That said, it’s open season on teachers at all levels. It used to be public school teachers were exempt, and it was just us pointed-headed ivory-tower intellectuals with our slothful 60-hour work weeks and our cushy $50K salaries who were the enemy, but recently we have welcomed our brothers and sisters in elementary and secondary education to the wrong side of the public relations tracks.
There’s a case in New Jersey that serves as an ideal example of what’s really wrong with American public education. It’s not the teachers, although of course there are some bad ones. It’s the administrators who lack the will, the fortitude, and the intelligence to call Bullshit; it’s the media, who are too smug, too lazy, and too unconcerned with the truth; it’s the public, who have allowed themselves to be misled by the fantasies of ALEC and similar political machines who would actually prefer it if the public weren’t terribly well educated: I tend not to be as easily led as are those who think the laws of physics ought to be put up to a popular vote.
Anyway, in Egg Harbor City, NJ, substitute gym teacher Marco Inskip was “immediately dismissed” from Charles Spragg Elementary School for allegedly telling a 7-year-old girl that her outfit was “too sexy for gym class.” Superintendent John Gilly III seems to be rather proud of the dismissal. That’s because the news coverage, to use that term euphemistically, has been absurdly skewed. It is also because Mr. Gilly is an idiot.
OK, let’s take this a step at a time. First off, Mr. Inskip denies having said the word “sexy.” He claims to have said “cute,” which would certainly carry a different connotation. Ah, but two other girls, presumably classmates of the alleged injured party, Cadence Wilson, confirm her story. And, as we all know, never in the history of the universe have little girls ever lied to protect their friend. (The more perspicacious among you, Gentle Readers, might detect the slightest trace of irony in the foregoing sentence.)
Anyway, Cadence’s father, Henry Wilson, says that “Two other little girls who heard it had to tell the teacher because my daughter didn’t even feel comfortable saying ‘sexy.’” Uh huh. Forgive me if I’m a little less than entirely trusting on this front, especially since in another, earlier story with a competing TV team, it’s Cadence who “told another teacher.” In other words, the story keeps getting more sensational (and Cadence becomes increasingly unworldly) over time without any change in the basic facts. That ought to send off signal flares that perhaps—just perhaps—the desire for a… wait for it… sexy story might just be outstripping the truth. Any competent journalist or educational administrator would want to investigate further before defaming a quite possibly innocent man. Needless to say, they didn’t do so.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Inskip actually said the girl was wearing an outfit that was “too sexy for gym class.” Note a couple things: the allegation, even in its harshest manifestation, isn’t really, when you cut through the pseudo-journalistic hype, that he called Cadence “sexy,” (as the headlines would have it) but that her outfit was. That’s a huge semantic difference, roughly equivalent to the distinction between telling a student he did something really stupid (which I did yesterday) and telling him that he is really stupid (which I’ve never done, except, perhaps, in obvious jest to a student who knows—doesn’t just think, knows, I don’t mean it).
And whether “sexy” is the right word or not, that get-up was completely inappropriate for gym class. In my day (break out the “get off my lawn” voice) there were gym uniforms, even at the 2nd grade level, and that frilly little pink and black number with the bling: that wasn’t it. And don’t even try to tell me that girls that age aren’t sexualized. No, it’s not a good thing. But it’s absolutely real. Remember JonBenét Ramsey? She was six.
So, let’s review the bidding. Mr. Inskip may or may not have used the word “sexy” to describe the absolutely inappropriate (for the purpose, namely gym class) attire of a seven-year-old. The girl in question may or may not have told a different teacher… or maybe it was her friends who did that. Anyway, she definitely told her father, who seems to be more than enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame (how did we ever describe this phenomenon in pre-Andy Warhol days?). He seems interested in two things: getting his face on television and ending Mr. Inskip’s career, whether the latter deserves it or not. He actually filed a criminal complaint over this incident. Sorry, Mr. Wilson. That’s not being a protective father; that’s being a douchebag.
Notice that Mr. Inskip is not even accused of inappropriate conduct. He didn’t touch the girl (except, possibly, in the legitimate course of his duties). He didn’t proposition her. He didn’t arrange to meet her outside class. There’s all this furor, in other words, because he might have, once, used the word “sexy” to describe a little girl’s outfit, which was, at least arguably, precisely as he described it.
OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD! Break out the torches and the pitchforks!
The reasonable response by any administrator faced with this situation is to ignore the grandstanding father and take the teacher aside, suggest to him that he might want to choose his words more carefully, and move on. I need hardly mention that Mr. Gilly couldn’t care less about fairness or due process. He perceived which way the winds of yellow journalism were blowing, and he threw his employee under the bus, pretending his cynical disregard for truth and his pompous posturing were really righteous indignation.
Remember those teachers in Georgia who constructed math questions about slaves, beatings, and cotton? That was really offensive and inexcusable. I wrote in January, that the district should “[fire] their asses, hire someone with a brain, and then let those people teach.” What actually happened was a promise to “work with the teachers to develop more appropriate questions.”
This is the flip side. A reprimand, maybe, although even that seems too much. Firing? Absolutely not, unless there’s a whole lot more to this case than has been made public. Based on what’s available to us right now, it’s Gilly, not Inskip, who deserves to be out of a job, for pandering to the mob mentality and failing to
The Greek cynic Diogenes famously roamed the countryside with a lamp, searching for an honest man. If he wants an even more fruitless quest, he could go in search of a high school administrator who’s smarter than a doorstop. Hell, I’d settle for one who isn’t a legitimate Curmie nominee.