Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Announcing the Nominations for the 3rd Annual Curmie Award

It’s that time again: the nominations for the 3rd annual Curmie Awards for the person or institution who most embarrasses the profession of education. I remind you that the award is not for the most egregious act, but the one that shows the profession in the worst light. That is, a thoroughly heinous but isolated act shouldn’t necessarily get your vote over a less outrageous action that might be seen as either an exemplar of a systemic problem or a harbinger of bad things to come.

As usual, 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.

Also, the recipient must be, at some level, an actual educator. Hence, the outrageous institutionalization of restricting academic freedom by the Kansas Board of Regents doesn’t qualify: those folks are political appointees, not educators… that’s both the problem and the reason those censorious asshats (another tip of the cap to the folks at Popehat for that expression) won’t get a Curmie… or at least a regular, voted-on-by-the-readership one. I reserve the right to give them a special Curmie, along the same lines as the one awarded recently to the Florida Fifth Circuit Count of Appeals for forcing the Osceola County School District to put 2012 Curmie winner Lillian Gomez back in the classroom because feeding hot sauce-laced crayons to autistic kids is “not so egregious such that loss of effectiveness could be decided as a matter of law.”

There are two changes from previous practice. It’s still the case that I must have written about the events in question during 2013, but I’m expanding the time parameters a little to allow stories from late 2012 that didn’t find their way into the public perception (or at least into mine) until 2013. And all nominees must be in the United States (I suppose this isn’t a change, per se, but this year I need to make the rule explicit because of a story from Canada).

I tried to balance different types of professional infractions: teachers behaving badly, administrative arrogance, rampaging nannyism, and so on. Curmie’s civil libertarianism will be well in evidence, as will his version of the domino theory: if Awful Thing X is allowed to take place without outcry, then surely Awful Thing Y will be next.

Curmie wrote a lot fewer posts in 2013 than in previous years—40, as opposed to 79 in 2012 and 101 in 2011. That means that there were a lot of stories I didn’t get to: nothing about the prom follies in Missouri (two different places) and Indiana, the 14-year-old arrested for wearing a pro-NRA shirt, the utter idiocy of Georgia higher education Chancellor Hank Huckaby’s comments about “students’ studying the wrong areas,” the California school that allowed cops to entrap a special needs student on a drug offense, the silliness of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association proclaimed new standards for post-game handshakes, the SAT’s “lying is the best policy” approach to essay grading, the Colorado school that charged a 6-year-old with sexual harassment, the Washington school that apparently sees nothing wrong with forcing students to open their Facebook accounts to the prurient gaze of administrators, SUNY Oswego officials who placed a journalism student on interim suspension for telling prospective commenters for a feature story that “what you say… does not have to be positive,”… and more.

Still, I managed over a dozen posts featuring some 28 different stories, and the hard part wasn’t finding enough Curmie-worthy prospects, but in narrowing the list to eight finalists and eight (dis)honorable mentions. There were nine (yes, nine) segments about stupid gun-related regulations that have nothing to do with actual safety issues (toy guns that really do look like real guns would be another matter). All of these incidents were outrageous, but six of them didn’t even get dishonorable mention status, in part because that would load up the nominations with a particular kind of idiocy, when there are so many from which to choose. Also not making the cut were a couple of displays of administrative stupidity stemming from a combination of humorlessness, hyper-literalism and arrogant nannyism. No attempts to shut down high school theatre productions made the list, either, although there was one strong contender and another case I didn’t get the chance to write about. It turns out that all the finalists are from the world of elementary and secondary education: one teacher, one private school administrator, six public school administrators. There are a couple of college administrations on the DisHonorable Mention list, but this is the year of public and private schools.

But enough about what isn’t on the list. We move on to the DisHonorable Mentions for the 2013 Curmie Award, in the order I wrote about them:

Life Learning Academy in San Francisco for suspending Courtni Webb and threatening her with expulsion for writing a poem in a personal notebook that expressed some empathy for Newtown killer Adam Lanza.

Newlin Fell Elementary School in South Philadelphia for screaming at, searching, and otherwise humiliating 5th-grader Melody Valentin for having a piece of paper torn into the very rough outline of gun, which she was in the process of throwing away.

The unnamed teacher at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, for ridiculing 9th grader (and African-American) Christopher Rougier for dressing up as Santa because “Santa Claus is white.” (Apparently elves and reindeer can be black, however: just thought you might want to know that, Gentle Reader.)

The Glendale (CA) Unified School District for hiring a private company to spy on the social media posts of their students, a process which is either illegal and unconstitutional or doomed to ineffectuality.

The Cleveland State University chapter of the AAUP for claiming that $666 raises are tantamount to accusations of Satanism.

The University of Massachusetts for cancelling all electronic dance music concerts on campus because attendees often use the potent Ecstasy variant known as “Molly.”

Mike Scott, the football coach at Annandale (VA) High School, for throwing the school’s marching band off the field in the middle of their senior night halftime show despite there being plenty of time remaining on the clock, and Principal Vincent Randazzo for doing next to nothing to punish the bullying coach.

Hillcrest Middle School in Simpsonville, South Carolina for suspending an autistic student for showing older students a cartoonish drawing of a bomb.

