I am STILL not sure . . .

  58. Dhex-
    I tried my damnedest, and got fired for my pains.

  59. thoreau

    You will find in life that the lower the pay the more BS you have to put up with.

    Just a simple fact.

  60. "I would 'get more respect from the boys if you made yourself less pretty.'"

    This administrator is obviously an idiot who knows nothing about boys. The few times I had a hot teacher who was also brainy, I paid very close attention and looked forward to going to class. Maybe some of the girls don't respect the attractive female teachers, but it seems like they are willing to take them because they have the hots for some of the male teachers.

    The few schools administrators I know seem to either think most the students are stupid morons or are of the same intellect as themselves. But I repeat myself.

    Congratulations, Jennifer. This is the first time I can recall a H&R post becoming an H&R topic.

  61. book! book! book!

    that'll teach em a thing or two about the meaning of christmas.

  62. well, i don't have a HS story to share (i briefly considered doing the nyc fellowship teaching program when i was unemployed) but i do have a funny hs student story.

    i was on the uptown 6 about a month ago reading a fairly boring book about buddhism when two hs aged girls get on the train arguing about their history final. the first part was a disagreement about the holocaust - whether it was the cause of WWII or something that happened afterwards. the chronology was eventually straightened out, but then the disagreement turned to pearl harbor - had the japanese attacked the germans or had the germans attacked the us? it was finally decided the japanese had attacked the germans.

    i sometimes feel like i should have straightened things out, but at the same time...

  63. SteveM,

    Speaking as someone who once was an "I want everything pre-packaged" kid, don't reconsider your job. I was usually bright enough to get away with passing classes but not learning anything, until a teacher realized I was doing rote memorization and actually took the time to make me learn. Now I'm in grad school for chemistry, in a large part due to her.

  64. I also think that if Jennifer wanted to stay in the teaching game she should be able to work for or start an alternative to the government school she used to work for. Unfortunately, the number of positions like that may be small, due to the near-monopoly on primary and secondary education maintained by the states. A state with a more creative approach, that has a school choice experiment, and/or a vigorous charter school program might be someplace Jennifer might like to move to, but there is still the problem of jumping through certification hoops. Perhaps more important, J has mentioned a "boyfriend" (lucky b*st*rd), who may not be able to drop his career and resettle in Milwaukee, Cleveland or wherever, without taking a career hit.

    My B.A. is in history and political science. When it has been suggested to me that I might like to take up teaching, I have always dismissed the prospect. It isn't that I wouldn't like it. I suspect that I am a pedant at heart. But I don't want to work for a government, or for a religious school that expected me to reinforce the childrens' belief, so that wouldn't leave many prospective employers.

    Kevin

  65. i gave up on the idea once i read a friend's intro to teaching theory textbook.

    gak!

  66. Gary Gunnels,

    United Church of Christ? I thought they were rather liberal?

  67. I am Catholic, but my mother had encouraged me and my brother to attend Christian Science Sunday School (I believe Mom had issues with a lack of compassion from both doctors and priests), and the passage condemming a person for calling one's brother "Racca" (I presume an Aramaic word) and "Thou fool" figured fairly prominently in Mary Baker Eddy's selections of Bible readings. While a problem text, I think it had to do with lack of respect for one's brother, much like eye rolling and other gestures of contempt are regarded as warning signs for a failing marriage by those shrinks at University of Washington in Seattle.

    I would have never picked up on the connection in the Shakespeare passage, but now that has been explained, it makes perfect sense as my brother and I would tease one another if one called the other "Fool!" ("its OK, because I didn't use "Racca" in the same sentence"). If Shakespeare engaged in a play on words on a Bible passage, I would have not been offended because my brother and I engaged in similar plays on words on account of Mrs. Eddy's interest in that same passage.

    I guess you don't have Christian Scientists in your part of Boston because they would be very familiar with that Bible passage.

  68. I think Jennifer should move to Arizona and start a charter school.

  69. Yes, I do think that this story is probably (though not certainly) related to a public/private thing.

    At my daughter's prep school (the Univ. of Chicago Lab School), when reading Catcher in the Rye, she had to write an essay on the development of Holden's feelings as he saw the word "Fuck" scrawled on things early and late in the book.

    When I saw that assignment, I knew that it would be nearly impossible for a public school to give such an assignment, though of course few private schools would give it either.

    There were no complaints from parents (as far as I am aware).

  70. Yes, I do think that this story is probably (though not certainly) related to a public/private thing.

    At my daughter's prep school (the Univ. of Chicago Lab School), when reading Catcher in the Rye, she had to write an essay on the development of Holden's feelings as he saw the word "Fuck" scrawled on things early and late in the book.

