The favored method of harassment used by the principal and assistant principal at the high school where I taught while trying to get the school district to add “sexual orientation” to district student policies on nondiscrimination, bullying, and harassment was mindless micromanagement.
They would object to anything I did in class that they did not understand, or did not see the value of in their limited experience and view, and rather than have it explained to them, would issue a reprimand for violations of curriculum or required procedure, or insubordination so as to have one more piece of evidence to present to the Board when they would recommend my dismissal.
The problem was that each attempt to employ this method would either blow up in their faces almost immediately after applied, or was finally exposed for what it was in front of a district judge at the trial de nova when I appealed the eventual dismissal as being wrongful.
There was that time when the principal objected to a poster I had hung on my classroom door because it was obviously not curriculum related, and hanging it without prior permission violated the invented school policy, applied only to me, that said that any teacher wishing to hang non-curriculum material in the classroom had to first obtain permission.
This poster, written in what was judged by these two administrators to be some “elfin” language, and, therefore, obviously had no relation to my English Literature class, was finally shown at the meeting at which I was to receive a reprimand to be the opening paragraph to the epic poem Beowulf in Old English.
Even with this information the reprimand was simply reworded so that I was no longer chastised for hanging a non-curriculum related poster, but for knowingly hanging such a poster for the sole purpose of attempting to make the principal look stupid because I knew she wouldn’t know what it was.
I didn’t do that. She did.
On another occasion I wanted to get my American Literature students interested in attending lecture by Edward Albee that was going to be presented for free one evening at a college just up the street from the high school.
It was one thing for me as the American Literature teacher to explain American drama to my students, but it would be a much better thing to have it explained by one of America’s leading playwrights.
However, because he was not included in the class textbook , I was forbidden to bring Albee up in class as the principal and her assistant decided that the lack of such inclusion meant he was not relevant to my course.
Although I had been forbidden to teach him in class or show any video excerpts of any of his plays, I did recommend his lecture to my students, and for that I got reprimanded.
I was able to relate this story to him the night of his talk.
Although Mark Twain was included in the textbook, my request to show my American Literature students some of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight was not allowed because it, too, was not related to the American Literature curriculum.
Another time that I was called to the office for a reprimand was when two athletes in my American Literature class went to the office to complain that one day in class I had used the “N” word repeatedly and without justification.
Whenever I covered Langston Hughes in class I would read his essay, “When the Negro Was in Vogue”, and then randomly assign each student one person he had mentioned in his essay, Eubie Blake, Josephine Baker, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller etc, so they could do research on them when I took the class to bank of computers in the library, and report what they had found to the rest of the class.
These two students had refused to look up their assigned person or report on them to the class, and rather than accept the zero for not doing the assignment, something that could result in their being placed on the sports ineligible list until it was done, chose instead to make the complaint so that I would get in trouble, and they would be off the hook.
The ploy almost worked, as, once again, I was called to the office and reprimanded this time for insensitivity to my students for having used the “N” word repeatedly in class. However, I was able to explain that I had not arbitrarily used the “N” word in class, not only because I had been reading an essay from Langston Hughes, but the word he had used in his essay was “Negro” which was acceptable at the time he wrote it.
Not willing to give up the chance to add one more document to their expanding file of things to misrepresent to the Board, I was reprimanded any way, and forbidden to use the word “negro” in class under any circumstances, or to read anything to my class from that point on.
I am very familiar with false accusations, twisted information, and the disciplinary actions that a teacher could face due to them, or the desire to have an excuse to discipline a teacher for personal reasons.
So what is happening in Kansas caught my attention as a targeted teacher there could face unnecessary and foolish discipline because of fabricated reasons or because of a misguided, and perhaps, purposeful complaint.
This week the Republican controlled state Senate in Kansas, rather than accept a school disciplining a single teacher who had exercised poor judgment, passed a bill that would make it easier for teachers to face criminal charges for showing material deemed offensive.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Kansas National Education Association have rightfully claimed that the bill is just too broad.
According to the ACLU, “The bill’s definition of materials that are “harmful to minors” is overly broad, and would prevent the distribution of materials that educators have determined to be age-appropriate. The restrictions imposed by the bill will tie the hands of Kansas educators, preventing them from providing the education that students want and need and that parents expect.
Most seriously, SB 56 could criminalize teachers simply for distributing handouts, displaying posters, or sharing educational information. Teachers should not be criminalized for doing their jobs”.
Teachers could be charged with a class B misdemeanor and face up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
As an art teacher from Wichita, Liesl Wright, told The Wichita Eagle, “I’d be in trouble. I was showing my high school art students charcoal drawings of nude people just today. I do it all the time. You know when the religious laws regarding art are more restrictive than the European Renaissance, you’ve gone too damn far.”
There are always going to be people who complain about something that they might find offensive whether there is any real justification for that complaint.
Science teachers might show pictures of the human anatomy, particularly the so called naughty bits that a parent might find offensive.
A literature teacher might have the students read a work of literature that a parent might find offensive. There are any number of American classics that have been the object of complaints over the years based solely on personal taste or imagined offense.
Classrooms would be controlled by the “Heckler Veto” that says that someone somewhere may someday complain about something.
This bill would have a chilling effect on the classrooms in Kansas, and this may spill over into other states as well.
Depending on the politics of a school, a complaint could be supported, or even suggested to a parent by an administrator for personal gain.
From my experience there is little protection to prevent a teacher being the victim of a complaint that has no validity beyond political, religious, or personal animus.
The legislation will now move to the GOP-controlled House in Kansas, and, judging on some of the craziness going on in red state legislatures, could show up anywhere.