And now… The nominees for the 3rd Annual Curmie Awards…. (drum roll…)

Principal Greer Phillips of PS 79 (the Horan School) in East Harlem for conducting a completely unannounced (to teachers, to the police…) lockdown drill less than a week after the horrors at Sandy Hook Elementary. In aggravation: outrageous timing and an incompetently run drill complete with contradictory instructions, but also the makeup of the student body (a high percentage of students with emotional or cognitive problems). In mitigation: I can’t think of a thing.

Principal Valerie Lara-Black of Mary Blair Elementary School in Loveland, Colorado for suspending 2nd-grader Alex Evans for throwing an imaginary grenade into an equally imaginary box containing “something evil.” In aggravation: this is stupid behavior even if there’s something tangible. In mitigation: there’s probably some idiotic zero tolerance policy that purports to justify if not demand these flights of inanity.

Principal Tracey Perkins of Cypress Lake (FL) High School for suspending a 16-year-old student because he disarmed another student, a football player who was threatening a teammate with a loaded gun. You see, he was “involved in an incident in which a weapon was present.” In aggravation: apart from the sheer idiocy of the charges, they were changed after the school started being (quite rightly) embarrassed by the publicity. In mitigation: it is possible that the boy was indeed uncooperative with the ensuing investigation.

Principal Carla Scuzzarella of North Andover (MA) High School for stripping Erin Cox from her volleyball team captaincy and suspending her for five games because she went by a party where there was alcohol long enough to drive a drunken friend home. In aggravation: the police statement makes it clear that Ms. Cox had not been drinking, and the policy manual makes a specific point about the folly of guilt by association. In mitigation: there are reports that she was at the party longer than it would have taken just to collect her friend.  [EDIT: the follow-up on this case shown in the link provided by Renee in the comments below makes it clear that Ms. Cox may well not be the victim here, and that school authorities behaved appropriately.   Whereas there is little corroboration of the assertions in that news story (which seems to have been written by someone with an agenda of his own), Curmie apologizes to Principal Scuzzarella for what seems likely to have been a false accusation.  It is impossible to remove this nomination from the ballot, but I urge you not to vote for Ms. Scuzzarella.  If you have already voted, you can indeed change your vote.]

Officials at Dietrich (ID) High School for reporting science teacher Tim McDaniel to the school board and the state professional standards commission, allegedly for using the word “vagina.” Yes, in a biology class. In aggravation: Mr. McDaniel seems to be being penalized for the precise reason that he was doing his job. In mitigation: it is unclear to what extent the school per se was responsible for the brouhaha, although they clearly did little to prevent it.

Batavia (IL) High School and their equally incompetent school board for punishing social studies teacher John Dryden. His crime? Reminding his students of their 5th amendment rights while distributing a survey that could indeed have led to self-incrimination. In aggravation: the survey, with students’ name on it, was a clear invasion of student privacy, motivated by the usual nannyish hogwash. In mitigation: Dryden did react without checking with school officials about the intents of the survey.

The unnamed teacher at Boles Junior High in Arlington, Texas for pouring pencil shavings into the mouth of 8th-grader Marquis Jay, and to the authorities who cravenly gave her a slap on the wrist. In aggravation: you need aggravation??? In mitigation: the boy deserved some punishment—he was at best inattentive—and it seems to have been an unpremeditated and isolated incident.

Principal John Hynes of Grace Brethren High School in Simi Valley, California for the completely unauthorized action of changing the grades of at least one student (possibly several, including his own daughter), and the spineless board who allowed him get by with little punishment. In aggravation: it’s a short step from what has been admitted to and what has been alleged, which would be an outrageous abuse of power. In mitigation: with the exception of the one case, the allegations come almost exclusively from a now-former teacher. This may not be the most objective of sources.

So… there are the nominees. As usual, you are free to object if one of your “favorites” was omitted. Likewise, I’m free to tell you to get your own damned blog if you want to make the nominations.

Please vote for the most deserving recipient(s) in the box on the upper right of this page: you may vote for as many or as few nominees as you choose, but please don’t vote more than once. If you choose to comment, please do so in addition to rather than instead of voting—regardless of what people say in the comments, either here or on the Curmudgeon Central Facebook page, it’s only the actual votes that count.

The polls, as it were, will be open until 7:00 pm CST on Wednesday, January 8. Majority rules. (This isn’t PolitiFact, after all.)


Anonymous said...

I nominate Principal Greer Phillips of PS 79 (the Horan School) in East Harlem.

Cruel and stupid is a bad way to go through life, and even worse when it's in charge of a school of disabled kids.

Ronni said...

I'll go with Greer Phillips, too, because he screwed with both students and emergency responders. On this list of total jerks, this one seems particularly egregious.

Renee said...

Update on Erin Cox story

manjushri924 said...

Thanks, Renee.

Steve Grossman said...

I love this contest! Thanks, Curmie!

Renee said...

Yes, It does seem that Tom Dugan had a personal agenda. The reason us due to Wendy Murphy, the attorney.

Because Erin is a minor, the school and press could not speak on the criminal summons. It created a false premise.

The others teens (and their parents) who were rather upset that Erin's attorney was pushing this fib in the media to the extent that the public was outraged.

Erin made a poor choice. Wendy Murphy is too blame, not Erin for the extent this story went.

Franca said...

I thought a couple of the Dishonorable Mentions were completely deserving of Actual Nominations. ;)