Regarding the recent viral rant by Texas high school student Jeff Bliss against his history teacher (below), there may well be legitimate grievances here. Three things that deeply worry me about this are the three things that nobody is commenting on.
First, the whole Internet is rushing to get on this kid’s team. But none of us were there. We don’t know the teacher’s side of the story. We aren’t qualified to take a side. What could prompt such a mad, mass bandwagon of groupthink?
Everybody criticizes the herd mentality unless, you know, you’re in on it, because then it’s just obviously right.
Second, nobody is talking about who recorded this and put it online, and why they did it, and if that was a good idea. I agree that public school classrooms need to be open to the world, but this is a selective moment published just to hurt a teacher. Nobody is worried about the precedent here?
Which brings me to the third point: as the UK’s Daily Mail notes in its weekend article on the controversy, “Meanwhile, the teacher in the video has been placed on administrative leave while the school investigates…”
Wow, some kid posts a video online of another kid criticizing a teacher, and the teacher gets suspended and investigated. Her career is likely ruined. Over a one minute video where all she really does is calmly reiterate that a disruptive student leave. What he says may be right, but she deserves to be harrassed and investigated over this?
I’m reminded of the sword of Damocles.
I’m reminded of Reverend Hale’s line in Act IV of The Crucible: “No man knows when the harlot’s cry will end his life.” Or when the student’s cry will end her career. Apparently, society is OK with a witch hunt if the accused are only mere teachers.
“Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers?” Arthur Miller, The Crucible
The biggest problem with hate crime accusations is that they are completely subjective. Whenever anyone claims that a hate crime has been committed, all that means is that they perceive that a hate crime has been committed. There’s no objective standard, no uniform physical sign that constitutes an undeniable smoking gun.
How could something so nebulous NOT end up getting abused for political gain?
Consider the current furor over the Rutgers student who has just been convicted of a hate crime even though there’s no actual evidence that he “hated” the victim, personally or publicly. Continue reading
This year, I’m starting my American Lit Honors classes with The Crucible, the classic play about the Salem Witch Trials. I usually end my introduction to it with a joke like this:
“So this is a story about desperate, repressed, stressed-out people crowded into a little village in a hostile wilderness, whose desire for excitement and importance makes them break out in hysterical, paranoid drama, and then the innocent, unpopular people around them suffer greatly. So basically it’s a lot like 7th grade.”
One of my favorite jokes of the whole year!
As the year winds down in American Lit, I assign a style imitation exercise to review the major works we’ve read and the styles of some important authors. The students’ job is to write a brief version of any four stories, each in the style of a different author. Either the story or the author has to be one we studied in class.
Here are two examples I gave them (I know, neither Shakespeare nor Star Wars is American Lit, but I had the idea and couldn’t resist):
The Empire Strikes Back, as written by William Shakespeare
VADER: Fair young apprentice, it is I who am the father of thy fleshly tabernacle!
LUKE: Oh, forswear it, vile wretch!
Never shall the days come when I shall agree
To partake of the black compact thou hast proposed.
The very seraphs of heav’n shall blow their mighty trumps
Ere I rule the galaxy with thee!
Napoleon Dynamite, as written by Emily Dickinson
Alas and woe is me,
For bereft of the sweet tots am I.
My lily-white palm reaches–
Out–to cast away the button of
The flippin idiot who–
Votes for Summer in place of Pedro–
My heart drops and yearns for…
They came up with some pretty impressive stuff. Here are some ideas, just to give you a sense for their creativity:
- Twilight, by Mark Twain (he highlights the pathetic flaws in every character by sarcastically mocking their lame, emo worldview)
- William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by Herman Melville (a sixteen-word poem becomes a stark, 1000-page epic: “So very much of the innermost intensity of our eternal, ethereal souls depends upon the minutest particularities of crimson hue inherently blasted, seared into the fibre of the side of the wheelbarrow…” etc, etc)
- A Walk To Remember, by Edgar Allan Poe (The way it was meant to be–less corny romance, more gory phantasms torturing the dark secrets hidden inside us all. The girl still dies.)
- William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” by Dr. Seuss (“I would not, could not with a corpse…well, maybe I could.”)
- The Crucible, by Dorothy Parker (the men accuse all of the women of witchcraft because they’re neurotic and needy–the women tartly retort at first, but end up agreeing and hanging themselves.)
- Moby Dick, by Stephen King (Ahab can’t kill the whale because it’s a psychic, flying alien! But Ahab turns out to be a vampire from another dimension! Now we’ve got a story.)
- The Great Gatsby, by Mr. Huston (everybody dies on page 2)
A group of students working on a review assignment for my American Literature class this week got creative and decided to write a mash-up of all our major novels from throughout the year. I think I’ll end up reading a silly story about Atticus Finch defending Hester Prynne on charges of witchcraft (said case to be financed by Jay Gatsby), all to be done as they float down the Mississippi River on a raft as they all look for work as farm hands in California. That is, of course, if they can kill the white whale first.