Insulting the Teacher

7.21.15 ShoutMerely Vulgar or Is It Insulting?

Which matters more, who says it or how it is said? Many of our students treat us with love and affection – or at least grudging respect. But some do not. We teachers (at times) are subjected to all kinds of insults and vulgarities. In my last post, The Old Rugged Cross and the ’N’ Word, I wrote about the students’ constant use of the word ‘nigga’ and how I was repeatedly told, “We can say it but you can’t because of your color.” I warned that, although I was not advocating the use of vulgarity, making such a distinction because of race was a dangerous and outdated concept. But what about student vulgarity in general? When is it simple-minded, low-class behavior and when is it insulting?

I have been called just about every insult and/or compliment you can imagine. I’ve been called an asshole, a buster ass mark, a fool, a sycophant, Jubal E. Harshaw and Dad! My looks have been compared to every bald guy with a mustache from Dr. Phil to Sean Connery sexiest-man-1989-0r-2007(I have no problem with this last comparison!). The most shockingly vulgar insult I have ever heard from anybody came from the mouth of a second grader (I’ll spare you the vulgarity here because it isn’t necessary to quote it to make my point. If you really want the prurient details – write me at my contact page). But it really bothered me when I was called an old bald eagle. Why?

To examine if a word or behavior is insulting, I posed the questions earlier, does it matter who says it or how it is said? Let’s look at this symbol of honor used as an insult.

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The Old Rugged Cross and the ‘N’ Word

A large wooden cross set against a brilliant blue sky with colorful distant mountains stands as a testament to faith.

The Old Rugged Cross

What is sacred to you? What is offensive? And does it matter who says it or how it is said? These are questions designed to examine values about race and what constitutes insulting behavior. Let’s start with The Old Rugged Cross.

I played the piano at my Sunday school. We frequently sang a song called The Old Rugged Cross. The lyrics I want to focus on were:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross…

Why would anyone love an emblem of suffering and shame?

The cross and crucifixion were considered very shameful in ancient times. Roman citizens were not crucified. In the Roman world, crucifixion was a punishment handed out to the lowest, most reviled criminals. Only slaves, foreign captives and those non Romans convicted of crimes against the state (as in the case of Jesus) suffered crucifixion as a capital punishment.

jesus-fishI was taught (in Bible study) that, generally, Christianity first adopted the cross (and/or the fish) as a way of recognizing friends and like minded believers. Christianity also adopted the cross as an emblem of defiance. And finally Christianity adopted the cross as a reminder of the nature of sacrifice (there’s a lot more to it but let’s leave it there for now).

Now I ask you, “Have you ever heard of someone who follows The Old Rugged Cross feeling insulted by being called a Christian?” I suppose if it was said with enough venom and vitriol it could be an insult, “You sanctimonious Christians!” Perhaps it isn’t the word itself but how you say it and how you mean it that makes it an insult.

[Warning: This next section contains actual, unedited and uncensored quotes of children and may be offensive to some readers.
Please proceed with caution and an open mind.]

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What Whoopi Goldberg Can Teach Us About the Oscars and Diversity

Whoopi's OscarDiversity in Black History Month

Every February at my school we would celebrate Black History Month with assemblies and presentations about Black History. At first, the presentations consisted mostly of documentaries featuring news footage of the struggle for civil rights. Every year we’d see white police beating black people in Selma or Montgomery or elsewhere. And every year our black students would come out of the assemblies visibly and understandably angered by the injustices they had seen.

I went to our principal and asked for some diversity in the presentations. I pointed out that just showing beatings and police dogs and firehoses used on demonstrators didn’t tell the whole picture. It gave the impression that all white people hated all black people which just wasn’t and isn’t true. If it were, we’d still be legally segregated or worse.

My students didn’t need to be convinced that racial prejudice is real – they’d seen it first hand all around them. What they needed was inspiration not more hatred. What they needed was a glimpse of those heroes, white and black, who worked to break down racial barriers. That included Lyndon Johnson as well as Thurgood Marshall, Branch Rickey as well as Jackie Robinson, and Eleanor Roosevelt as well as the Tuskegee Airmen. This was not to imply that the struggle for equal treatment had or has been won. It was intended to show what worked. It was intended to show that the struggle goes on and that only through cooperation of all parties could the forces of prejudice be overcome. And a diverse program was also intended to teach rational judgement because sometimes it isn’t only about race.

Don’t Boycott the Oscars

As of this writing (January/February 2016) there has been a lot of discussion of the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards and what to do about it. There has even been a strident call to boycott the Oscars. I think a boycott is not the answer. Those who would boycott seem to be trying to make this a racial or moral issue when it is more of a business issue and popularity contest.

It’s not about morality.