    When I saw that assignment, I knew that it would be nearly impossible for a public school to give such an assignment, though of course few private schools would give it either.

    There were no complaints from parents (as far as I am aware).

  71. Steve M,

    I wouldn't reconsider your career choice; I would just reconsider where you teach.

    On the larger issue here, there will always be people who want to learn, from misunderstood loners who love books to kids who sign up for after-school college preparation courses.

    I'm not a teacher, but I was a student who loved learning. To all the disgruntled teachers (and justifiably so), hold out and wait for the diamonds in the rough. They are there, and you will change their lives.

  72. For that matter, who thinks WW II was caused by Pearl Harbor? War was declared by the Allies on Sept. 1st, 1939. Just cause you guys were late to the party . . .

  73. MALAK: Sept. 3, 1939, when their ultimatum expired. not to be pedantic or anything...

    James Lindgren: My daughter went to middle school at Lab in the early 1990s. Horrible experience for her. I went to 8th grade parent conference in the Spring and her home room teacher (whom she had had for 3 years), who had pulled her file for the occasion, opened said file and exclaimed, "I had no idea Rachel was so smart!" This, for (at the time) about $10K a year??? Needless to say, she went elsewhere for High School.

  74. MALAK: Sept. 3, 1939, when their ultimatum expired. not to be pedantic or anything...

    James Lindgren: My daughter went to middle school at Lab in the early 1990s. Horrible experience for her. I went to 8th grade parent conference in the Spring and her home room teacher (whom she had had for 3 years), who had pulled her file for the occasion, opened said file and exclaimed, "I had no idea Rachel was so smart!" This, for (at the time) about $10K a year??? Needless to say, she went elsewhere for High School.

  75. Mackey

    Had to get a gratuitous dig in at RC schools, eh?

    Hey, Bill Clinton went to two RC schools. Join a Clinton-bashing Blog & submit your same inane comment.

    Try to stay focused!

    TomCom

  76. J

    FYI, such PC misunderstanding is,alas not unique to the educational system. Remember the boys discussing the Seinfeld incident the day after who got in Big Corporate Trouble?

    We've created a generation of victims. And ones who are so ready to proclaim Victimology Gotchas that they don't listen to what was actually being said.

    And too many spineless administrators.

    BTW, In situations like yours, there's usually some bureaucrat who's able to prepare a form over substance evaluation which shows that not only did the perp say or do the particular un-PC thing alleged, said perp was the worst person in the world in every way. Did that happen to you?

    TomCom

  77. E Fisher-
    The United Church of Christ is a group of churches including the Congregationalists, Methodists and Lutherans.

    The Church of Christ is a fairly strict church that tries to follow exactly what it understands early Christian churches to have done, hence no music, nothing not specifically mentioned in the New Testament (though they do celebrate Christmas, go figure...)

    Glad I was raised in the UCC and not the other.

  78. Er ... actually the teacher was wrong about the verse. Jesus warned that anyone who called someone a "fool" was IN DANGER of the fires of hell. Of course that whole discourse was about examining our internal state rather than judging by externals.

    Just, you know, FYI ...

  79. Er ... actually the teacher was wrong about the verse. Jesus warned that anyone who called someone a "fool" was IN DANGER of the fires of hell. Of course that whole discourse was about examining our internal state rather than judging by externals.

    Just, you know, FYI ...

  80. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 is a good starting point for the Pacific War, unless one pushes it back to the 1931 establishment of Japan's puppet state of Manchukuo, and consequent nibbling away at Peking's sovereignty over its northern provinces. Arguably, the European War merges with it to make World War II when Germany declares war on the U.S., shortly after Pearl Harbor.

    I sometimes think the whole 20th Century can be thought of as one long war, varying from fragile armed truce, to localized hot war, to world war, to cold war. It sure as hell wasn't peace.

    Kevin

  81. Re : Start of WW II? Good question. I'd put it at July 7, 1937.
    For US attitude to war against Hitler at the time, see article Lessons of History.

    Re : Unfair Grading : back in year 10, I had a Geography teacher who had a strong prejudice against me. After the second week, every class I'd take my seat, he'd come in, and immediately tell me to leave his class. He gave me zero marks for all assigned classwork. Either my handwriting wasn't neat enough, or I'd used A4 instead of Quarto paper, or my margins were 1 1/8" instead of 1", or I'd used the wrong shade of blue ballpoint. Eventually, he didn't bother reading my work, just scribbled '0' on the cover and gave it back when I handed it to him outside the classroom (I wasn't allowed in there, remember?).
    When I came 3rd in the school in the mid-term exams, and in the top 1% of the state in an external exam (yet bottom of the school for class marks by a huge margin), he was fired. I wasn't questioned in the ensuing investigation, but other pupils were, and the school principal called me in to his office to apologise.
    That was 35 years ago, and I still don't know what to make of it. Was his outrageous behaviour a sign of mental illness? Was he trying to make me angry enough to really study the subject and not coast (as I had been doing)? Or was he just plain ornery? One of Life's many mysteries.

