What the hell were they thinking?

I wasn’t going to blog again this soon today. Nor was I going to blog about this topic. But, as I said in my earlier posts, the distractions abound and this one just screams for comment.

For years our education system has been imploding and, in the process, taking the students with it. Focus has been taken away from teaching content to teaching to the test. Some districts don’t allow homework to be assigned or, if it is, it can’t be graded. Others allow students to continue retaking tests as many times as they want until they get a desired grade. The concept of consequences for action or inaction has disappeared and teachers no longer have the ability in most districts to amend the curriculum to meet the needs of her individual students.

But this latest example of stupidity in action comes to us from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It seems that a teacher in a creative writing class no longer has a job because, gasp, she had her students do peer review of a writing assignment. The assignment in question was to retell a classic story. One of her students did a riff on Jesus and the loaves and fishes. But this time, instead of giving out fish and bread, Jesus handed out pot. That particular retelling upset another student who told her parents who complained to the school board. The teacher was put on paid leave shortly thereafter. Later, she was allowed to return to school but there was a caveat. She had to quit teaching creative writing. It was that or resign. She resigned.

Here is a description of the administration’s view of the situation:

“We would note that the primary concerns raised with Ms. Gaurascio were not focused on the written product produced by students but on other issues, including the fact that students were required to read other students’ essays and comment on content they found objectionable,” read a statement issued by the district.

Wait. What? It is objectionable for students to be required to comment on content they find objectionable? Wow, I wish I’d known that when I was in school. I could have gotten out of reading some of the dreck the English Department labeled as classic literature. I objected to it because it was boring as hell.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland, for whom the school is named, said Tuesday that the topic of peer review has been a controversial one in Rio Rancho. She said some parents don’t like the idea that other students will read their children’s work, while other parents like peer review.

Ah, those wonderful parents who want to protect their poor little darlings from all bad thoughts and actions. Are they really doing their kids any good by taking this stance? What happens when their little darlings get to college and others besides their prof have to read their work? Or what about internships and actual jobs where what they do is reviewed and judged by more than one person? How do they expect their kids to be able to cope with real life if they wrap them in cotton and never let their feelings get hurt because someone might not like what they wrote or what they read?

As if that isn’t bad enough, according to the teacher, the administration “asked” her not to talk with her students about why she’d been gone for three weeks? Riiiiight. Can you imagine walking into a class of high schoolers and not having that be one of the first topics of conversation, whether you wanted it to be or not? Besides, if they were letting her back into the classroom, why not let her tell them about the process and even put a positive spin on it for all involved? Wasn’t it a situation of the system working?

Or could it be that the administration knew they were screwing up by giving in to a single dissenting voice and the kids would call them on such a load of BS?

The district is now trying to play this out as the teacher being asked to write up a plan on how she would be more “professional” in the classroom or resign. It seems the teacher was Facebook friends with former students who were still attending the high school. Oooh, soooo bad. But no action had, to the best of my knowledge had been taken against her before this single complaint about peer review of student papers.

I find it all so ludicrous. I guess you can’t let students grade one another’s papers anymore like we did when I was in school. After all, you don’t want little Susie’s feelings hurt because someone might discover she didn’t study and flunked that pop quiz. Forget about the fact that little bit of embarrassment might just help give Susie the push she needs to actually study and learn the material. No, it is so much more important not to make her feel bad than it is to make sure she learned the frigging material.

Here is, to me, the most telling bit about this story:

Heather MacNeil, whose son Wil had Gaurascio in his pre-Advanced Placement English class, said she is upset over the way Gaurascio was treated.

MacNeil said her son is smart but had never shown much interest in writing until he took Gaurascio’s class. But now his class has been taught by a string of substitutes, MacNeil said.

“Now over 100 kids are affected by this, whereas only one was offended by the piece of writing,” she said.

One kid offended and more than 100 impacted. Are we now such a country of wimps that we will take steps that have a negative impact on hundreds just to make sure one little darling doesn’t have her feelings hurt? Where is the common sense in that?

As a parent, I’d be enraged by what happened. If they were so worried about how the teacher was conducting her classes, they could have had a monitor sit in class to make sure she “straightened up”. Or they could have placed her on probation and have given her a set list of guidelines she had to live up to in order to have the probation lifted. Or they could, if they really felt they needed her out of the classroom, waited until they had a replacement lined up. Having nothing but a rotating string of substitutes — which means no real teaching is taking place — is counter-productive.

Maybe the teacher isn’t as “innocent'” in all this as it seems. But the reality is, this is the mindset we are seeing more and more in our public education system. Administrators are refusing to tell teachers exactly what they have done wrong but they want the teacher to promise not to do it again. How can an employee correct an offending behavior if it isn’t detailed for them? What I would be interested in knowing is what this teacher’s annual reviews have looked like. If, until now, there has been nothing of concern noted, then it would seem that my suspicions are correct and this is the case of an administration overreacting.

Parents, I get not wanting your child hurt or upset. But we have to also do what is necessary to prepare them for the real world outside of high school. They need to learn to take their lumps and to understand that they aren’t always going to succeed the first time they try something. They have to learn that there are folks out there who aren’t going to shower them with accolades or even like them. They have to learn that they aren’t going to like everything they see or hear or read and they have to learn how to deal with it.

As for schools, quit trying to make everyone happy. One complaint doesn’t mean — in most cases — that drastic action needs to take place. Quit trying to micromanage the classroom and let our teachers teach. Our kids need to learn how to study and think critically. Otherwise, we may as well just shut the schools and let parents fend for themselves when it comes to educating their kids and, before you start the chant of homeschool! homeschool! you need to remember that not every parent is in the position to be able to do so and not every area has good homeschool alternatives.


  1. What! A teacher gets in trouble because a Christian family was offended? Don’t those Christians know that they don’t own this country? [Sarcastic Grin]

    Seriously, it was a stupid response by the school.

  2. This shows up in lots of places. Simon Cowell got rich by telling aspiring singers exactly how well they could sing… My dear mother was another who was one of those who wanted to spare her daughter any bumps and objected to my father beating me at chess and checkers until I was nine (oddly, she had no problem beating me at Scrabble) and started winning. My mother (she’s my version of the boogeyman) never found anything bad to say about my writing (to be fair, my writer’s group never mentioned that I had no idea how to punctuate dialog, either). The idea that people need to be sheltered from their own inadequacies is pernicious.

    That said, the last full year I spent in public school was 8th grade — except it wasn’t public it was a parochial school run by huns nuns.

  3. So the teacher was enabling trolling, and was unprofessional enough to “friend” those that might be her students again?

    I’d guess she was actually being investigated for enabling bullying and/or harassment, or other forms of favoritism; always seems to be the result with teachers that pride themselves on “encouraging unique voices.” It’s the right “unique” voices, y’know, and deliberately insulting someone’s religion isn’t supposed to *count* when they’re Christian.

    If she’s been teaching long enough to HAVE former students, she should have either had the sense to realize that someone would decide to be “clever” and use the opportunity to Make A Statement in an asinine way, and either clearly defined what would be acceptable as a “myth or legend,” or not had students review them.

    It is not the school’s job to “toughen up” select groups of people by insulting their religious beliefs, or enabling teenagers to be asses on class time. At the very least, it’s disruptive and is teaching the pricks that their behavior is acceptable, when if it’s applied in the real world it will have actual consequences.

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