Friday, January 2, 2015

Announcing the Nominees for the 4th Annual Curmie Award

It’s that time of year again: time to ask you, Gentle Reader, to help decide the appropriate recipient of the 4th Annual Curmie Award, presented to the person or persons who most embarrass the profession of educator. 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. Similarly, idiotic decisions by politicians, pseudo-philanthropists, or university Boards of Trustees aren’t included because the perpetrators aren’t educators.

Lastly, I must have written about the story in 2014, and the incident in question must have taken place either in calendar year 2014 or close enough to it that it had not really entered the public consciousness until 2014. An exception would be an older story that got new life: a lawsuit that went to trial, a newsworthy fact-finding report was released, that sort of thing.

Previous winners included the anonymous middle school teacher (and the teacher’s aide) in Mercer County, Kentucky, who punished an autistic boy by cramming him into a gym bag intended to hold gym balls; Lillian Gomez, a Florida teacher who figured that marinating Play-Doh and crayons in hot sauce and feeding the concoction to her autistic students would be a good way to teach them not to put things in their mouths; and Principal Greer Phillips of PS 79 (the Horan School) in East Harlem, who ordered a lockdown, complete with false claims of an armed intruder—without notifying either the faculty or the police that it was only a drill—in a school with a high percentage of special needs kids less than a week after the events in Newtown, Connecticut. There have also been a couple of Honorary Curmies, including one in 2014: to Batavia High School in Illinois for forcing what one strongly suspects to be a euphemistically-termed “retirement” by John Dryden, the social studies teacher who reminded his students that they have 5th amendment rights, even if his administration and school board think they’re above that whole caring-about-the-Constitution thing.

And now we have a new crop of contenders. As usual, Curmie chooses eight finalists and roughly that many (dis)honorable mentions. You, collectively, decide the recipient from among the finalists; there are no write-ins. If you think someone else should have been nominated, that is your right and privilege. Your choices: accept my apologies for the omission or write your own blog and remedy the situation.

Curmie wrote only 36 posts for the entire year, the fewest since the Curmie Award was instituted, and whereas education has gradually become the top topic here, there are a number of essays dealing with other issues altogether. Still, I wrote 16 posts about (depending on how you count) roughly 25 or 30 Curmie-worthy incidents. The competition is still stiff.

There were, of course, a lot of stories I didn’t get to. Here are just eight of several dozen I just didn’t get written up (and that doesn’t count the ones I missed altogether):
Glen Meadow Middle School in Vernon, NJ, for humiliating 7th-grader Ethan Chapman—stripping him, demanding blood and urine samples—for the crime of twirling a pencil.

The administration of Burch Middle School in Mingo, WV for punishing alleged rape victims for talking to the police, but not… you know… doing anything to the rapists.

Grady High (Atlanta) teacher Anquinette Jones for showing students a Powerpoint linking evolution to euthanasia, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, divorce, and racism… Creationism solves all those problems, of course.

McKinley Middle School in DC, for assigning 6th-graders to construct a Venn diagram describing the similarities and differences between “two men of power who abused their power in various ways”: George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.

Officials at Forest Hill Elementary for trying to charge Sheila Lynard over $6000 to provide her with her son’s assessment scores after admitting they really have no policy to determine who is or is not admitted into accelerated classes.

Authorities at E.R. Dixon Elementary School in Mobile, for making a 5-year-old girl sign a “contract” that she would not kill herself nor harm anyone else. Her offense? Pointing a crayon at another student and saying “pew pew.” Of course, if at age 17 she’s tempted to go on a violent rampage, having signed a piece of paper a dozen years earlier (can she even write, yet?) will no doubt stop her in her tracks.

The University of Michigan for including withholding of sex as an example of “sexual violence.”

Joseph Goodman and his facilitators in the Mesa (AZ) ISD, for removing three girls from a public high school’s softball team for refusing to say a Mormon prayer
 There’s another story I definitely would have written about, but it’s not from America, so isn’t eligible for Curmie consideration: The case of Thomas Docherty, a professor of English at Warwick University in the UK. He was finally allowed to return to work after being suspended for “making ‘ironic’ comments during job interviews, sighing and using negative body language.” Oh, by the way, the “witnesses” were all anonymous, so he couldn’t even confront specific allegations. Curmie wouldn’t last a week there.