Why aren’t those concerned with diversity complaining about the lack of diversity in the NBA? Why are there no Cubans on the Miami Heat? Why are there no Irish on the Boston Celtics? Boston Celtics – there’s a misnomer if ever there was one. Fielding a predominately black team in ‘Bean Town’ and calling it the Boston Celtics makes as much sense as fielding a predominately white team in ‘The Big Apple’ and calling it the New York Negros!

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Busted for Shouting!

8.6.15 Shout.jpegI got busted by the police for excessive force!

Yes, a cop… busted me!!! for excessive force.  And when law enforcement complains of a teacher using excessive force, you’d think, ‘Wow that teacher must be out of control.’  Or would you?

Officer Bradshaw was talking with the Principal out on the P.E. field when they heard shouting coming from outside a classroom.  They turned to see a white male teacher shouting at a black female student.  (Start the body camera now) Bradshaw turned on his ‘body cam’, he couldn’t make out what was being said but it was obvious that the teacher and the girl were yelling at each other.  Then they stopped yelling and stomped back into the classroom (stop the camera).

Outraged (and probably feeling like he had the moral high ground), Bradshaw turned to the Principal and demanded, “Is THAT how your teachers talk to your students?”  The Principal said, “I don’t know what that was about, but I will find out.”

So, of course, I heard about it that afternoon.  Before I could say a word in my defense, I was hearing phrases like, “I expect better things from you… Have you any idea how embarrassing that was… What were you thinking?” and more.  To which I protested, “You guys weren’t there.  I had to shout at that girl just to get a word in edgewise.  I was only following school policy but she refused listen.”  “So you had to shout?”  “Yes!”  And before the week was out, I was vindicated by the Principal’s own actions.

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Excessive Force

7.3.15 Newton's 2nd LawShocking video

“Next on the nightly news, a shocking video of excessive force used on a young, mentally handicapped child.  We warn you that the video you are about to see is disturbing.  It shows two adult males (a middle school administrator and a teacher) forcefully wrenching the arms of a much smaller 13 year old Special Ed. student as they slam him into a chair.”

Wow!  Is your righteous indignation heating up?  Are you ready to abandon due process and fire those vicious adults?   Or did you ask yourself, ‘Does the video really show the whole story?’

Questions regarding excessive force

Claims of excessive force have been in the news of late and it seems to me that not enough details are being discussed to give a genuinely clear picture of when force is necessary or what force is necessary.  I’m not talking about the clear cut cases where someone has submitted to authority and then suffered a beating – that is excessive.  I want to examine the cases where it is obvious that the suspect or child is not compliant.  I want to ask these questions of all those advocates out there, “How many fights have you ever broken up?  Have you ever been in a situation with a child where safety of the child or others was at stake and the child refuses to comply with your authority?  What did/do you do?”  I call this ‘Catch 22’ situation ‘extreme behavioral management’.

I don’t have the video of the situation I described in the first paragraph but I will tell you about it.  I was the teacher!

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When You Can’t Fix Stupid #3

Grunge Skull CrossbonesBorrowing trouble

I’ve said it before.  We all do stupid things.  Back when I was much younger and a pretty girl could talk me into just about anything, I loaned my credit card to a ‘friend’ for her deposit on a car rental.  She assured me I’d incur no charges.  One month and eight hundred dollars later I was chanting that advice about borrowing and lending that Polonius gave to Laertes.  I thought I knew better but I let myself get distracted.  I never made that stupid mistake again.

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“All My Teachers Are Racist!”

RacistAll my teachers are racist!

“It’s not my fault my grades are bad.  All my teachers are racist.”  And his mom believed him.  He was her little boy, her darling.  He wouldn’t lie.  And don’t try to tell her that sometimes parents who truly love their children can be their own child’s worst enemy.  She had to learn from experience.

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Blame it on the Irish!

Lakeshore Drive and Chicago SkylineGuatemalan vs. Mexican, Italian vs. Irish

Maria had a large woven woolen bag that had Guatemala embroidered on it.  I asked her if she was Guatemalan and she said, “I’m half Guatemalan and half Mexican.”

Remembering my own childhood being half Irish and half Italian and the crazy family arguments that condition seemed to generate I had to ask, “Does that ever cause any family arguments like, ‘The Mexican way is better,’ ‘No, the Guatemalan way is better,’ and things like that?”

Maria rolled her eyes, laughed and said, “All the time!”

I told her, “Yeah in my family too!  All my dad’s Italian sisters married Irishmen (except for Aunt Teresa who married my Polish uncle Bob because he was such a sweetie) and it seemed like at every family gathering there was at least some debate about the merits of each family ethnicity.”  I learned early on that these debates could get quite heated (loud) and acrimonious but I had no idea how far reaching this divide could be until my dad threw it on the police!

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