Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Last of the 2015 Curmie Contenders

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Curmie still needs to cover a couple more stories to get them eligible for Curmie Award consideration. They have nothing in common other than being education-related and outrageous. I want to get as many in as possible, so I won’t spend a lot of time on any individual story.

Here we go.

Aiden Steward: apparently not a wizard.
In Kermit, Texas, 4th-grader Aiden Steward was suspended for telling a classmate that he was in possession of “one ring to rule them all” that could make the other boy disappear. Any normal adult would look at this and say “hey, 9-year-olds who just saw ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies’ are going to act out movies.” Principal Roxanne Greer, however, is a couple sausage links short of a Grand Slam breakfast. That was a “terroristic threat,” you see. The boy’s father observed that his son “lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence. If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.” Unaccountably, Greer is still permitted to walk among us without adult supervision.

John McAdams: the canary in the coal mine?
Marquette University revoked the tenure of Professor John McAdams over a blog post (Curmie finds this especially creepy… I wonder why). True, McAdams behaved a little unprofessionally by calling out a graduate student by name. But the suggestion that he should have jumped through a zillion hoops before exercising his free speech rights is outrageous in the extreme, and Dean Richard C. Holtz is, frankly, the one who deserves to be fired.

As The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf notes:
… Holtz's decision to hold McAdams responsible for [the grad student’s] harassment sets an alarming precedent: that faculty members will be held accountable not only for their words, but for any efforts to intimidate or harass those they publicly criticize. By this logic, a professor who criticized a college football player accused of rape, or a fraternity member who chanted “No means yes, yes means anal,” or a college Republican running an “affirmative-action bake sale” could be stripped of tenure based partly on whether that student got nasty emails. Only myopia can account for failure to see the threat to academic freedom.
This repression of faculty members’ rights is truly frightening. Should Holtz get the Curmie? That’s for you to decide, Gentle Readers, but he sure as hell ought to be a contender.

In Martinez, California, the school board had enough funds to provide air conditioning for only one of two elementary schools: John Swett and Las Juntas. Here’s board member Denise Elsken:
I would say 95% of the students at Las Juntas do not have air conditioning in their homes. So, whether that means those students are more acclimated and can handle a little bit more heat than the John Swett students, which I would say 95% of their residents have air conditioning in their homes.
We’ll just leave it at that, OK?

Ken Simon, a veteran teacher (47 years!) at Raymore-Peculiar High School in Missouri, was pulled from the classroom in May for doing his job showing a 10-minute video that demonstrated evolving attitudes towards homosexuality. Two students complained (about what?) and the administration made the obligatory inane decision. Students and faculty alike supported Simon. The administration doubled down on the idiocy. Water is wet.

The very first Curmie Award went to a Kentucky teacher who thought it would be ever so clever to discipline an autistic student by shoving him into a bag intended to carry gym balls. Mary Katherine Pursley of Mt. Bethel Elementary School in Georgia was apparently lured by the bright lights and international renown of a Curmie, so she decided to duplicate the feat. There was no ball bag available, however, so she used a trash can. Yes, really.

Sierra Norman: female and not Mormon
At Declo High School in Idaho, Sierra Norman had the audacity to want to be student government president despite being (gasp!) female and (bigger gasp) not even Mormon. She was denied the opportunity because the district decided she wasn’t a full-time student: she was taking too many on-line courses. Trouble is, according to a formal complaint from the ACLU,
The school district told Sierra that she couldn’t run for Student Body President because she was not enrolled in at least six non-online classes. But the only other student who petitioned to run wasn’t enrolled in six non-online classes for credit either. The difference? He was enrolled in online classes and LDS seminary. And he is male.
Oh, and the school district’s state funding is based on the full-time student population. Guess who’s listed as full-time for those purposes. Finally, a teacher supposedly said that “someone ought to Ray Rice Sierra.” What a pleasant little hellhole Declo, Idaho turns out to be.

Here’s another case of a teacher being punished for doing exactly the right thing. At Nevada (TX) Elementary School, a troubled 4th grader threatened to kill teacher Judy Stough. To protect herself and her other students, she locked the boy out of her classroom. The boy banged on the door and yelled at everyone inside. The students in the room and their parents are unanimous that Stough did everything right. Therefore, the administration suspended her. Because: school administrators.

The principal of TNT Academy in Stone Mountain, Georgia was indeed fired for some racially charged (a.k.a. racist) remarks. At the school graduation, Nancy Gordeuk accidentally ended the ceremonies before the valedictorian’s speech. Stuff like that happens. What doesn’t, is Gordeuk’s screed: “You people are being so rude to not listen to this speech. It was my fault that we missed it in the program. Look who’s leaving—all the black people.” She reacted to the bad press by pretending the uproar was over using “black” instead of “African American.” Um… no.

Jerry Hough: an idiot who
shouldn’t have been suspended
Speaking of racist idiots, there’s Duke University professor Jerry Hough. Responding to a New York Times editorial, Hough launched into a diatribe about how “the blacks” ought to be more like “the Asians.” At Duke, he said, “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.” Etc.

Hough is an embarrassment. But his suspension for having an opinion, even one that is “noxious [and] offensive,” is also problematic. The substance of Hough’s argument is not (quite) as disgusting as his expression of it, and whereas his comments aren’t going to get a lot of support from Curmie, his right to express them will.

At Glen Oak Elementary School in Lewis Center, Ohio, it’s apparently not a good thing to stand up to bullies. Or at least doing so seems to have cost 5th grade teacher Nicole LeMire her job. One of her more obnoxious charges blew his nose on classmates, used inappropriate language, and generally behaved badly. So LeMire made him listen to his classmates for a change. Curmie is an experienced teacher, but not at the elementary school level. He does know enough to consult actual experts, however.

One of those experts would be Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational at the University of Illinois. She says LeMire did exactly the right thing:
You want to call out the behavior because the victim deserves to have an adult say “we’re not going to tolerate this.” Kids are paying attention. Teachers need to be role models, and it seems she did what experts would agree with, because there has to be a climate where bullied kids feel supported.
Naturally, doing what the experts say to do got her fired. Were Curmie of a cynical disposition (perish the thought!), he might suspect that the bully has a relative on the school board or in the superintendent’s office.

Abby Dawson: definitely not good at her job
No enumeration of outrageous education-related behavior in 2015 would be complete without Abby Dawson, then the Director of Advising and Internships at Kennesaw State in Georgia. Seriously, Cruella De Vil has got nothing on this woman. Student Kevin Bruce showed up at the advising office without an appointment and said he’d wait until an adviser was available. For this, he was screamed at and told he was harassing the staff; Dawson threatened to call campus security. How do we know? Bruce made a video that went viral. Any sane employer would have fired her sorry ass in approximately 2 seconds. Kennesaw State suspended her a few weeks after the confrontation.

There are more stories, but that’ll have to do for 2015.

Good night, good luck, and Happy New Year.

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