Teaching English these days is fraught with danger. It reminds me—in a sense–of the old Monty Python skit about a Walter Mittyish fellow that wants an exciting career as a lion tamer—until he realizes a lion is a fierce beast that might eat him. Teaching is mostly sedate and non-threatening, but fierce beasts wait to eat the unwary.
Teaching English involves literature, which is inherently dangerous. Not only are people prone to objecting to what’s actually written, they’re even more prone to objecting to ideas that aren’t so much as implied by a given work. Add in trying to make literature of the past relevant with the occasional reference to current events, and I often contemplate applying for combat pay. Then there are teachers who shoot themselves—and every other teacher–in the foot, such as the 7thgrade social studies teacher at Hampton Middle School in Hampton, GA as National Review.com reports:
For this assignment, you are writing a letter to the lawmakers of the United States. The purpose of this letter is to pressure lawmakers to have stricter gun laws in the United States. Your letter should contain at least five complete sentences. Make sure that you use proper grammatical skills when writing your letter,’ read the assignment given out by social studies teacher Corey Sanders to his students at Hampton Middle School.
Do you see the problem, gentle readers? A parent certainly did:
A parent of one of the students, William Lee, told Blue Lives [Matter] that his son came home from school “and said he had to write a paper on gun control.
‘I looked at it, and I told my son, ‘No, you’re not doing that assignment,’ Lee said. ‘Then I emailed his teacher the next day and told him that my son would not be writing that.
Lee was not the only parent that objected. And considering the curriculum focus, they were right to do so:
According to Blue Lives, the purpose of this class was to teach students about Africa, Asia, and the Middle East — so Lee was confused as to how the subject of gun control even came up in the first place. For me, however, that’s not the problem. If a social-studies teacher wants to bring current events into a middle-school classroom, that’s fine with me, but he did it in the completely wrong way.
Quite so. School officials were not impressed, as Fox News reports:
I reached out to Henry County Schools and they tell me the assignment was not a part of any approved curriculum.
‘We would never approve of a politically biased assignment or directive given by a teacher,’ the district spokesman told me.
He assured me the letters were not sent and there was never any intent to send them.
‘This activity took the wrong approach in limiting the ability of students to share any thoughts outside of what was directed of them when the subject elicits many different viewpoints from people, including students,’ the spokesman told me.
Henry County School, he said, does not advocate for or against gun control and had the lesson been submitted for approval — it would not have been approved.
‘It is unfortunate that this isolated incident occurred, but we are appreciative of those individuals who brought it to our attention so we could take corrective action and stop it from continuing further,’ the spokesman said.
Asking students to express their opinions on such issues is legitimate, as long as those opinions are graded on criteria other than whether the teacher agrees with them, but telling students to support a particularly point of view for political purposes is wrong. In this case, the teacher might have asked kids to construct arguments on both sides of the issue, and graded them only on the effectiveness of those arguments and the quality of their writing, which would have been appropriate. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be an isolated incident at that particular school, as Fox News reports:
On ‘Fox & Friends,’ Abby Huntsman interviewed a Georgia middle school student who captured audio of her teacher ripping President Donald Trump and his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.
Josie Orihuela of Hampton Middle School near Atlanta began recording on her phone when sixth-grade teacher Johnetta Benton began reaming out the president.
‘When my president says let’s Make America Great Again, when was he talking about?’ Benton is heard asking, and later adding that Trump must mean when ‘[America] was great for Europeans.’
‘Because,’ Benton continues, ‘when it comes to minorities, America has never been great for minorities.
“America has never been great for minorities,” says a presumably minority teacher afforded every benefit of being a teacher, and is paid no less than non-minority teachers, male or female. When last I checked, in law and in fact, America remains a place where anyone, of any race, can succeed on their hard work and merits. The issue, however, is inappropriate teaching:
Orihuela said Benton made the comments as she was introducing a video to celebrate Black History Month.
‘It kept getting worse and worse,’ she said.
Though not captured on the audio played by Huntsman, Orihuela said that at one point, Benton surmised aloud that ‘Make America Great Again’ could be a precursor to ‘trying to bring back segregation.
Presumably, this is yet another social studies teacher. Could any objective observer fail to understand that President Trump’s slogan refers to restoring America’s preeminence in the world? As a businessman, Mr. Trump has always employed minorities, and reportedly treated them well. From this comes an evil desire to restore segregation? Where, pray tell, is the evidence of this retrograde desire? And how did the school district deal with this?
Henry County School District spokesperson J.D. Hardin later called the incident ‘extremely unfortunate’ and said that the ‘matter was addressed’ after the tape went public.
Obviously, there is a problem with a lack of understanding of the boundaries of proper curriculum in the social studies department of this particular middle school. One would hope that when the matter was “addressed,” school authorities didn’t merely say “don’t get caught next time,” but properly explained professional conduct to these, and potentially other, teachers. It’s been my experience that when teachers feel free to teach political propaganda rather than a professional curriculum, that freedom comes from the understanding their superiors not only share that ideology, but will not object to imposing it on students.
J.D. Hardin may indeed be speaking sincerely, and their words may reflect the policy of the Henry County School District, however, it sounds as though parents in that district are aware and involved. Clearly, they’ll need to be.