Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Nominations for the 2012 Curmie Award

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the announcement of the nominees for the 2012 Curmie Award, awarded to the person or institution who most embarrasses the profession of education.

As I wrote last year, “the transgressions in question must be directly related to the profession, to someone acting in an official capacity: junior high teachers who sleep with their students are abhorrent, but there’s nothing about that act that links directly to education. That there are unethical teachers is not news, and the same person might initiate a similar relationship with a child s/he knows through church, Little League, or the neighborhood.”

I’ve also decided that the Florida school nurse who denied an asthmatic student access to his inhaler because of a paperwork snafu wasn’t acting in the capacity of educator at the time: she’s a heinous bitch who should be sued and fired, but not a Curmie nominee. And I think I’m going to eliminate the colossally stupid decision by the Florida State Board of Education. Boards of Education are generally more political than pedagogical, and are comprised almost exclusively of non-educators; you don’t really embarrass a profession to which you don’t belong.

The only further stipulations are that the events in question must have occurred within the 2012 calendar year, and that I must have written about the story, also in 2012. I realize that the former requirement means eliminating stories like the ones about jock-protecting at the University of Montana and at Southern Columbia Area High School in Catawissa, PA, as well as a depressingly similar story I haven’t yet written about at Trotwood-Madison (OH) High School. It also takes out the story of handcuffing students to banisters in Jackson, MS.

Perspicacious readers will notice, too, that there are no nominees this year from the wide world of standardized testing cheats: those who help students with answers, those who misreport scores, and so on. It’s not that these people are unworthy Curmie-winners; I just didn’t happen to write about any of them this year (unlike last). Also, two trends seem to emerge: this year’s list is more weighted towards public schools than towards universities, and towards the tendency for schools to pry into the private affairs of students without either the legitimate authority to do so or real exigent circumstances. Curmie the civil libertarian seems to be ascendant. Make of that what you will.

The rules are simple. From over 40 contenders, I decide on the eight finalists (there are no write-ins); you (collectively) decide on the winner. In determining the finalists, I have tried to weigh a variety of factors: the egregiousness of the offense on its face, the extent to which it might be portentous of further bad things to come, any sense of particular injustice (punishment of the innocent or even of the heroic, for example), the degree to which the Curmie-worthy outrage might have been a spur-of-the-moment outburst rather than a deliberate act, any mitigating circumstances, whether the problem seems to have been appropriately addressed, whether the case looks a lot like a different nominee, etc.

You, of course, Gentle Reader, are free to place whatever weight you choose on any of these factors. Remember, however, that the award is for the greatest embarrassment to the profession, not for the most heinous individual act, nor the one that pisses you off the most, which might well be different.

If you wish to comment, please do so here rather than at the Facebook page. Remember that your comments should be in addition to, not instead of, voting in the poll in the upper right corner of the page. You may vote for as many nominees as you choose, although I ask that you not vote for the same candidate more than once: no ballot-stuffing, please. The poll will be up for a week (until 10:00 a.m. CST on January 8), with a winner to be announced as soon as possible after that. So: there are the rules. Don’t like ’em? Fine. Write your own damned blog.

So… honorable mentions first. These are the candidates who came in 9th through 15th on my list. If one of your favorites is here (or if it didn’t even make this cut), I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is: not everything fits. Trust me, there’s some really Curmie-worthy stuff that didn’t even crack the Top 20. In the order I wrote about them, then, the honorable mentions.
--Administrators at Lanier Middle School in Sugar Hill, GA, for punishing a student who self-reported that he’d unknowingly brought a small pocket knife to school.
--The powers-that-be at Jack Robey Junior High in Pine Bluff, AR, for defending a “school resource officer” who had used military grade pepper spray to clear a congested hallway.
--Aurora (CO) Public Schools, for charging a 6-year-old with sexual harassment for quoting the lyrics of a popular song to a classmate.
--Tanya Dixon-Neely of North Rowan (NC) High School, for a protracted pro-Obama screed featuring more than a few objectively untrue statements.
--The good folks at Wagoner (OK) High School, who forced a number of classes at the public high school to watch an anti-abortion propaganda film that compares abortion to the Holocaust… complete with film of Adolf Hitler.
--Principal David Smith and the rest of the merry band at Prague (OK) High School, who sought to deny the class valedictorian her diploma because she’d said “hell” in her commencement speech.
--Wilson Elementary School in Oklahoma City, for making a kindergartener turn his University of Michigan shirt inside out because of a policy put in place to curtail gang activity. A University of Oklahoma shirt would have been fine, by the way.

