In a recent education article—This is a Democratic School–I wrote of the plight of Samantha Pawlucy, a student at Charles Carroll High School in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. Samantha, it seems, made the mistake of wearing a Romney t-shirt to school, which caused her geometry teacher—whose name was not available as that article was posted—to harass and ridicule her in a manner that went far, far beyond the joking she later claimed her abusiveness to be.
There has been a sort of preliminary disposition in the case. From Fox News:
The father of a 16-year-old Philadelphia girl who says she was mocked by her geometry teacher for wearing a Mitt Romney T-shirt says his children will not be going back to the school.
Samantha Pawlucy briefly returned to Charles Carroll High School in the city’s Port Richmond section Tuesday…
But her father, Richard Pawlucy, tells The Philadelphia Inquirer that his daughter never actually made it to class. Instead, she went into the school offices following a rally held by her supporters because she felt uncomfortable.
He says Samantha and two other high-school age children in his home will be transferring to another school, possibly a charter school.
We also now know the name of the teacher: Lynette Gaymon. A visit to the Charles Carroll High School website reveals it is a 9-12 “…small comprehensive neighborhood high school” with an enrollment of about 350. It is further billed:
Charles Carroll High School is a progressive urban center for education…
Ah. That may explain at least some of it. Interestingly, Ms. Gaymon is not listed as a member of the school staff, and it’s quite a small staff indeed. There are only two math teachers, two English teachers, two history teachers, etc. I don’t know why Ms. Gaymon’s name does not appear. Perhaps she’s been recently removed to spare her or the school embarrassment, but in any case, there are no contact links or e-mail addresses provided for any of the staff with the exception of the principal, a Ms. Joyce A. Hoog. Most schools have e-mail addresses listed for all teachers, but I’ve no idea if this school has ever had that policy. Again, according to Fox:
Geometry teacher Lynette Gaymon has apologized in a letter read to students by the school principal on Tuesday, saying she meant her remarks to be ‘light and humorous’ and they ‘never meant to belittle’ the student or cause any harm.
Hmm. As I reported in the original article, Ms. Gaymon not only belittled Pawlucy in her own class, she called in additional teachers and students from other classes to participate in the “light and humorous” political commentary. Ms. Gaymon likely could have a bright future in the Obama Administration, perhaps the State Department.
The Superintendent, William Hite Jr. is apparently in a smart diplomacy mood. He:
…has called the ordeal a ‘teachable moment’ and said he will work with the mayor and the teachers union to move ‘towards a conversation that brings together diverse beliefs, inspires understanding, and heals.’
Isn’t that lovely? They’re going to move towards a conversation! I wonder what that looks like? Does one stride boldly toward the light of commonality? Skip joyously on the path of brotherhood? Traipse through the garden of enlightened understanding? And the conversation they’re moving towards will bring together diverse beliefs, inspire understanding, and heal. I suspect it will probably lower the seas as well. One can only hope this is the kind of rhetoric Philadelphia school superintendents must trot out for public consumption while conducting a more professional and adult conversation behind closed doors. Sadly, I think it may be worse behind closed doors, but more on that shortly.
Her [Samantha’s] father, Richard, said his daughter’s return to school Tuesday was so uncomfortable that the three high school-age children in his home will not return to Carroll.
‘Never. One-hundred percent not,’ he said. ‘We don’t want anything to do with the district anymore.’
Instead, he said by phone Wednesday, the family is looking into transferring the students to a charter school.
State Representative John Taylor (R. Phila.), apparently the only Republican representative in Philadelphia, is working with the Pawlucy family in the hope of finding alternative schooling—ideally a charter school—but that is apparently not an easy task.
All we can do is call and ask the charter schools to talk to the Pawlucys,’ Taylor said. ‘I’m not optimistic about those. But we did call and ask them to talk to the families.
Mr. Pawlucy has considerable faith in Taylor:
We have a lot of faith in him’ – but would consider all options. Catholic schools are the next option, he said, followed by other private schools.
‘The School District is last in the list,’ he said. ‘Behind homeschooling.
There is no indication in any of the sources I’ve found whether Ms. Gaymon will be facing discipline of any kind. The fact that she was obviously forced to make a public apology—as pathetic as it was—indicates at least a glimmer of an understanding on the part of school officials that she did something wrong, however, the Superintendent’s simpering statement does not inspire hope.
I now have at least some idea of how such things are handled in Philadelphia. In Texas, where I am fortunate to teach, things would have been quite different. I doubt any teacher would have felt empowered to so blatantly trumpet their political beliefs, but if they had, there would have been no need for “formal” requests for an investigation. Their principal would have investigated as a matter of daily practice, and once they knew all the facts would have told the teacher they were completely out of line. There would have been no argument, no whining about making a joke, and surely no storming out of a parent meeting.
The only person being immersed in a “teachable moment” would have been the teacher, who would have been quickly and clearly taught the limits of appropriate professional ethics. There would have been no “moving towards a conversation;” there would have been no doubt the conversation was being held here and now and would have only one outcome. There would have been no “diverse beliefs;” there would have been only right and wrong inspired by professional ethics and behavior, ethics and behavior the teacher failed to uphold and act upon. Understanding would have been inspired indeed, but only the understanding the teacher screwed up and future screwups of that sort would be career ending.
As for healing, there would indeed be apologies: a public apology to anyone who was present and involved, and an in-person apology to the parents and to Samantha, and there would be no hedging, no false claims of joking, no pretense, just adult responsibility and sincere contrition. That less has occurred, and apparently nothing more will come of this, speaks ill of the school district and all associated with it.
Teachers are, of necessity, authority figures, but they are also role models. They must, at all times, be responsible adults, and their students must expect them to act, in every situation, as responsible adults. It is sometimes easy to forget students actually do admire teachers. Many look up to them and think them worthy of emulation. Because teachers are human, they must be allowed to make mistakes, and upon making them they must take adult responsibility and make things right. Apologizing to students does not diminish respect but builds and reinforces it. The behavior of Ms. Gayman lowered her to the level of her students, perhaps lower. Her effectiveness in that school may be at an end, but she will likely continue to work there to the detriment of her students.
I wish Mr. Pawlacy luck in finding a better school. Perhaps a good first step would be finding one that does not bill itself as “progressive.” That’s one adjective that usually speaks clearly, as it did in this case.