No dark sarcasm in the classroom

>> Saturday, January 24, 2009

Part of what's remarkable to me about the internet is how communities now consist of people who share a common interest and not just a common ZIP code. It seems to me that if a lot of this international tech had existed when I was a teenager, I might have been better adjusted: after all, whenever my few friends and I felt maladjusted and lonely, we could have turned to the message boards for RPG gamers or music nerds or general misfits, or maybe even have had Facebook or MySpace pages in which we would have perhaps had thousands or millions of "friends." Sure, there were BBSes when I was a kid, but not a lot of people tied up their modems with online traffic in those days, and connections were inevitably slow and spotty (it seems surreal to me that 9600 bps was once "fast").

But then, maybe not: maybe things would have been just as awful.

Or maybe I would have gotten in trouble with the school, like Connecticut teenager Avery Doninger did last year, when she said mean things about school faculty on her own personal blog. Seems that Ms. Doninger, who was running for senior class secretary at the time, had some issues with the faculty and made a reference to "douchebags in central office" and a "pissed off" district superintendent. Somehow--MSNBC's story isn't clear how, exactly, but it's not too hard to imagine various ways it could have happened--the school's principal found out about the teenager being mean ("douchebags"! why, why, why that's a feminine hygiene product--she compared the school faculty to a feminine hygiene product! oh noes!) and revoked her candidacy to run; the teen apparently then won anyway as a write-in candidate, but the principal still blocked her taking office.

All of which is a bit trivial: I mean, seriously, does anybody actually remember who their senior class secretary was? But what isn't trivial is this ongoing trend, sadly not confined to Connecticut, of schools allowing off-campus behavior to affect on-campus status, whether or not it really affects anything on-campus. (This is something one sees with distressing frequency these days in juvenile courts in at least some jurisdictions: students suspended for allegedly delinquent activities that have nothing to do with the school and no plausible connection to school security or student safety.)

Also non-trivial: I'm suddenly nostalgic for the days when I was young and my peers and I said all sorts of horrible and disrespectful things about teachers and faculty, sometimes on school campus and sometimes in front of the people we were talking about, and there wasn't anything they'd do about it. (I remember one incident when a girl in an English class made the teacher cry and flee the classroom; I should probably be sympathetic, but aside from the fact the teacher really was pretty awful, I also continue to believe, more than two decades later, that if you can't stand up to a fifteen-year-old you really have no business being a teacher. Sorry. Sure, noble profession, unappreciated, all that, got it, kind of agree--but come on, you let a dumb, pimply, adolescent jerk get to you? For fuck's sake, grow vertebrae.)

I have trouble imagining a generation of American youth that didn't say bitchy and terrible things about their elders, especially when real or imagined insults and injuries are concerned. That bitch gave me an F! Mr. Blank is totally retarded. Someone ought to key that asshole's car--I know where he parks! I would be utterly unfazed if some time traveler returning to the golden early days of public education didn't come across a lurking gang of kids talking with all the apparent but vacuous seriousness of youth about removing the bolts from the wheels of Miss Exes' wagon one morning, calling her a flatulent cow and doing a sadistic impersonation of her voice reciting the multiplication tables.

That's what kids do. But these days, hey, can't have bad manners and all this "cyberbullying."

So I'm rooting for Ms. Doninger. Not because she was entitled to be school secretary, nor because I think her claim is one that is likely to have a remedy. And I have to admit that when I was her age, I harbored a special contempt for popular girls who did things like run for school office. (Participating was something akin to being a collaborator--except for drama, the theater department was totally cool. Ah, the sweet smell of teenage hypocrisy!) No, I'm rooting for Ms. Doninger because we are becoming thin-skinned, easily pricked, humorless fools with an absolute lack of perspective, and the schools seem to be ground zero for the sheepifying of America. Let's not have any disrespect or disobedience in this country founded by traitors and fart-joke-purveyors! Let's not say mean things about other people ever, or expect people to show some ability to take care of their own emotional well-being.

Ms. Doninger: in twenty years, this whole affair will likely seem absurd to you, and it ought to, but I hope that if you have children you'll pass along the same insouciance and irreverence. And when you ground your kids (which you ought to--they need to learn some respect, after all!), I hope you'll smile when they're safely out of sight and pat yourself on the back as every parent with a reasonably rebellious kid ought to: because if your kid isn't talking back to you at least a little (and yes, things can go too far, it's a juggling act not something that can be precisely dialed-in), you're doing it wrong. And to Ms. Doninger's parents: good job on raising a kid with some pride in her back and bile in her belly.

And to all those who think these kids these days need to learn to show some respect for their elders or the law or whatever like you and your peers did when you were young: shame on you. Shame on you for your weakness. Shame on you for your amnesia. Shame on you for growing up.


Lauren Doninger,  Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 8:05:00 AM EST  

This is a great post - I smiled the whole time I read it.

Nathan Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 8:15:00 AM EST  

Not to sound simple (as in retarded and incapable of understanding subtle nuances), but as far as I'm concerned, Speech is Speech, and Writing is Writing regardless of media. Common sense is required (good luck with that).

When I was a kid, I probably would have been punished in some manner for calling school administrators douchebags...had I been caught. (Most likely, I'd have been forced to apologize face to face and/or written an apology). Had my writings actually reached a level of inciting some action, the punishment would have risen accordingly.

The Mommy who incited the kid's suicide (I'm too lazy to go back and find her name), deserved shunning by her neighbors. Imagine if that had happened in 1959...via written notes.
Would a crime exists? Would the bullying be any less anonymous? The offending mother wouldn't be able to buy mild without having some Grandmotherly cashier tell her what a horrible woman she was. And she'd deserve it...but law enforcement?????

The Columbine shooters didn't do their writing online...yet, had the papers been discovered in advance, they would have been actionable in some manner. That's appropriate and would have been in online fora as well.

And the fact is, the CT school district can probably be shown to be causing actual damage to the girl in question. Let prospective colleges find and judge the kid's disrespect for her school's administration...not a note on her permanent record showing it had been so serious as to "force" the school to strip her of an elective office fairly won.

Like I said. How about a little fucking common sense?

P.S. I need more coffee, so I'm not proofing this. Fuck spelling and grammar. There! I said it. Online. If I'm fucked at my next job be it.

andy thibault Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 9:21:00 AM EST  

Teacher Praised
For Coming Forward
In Free Speech Case

" Thank you Mr. Bentley ...

Janiece Murphy Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 10:45:00 AM EST  

Ah, theater.

The saving grace of my high school experience.

Thea-Geeks, UNITE!

Eric Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 11:03:00 AM EST  

Great link and coverage, Andy! Thanks!

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