Yes, those are just the honorable mentions… pretty impressive list, huh? And now… (drum roll)… the finalists for the 2012 Curmie.

School administrators at Geneva (IL) Middle School South, for asking intensely personal questions about a 13-year-old student’s sex life (without even notifying the girl’s parents), and demanding that she open her Facebook account for their inspection… all based on a rumor. In aggravation: the image of school administrators as voyeuristic bullies. In mitigation: the fact that the overwhelming majority of what we know comes from the girl’s mother, who might not be the most objective source.

Authorities at Umatilla (FL) High School who punished a high school girl for protecting a mentally challenged student who was being bullied by a gaggle of mean girls on the school bus. Naturally, the actual bullies were unaffected. In aggravation: the girl did everything right. She appealed to the bus driver and to school authorities, and only intervened when they failed to do so. In mitigation: there are harsher punishments than not allowing a student to ride the bus to a different school than she attends.

Griffith (IN) Public Schools for suspending a trio of 8th-grade girls for joking in a private Facebook conversation about which of their classmates they want to “kill.” In aggravation: the conversation was private, off-campus, unrelated to school, and obviously in jest (as an ACLU lawyer pointed out, “if you make a legitimate threat against someone, you don’t follow it up with an emoticon”). In mitigation: what if this was that one in a trillion moment when a joking threat was a disguise for a real one (the TSA excuse)?

American University anthropologist Adrienne Pine, for breast-feeding a sickly infant in class, then going ballistic when asked about the episode by a student journalist. In aggravation: publishing the journalist’s name, failing to understand the basics of how reporting and editing works, generally being an asshat. In mitigation: at least an argument regarding some exigency to the breast-feeding per se.

The euphemistically-termed brain trust at Northside ISD in San Antonio, for requiring Smart IDs that track student whereabouts at all times. The chip-implanted cards are required for everything from using the library to voting for Homecoming royalty. In aggravation: the IDs intrude into the privacy of good students while doing nothing to solve the problem they were intended to address. In mitigation: nothing but desperate whorishness... I’m not sure that counts.

Authorities at Highland Middle School in Anderson, IN, for suspending and threatening to expel a quartet of 13-year-old boys who completely inadvertently stumbled upon a topless photograph of their teacher on a school-issued iPad. In aggravation: these are pubescent boys, handed a picture of a topless woman. Of course, they’re going to look. And it was a school iPad. In mitigation: it’s unlikely the boys were given permission to look through photo files; they’re still innocent of what they’re charged with, but perhaps not quite the victims they pretend to be.

Kopachuk (WA) Middle School teacher John Rosi, for not only tolerating the bullying of a smaller boy by a dozen other kids, but actually joining in, and to the school administrators who gave him only a slap on the wrist. In aggravation: an apology letter that drips with sanctimony. In mitigation: the outside possibility that he really didn’t understand that this kind of “horseplay” isn’t really horseplay.

Lillian Gomez, a teacher at Sunrise Elementary School in Kissimmee, Florida, for force-feeding crayons and Play-Doh soaked in hot sauce to autistic students to teach them not to put things in their mouths. In aggravation: Duh? You need aggravation? In mitigation: too much like last year’s winner?
There you have them, ladies and gentlemen... the Curmie nominees. Have at them.


Bill C said...

Plenty of good choices for the 2012 Curmie!

Anonymous said...

Little disappointed the Oklahoma schools only made honorable mention. Those are the assholes I have to try to overcome.