Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Case of the Sexy Seven-Year-Old: A Contrarian View

I don’t think I need to prove my credentials on the education front. This blog has criticized faculty, staff, and administrators from elementary school to major university. If you’re an embarrassment to my profession, I want you gone.

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 do his damned job provide appropriate leadership.

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.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I have daughters that go to that school and I know the father you called a douche bag, and I know of at least one other parent who had issues with the language that Mr. Inskip uses in front of little children. Now, he didn't say "Your outfit is too sexy for gym". He said "You are too sexy for gym" There is a huge difference in statements there. Now I read many different news "reports" on this and there are quite a few differences between them, but things that were not changed between them were, It was always that the little girl went to another teacher and her friends who overheard what was said had to say Sexy, because the little girl assumed it a bad word. 2) Mr. Inskip changed his version of what happened twice, Once to the guidance counselor he said "Too Cute" and when the principal confronted him he denied saying anything altogether! and 3) the father has stated numerous times he does not want him to never "teach" again but for other districts to be made aware of what kind of behavior and or Non-self censoring in front of 7 year-old's language he uses.

Anonymous said...

In the Video link you posted, the father clearly states that if another district would like to hire Inskip that they know what he said to a little girl, but at the end of the clip the reporter NOT the father says the father doesn't want him to teach again. Glad you actually pay attention to videos that you post in "defense of your argument"

manjushri924 said...

1. I stand by my statement that calling in the police was the act of a douchebag, not a concerned father. I have no problems with Mr. Wilson's concern, only with his over-reaction.

2. I see no evidence that Mr. Inskip called the girl "sexy." In fact, I note precisely the semantic distinction you make. If there are credible allegations that the headlines as opposed to the stories are correct, that does indeed change things. Not much, for me; perhaps more for you. Still, if you can point me to articles, videos, etc., in which someone other than a grandstanding reporter says that, I'd appreciate it.

3. I remain skeptical about the idea that a seven-year-old in today's culture doesn't know what "sexy" means, or won't say it out loud. That assertion strikes me as gratuitous window-dressing which doesn't support the essential allegation. It is at best irrelevant to the case. At worst, it's a mean-spirited lie. Where on that spectrum the claim is, I don't know. Neither do you.

4. I don't see an inherent change of story by Mr. Inskip: "No, I didn't call her sexy. I might have said 'cute' or something like that." Later: "No, I'm certain I didn't say that." It may be that he has in fact changed his story. It may indeed be that he is guilty as charged. The doesn't mean he wasn't railroaded. The O.J. Simpson case proved definitively that it is possible to frame the guilty.

5. The father's remarks are obviously a threat, whether he says literally that he's seeking to end Inskip's career or not. And the clip is, presumably, not all he said; a lengthier clip might have revealed more. I am willing to grant that the reporter is incompetent, but I think she accurately interprets Mr. Wilson's subtext, if not his actual words.

6. The problem is one of due process, not of guilt or innocence. Inskip wasn't suspended; he was dismissed without as much as a hearing. Even in the worst-case version of events, what he allegedly did was worthy of a reprimand, not dismissal. It may well be that Inskip shouldn't be teaching. It might be that there's a backstory that makes this incident a "last straw" rather than a self-sufficient grounds for dismissal. But based on what we have access to, Gilly certainly shouldn't be in charge of a school.