SO… without further ado: the (Dis)Honorable Mentions for the 4th Annual Curmie Award, in the order I wrote about them:
The clown show that is the administration at Sheboygan South (WI) High School, for suspending two of the three basketball-playing Jackson brothers for making “gang signs” that were, of course, nothing of the kind. Sheboygan South edged out Olive Branch, MS, the stupidity of whose suspension of football player Dontadrian Bruce was merely beyond reasonable doubt, as opposed to full-fledged ontological certitude.

The administration of the University of South Carolina Upstate for profound and ubiquitous cowardice in the face of homophobia, especially in their apparent inability to recognize that a performance called How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less featuring a character named Butchy McDyke might just not be entirely serious.

The folks in the Mustang (OK) school district who approved a course on the Bible, created by an organization that also runs the Museum of the Bible while disingenuously pretending the course isn’t religious in nature. Plus, of course, Hobby Lobby CEO and full-time arrogant jackass Steve Green not only has his grimy little fingerprints all over this deal, he also pretty clearly violated the law in the process.

Clarke Woodger, the proprietor of the Nomen Global Language Center, a private school in Provo, UT specializing in ESL, for firing an employee for writing a blog post about homophones. Yes, homophones. Woodger might well be a full-fledged nominee if Curmie were altogether convinced he has anything to do with education as opposed to making a buck off naïve foreigners.

Roosevelt (NY) High School Principal Stephen Strachan for plagiarizing his message to students in the school yearbook (and even congratulating the wrong class).

Monroe (MI) Middle School Assistant Principal Melissa Provo and her enablers for suspending teacher Alan Barron for the crime of showing a (contextualized) video of a blackface performance… because they seem to think that the fact that something happened doesn’t mean it should be talked about.

Jesse Smith, the Principal of South Williamsport (PA) Jr./Sr. High and Superintendent Mark Stamm for shutting down an imminent production of Spamalot because there are gay people in it. Smith and Stamm get the nod over Maiden (NC) High School’s similarly-motivated suppression of Almost, Maine, which, after all, was already in rehearsal when the censors arrived. But Smith’s overt and demonstrable lying about whether the school had committed to do the musical clinches the Censorious Asshat Division for the Pennsylvanians.

Administrators at Ashton Ranch Elementary School in Surprise, AZ for describing in his permanent file the actions of 5-year-old Eric Lopez as “sexual misconduct.” Young Eric seems to have been bullied by another student into dropping his pants on the playground. Assistant Superintendent Jim Dean, who tried to justify the stupidity of the school’s decision, doesn’t have the excuse of being five… although if he improves a little, he might someday get there intellectually.

University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise and the university’s trustees for withdrawing a job offer to Professor Steven Salaita after he’d long since quit his old job. Curmie described their actions as “cowardly, unethical, arrogant, boorish, anti-intellectual, and in direct contradiction to the appropriate exercise of their authority,” and stands by that analysis.

And now… the Nominees for the 4th Annual Curmie Award, again arranged in the order I wrote about them:

James Miller, President B. Kaye Miller, and their co-conspirators at Bergen Community College, who suspended and demanded a psychiatric evaluation of art professor Francis Schmidt for tweeting a photo of his seven-year-old daughter wearing a t-short reading “I will take what is mine with fire and blood” even after it was proven that the line is a well-known pop culture reference to the Game of Thrones. They did finally back off several months later, but it was too little, too late. In mitigation: if you’re both an idiot and completely unengaged in popular culture, that line might actually make you think about recent school shootings. In aggravation: the shirt is obviously inoffensive, the process was obviously flawed, and the school’s defense of their actions is the perfect balance of irrationality and pomposity.

A cadre of incompetents at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, NY, who cancelled the school’s traditional kindergarten show because of concern with making their charges college-ready. In mitigation: I can think of none. In aggravation: these people have no comprehension of child development, of what goes into making a show, of real college-readiness, or indeed of anything other than their own hubris, from what I can tell.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is likely the worst cabinet member of the 21st century, but he outdid even his own high standards of incompetence and arrogance with the proclamation that even students with disabilities will be expected to attain basic standards of reading and math: “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.” Actually, no, Arne, we know no such thing, and if you think we do, maybe you should get off the hard stuff. In mitigation: I got nothing. In aggravation: Duncan’s plan has no upside, will cost pots of money, and ignores differences between students’ innate ability and preparation while pretending to privilege individuality.