  82. Re : Start of WW II? Good question. I'd put it at July 7, 1937.
    For US attitude to war against Hitler at the time, see article Lessons of History.

    Re : Unfair Grading : back in year 10, I had a Geography teacher who had a strong prejudice against me. After the second week, every class I'd take my seat, he'd come in, and immediately tell me to leave his class. He gave me zero marks for all assigned classwork. Either my handwriting wasn't neat enough, or I'd used A4 instead of Quarto paper, or my margins were 1 1/8" instead of 1", or I'd used the wrong shade of blue ballpoint. Eventually, he didn't bother reading my work, just scribbled '0' on the cover and gave it back when I handed it to him outside the classroom (I wasn't allowed in there, remember?).
    When I came 3rd in the school in the mid-term exams, and in the top 1% of the state in an external exam (yet bottom of the school for class marks by a huge margin), he was fired. I wasn't questioned in the ensuing investigation, but other pupils were, and the school principal called me in to his office to apologise.
    That was 35 years ago, and I still don't know what to make of it. Was his outrageous behaviour a sign of mental illness? Was he trying to make me angry enough to really study the subject and not coast (as I had been doing)? Or was he just plain ornery? One of Life's many mysteries.

  83. Somebody above said Tyndale was burned for publishing an English-language Bible. TEN SECONDS of googling will show you this is the usual anti-Catholic bashing.

    Tyndale was burned for being a heretic. Whether people should have been burned for that, in the same days when the government chopped off hands for stealing bread, is besides the point.

    He denied the communion of saints. He denied the existence of purgatory. He denied about a dozen other fundamental Catholic doctrines. His denials are published and are simple to find.

    He chose to translate the Bible, basing his language on his heretical views (like Luther's famous mistranslation of James "we are saved by faith (alone)" and he put in the "alone") after the Church told him to cut it out.

    THAT's what got him burned.

    Get your facts straight, guys!

  84. The United Church of Christ is a group of churches including the Congregationalists, Methodists and Lutherans.

    Um.

    While that's technically not inaccurate, it's extremely misleading in terms of the present day. The UCC is a denomination unto itself, and not connected in any organizational sense to the several denominations of Methodist and Lutheran churches also presently alive and well under the broad umbrella of Christian faith. OTOH, to the best of my knowledge it is the primary surviving descendant of Congregationalism in the US, on a denominational level.

    Which is to say -- if you run into someone who identifies himself as a Congregationalist, it's very likely that he's a member of a UCC congregation. OTOH, if you run into someone who identifies himself as a Methodist or Lutheran, it is extremely unlikely that he's a member of a UCC congregation.

    For the relevant denominational history, go here.

  85. Or didn't speak Latin. My mother was raised militantly Catholic, and got her first English Bible when she was 16. That's one reason we're not Catholic any more. In any case, the original point was not that the Catholic Church didn't read the Bible, but that the clergy got to interpret it exclusively. That hasn't changed.

  86. While we're exploding anti-Catholic myth's (Tyndale), we can also note that Catholics read huge chunks of the Bible aloud at every service. Before Vat. II this was done in Latin, but it was then repeated in the local language. Anyone living today who grew up Catholic and had no familiarity with the Bible either wasn't paying attention or didn't go to Church much.

  87. on the Catholic note, most people had missles which had all the English translations of the readings. All Catholics of my generation had them or knew someone with one to borrow. Bad excuse. Also, 12 years of Catholic schools (note plural) and we read quite a bit in religion classes after the 4th grade. 5 schools in three states can't be WHOLLY exceptional.

  88. Jennifer wrote:
    >...and asinine classes about the latest soon-to-be-discredited educational theories.

    I've always believed one of the major problems with public education in this country is PhDs in Education (or even EdDs). In many universities, the expectation for a PhD thesis is that it will offer an "original theory". Consequently we have the shifting sands of constantly changing theories of education, all given the legitimacy of being PhD research validated through acceptance by their respective universities. It ought to be possible to get a PhD in Education without having to come up with a new theory, but the graduate education community is so entranced with the necessity of "original research" that there are few (if any) alternatives. Consequently we end up with this endless stream of new theories that make it hard to espouse and defend proven methods of education that actually work.

    That said, I do believe in the value of continuing education, but hey, I'm part of the continuing education establishment.

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