Wasatch (UT) High School officials, for puritanically altering female students’ yearbook photos without as much as giving the girls the opportunity to fix their alleged transgressions. In mitigation: there was indeed a sign warning students of the need to obey the school’s dress code. In aggravation: the policy was enforced inconsistently and apparently whimsically. More significantly, the level of sexism involved is positively stunning: boys had their pictures taken with shirts gaping open, tattoos, copious amounts of visible boxer shorts… and a cutline “Studs doin’ what studs do best.” I couldn’t make this up.

There were plenty of cases of schools’ and universities’ over-reacting to the Ebola pseudo-crisis. We’re going to give the specific nomination to Cline Elementary in Friendswood, TX, not because their craven stupidity was any worse than that exhibited by several other schools, but because of the distance the teacher in question was from an actual outbreak while traveling in Africa relative to the distance to the nearest confirmed case to the district itself: roughly 11 to 1. In mitigation: there was lots of false information circulating, and parents (especially) were nervous. In aggravation: you’re supposed to be a school. Educate. When people are being paranoid idiots, it is your responsibility to keep your collective heads and do the right thing.

The administration of Rhame Avenue School in East Rockaway, NY, for taking teacher Vuola Coyle out of her classroom because her students’ test scores were too good. Yes, too good. It costs the school because students supposedly learn too much in 4th grade and therefore don’t show enough improvement as 5th graders. In mitigation: we haven’t really heard the school’s side of this story. In aggravation: even if everything else is false, the school’s addiction to testing, and to practice testing, is demonstrable.

The University of North Carolina for allowing a corrupt system of allowing athletes (especially) to enroll in “paper courses” for the sole purpose of keeping them eligible or off suspension to continue for nearly two decades. In mitigation: the real offenses are in the past, as are the worst of the offenders. But if the release of an investigator’s report marks a new event in the minds of SACS accreditors, it can for Curmie, too. In aggravation: it is impossible to believe that a lot of people currently in powerful positions at UNC didn’t know exactly what was going on and did nothing. And if “everyone does it,” it is the portent of very bad things to come, indeed.

Assistant Principal Paula Johnson and the rest of the administration of Bayside Middle School in Virginia for suspending 6th grader Adrionna Harris, who took a razor away from a classmate who was cutting himself, immediately throwing it away. But she dealt with the problem instead of calling a teacher. In mitigation: Adrionna was technically in violation of a rule that actually makes sense if not applied irrationally. In aggravation: the administrators wouldn’t have known about the incident if Adrionna hadn’t told them, so she was punished for being honest as well as being heroic.

So there are the nominees. 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, on the Curmudgeon Central Facebook page, or on the Twitter page, it’s only the actual votes that count.

The polls, as it were, will be open until 7:10 pm CST on Friday, January 9. Majority rules. (This isn’t PolitiFact, after all.)


Phlinn said...

I went with Bergen for personal sympathy to the events, Arne Duncan for disputing objective reality and being in a position where he can cause so much harm, Rhame for behavior in direct opposition to the goal of education, and Bayside for punishing objectively good behavior.

If I'd had to pick just one, it was a tossup between Rhame and Bayside. I would have maybe tossed in some of the others too given a chance...

I'm surprised Jack at hasn't linked your curmie award again, since that's what led me to your blog the first time.

manjushri924 said...

Thanks, Phlinn. I did send the link to Jack, but I don't want to bug him.

Phlinn said...

You might have to leave a comment. IIRC, he recently mentioned that he is way way behind on email. I can plug it in an offtopic comment myself.

It could just be that he's still processing the head explosion from reading some of these cases... :p

Michael R. said...

I voted for Rhame because I thought it was the most obvious anti-educational and against The psychiatric examination because I think this is the most dangerous.

I know too many teachers that would support Rhame's aim of getting rid of teachers who teach too well and too much. They feel knowledge should be carefully controlled and rationed.

I know too many people that have been sentenced to the 'psychiatric examination'. Psychiatry is not a science, its results are purely the opinion of the psychiatrist. Troublemakers (whisleblowers) are often forced to endure this so they can be labelled as mentally ill or unstable. A friend of mine in high school had to endure years of medication and therapy because her 'refused to accept that his foot was healed and didn't hurt". But it did hurt because there was a large, jagged piece of metal in it that the physicians had missed on 4 separate X-rays (but the lawyers saw it immediately). After years of being told he was delusional, the metal piece finally made its way to the surface and he pulled it out.