On October 23, 2020, I wrote a blog post titled “‘Best high schools’? Awards? Rankings? Think again.” the objective of which was to point to very serious deficiencies across the district in terms of how the district is educating its students, by pointing to the very significant numbers of students who were not performing at grade level at many of the district’s schools, and suggesting that the high rankings for Hersey and Prospect were likely due more to the upper-middle-class nature of their student body than any superior administration/board oversight. When split by demographic group and school, many of those student categories performed worse than the state average. My bottom line:
But the bottom line is that, any time you hear a school official boast of “high test scores” or other sorts of rankings, don’t be deceived into thinking that’s a result of superior school administration!
One of my refrains since then, both here and in candidate forums, etc., is that the district simply must address these disparities rather than sweeping them under the rug.
This past weekend, I was made aware of accusations being levied against me in a teachers’ union Facebook group that I was a “neo-Nazi” and a “vile human.” We debated whether to call these individuals out publicly, but I had demurred, trusting that other teachers had the good sense to tune this out. I was mistaken.
Last night, during the public comment period, a total of approximately 25 teachers, students, and parents verbally attacked me and called me a racist based on their (willful?) misreading of this blog post. The first six of these I heard personally, then, shaken, I tried to offer some comments during my own “public comment” slot which, ironically, I had intended to use to call the board/administration out on cancelling a program (“Seminar” at RMHS) that helps struggling students, and then left. Afterwards, other parents in attendance shared that there were what appeared to be 25 speakers in total, that it appeared to have been coordinated by a teacher, and that the Wheeling principal, Mr. Cook, was in attendance as well. And, finally, a parent shared with me that the board president, Dan Petro, said after the speeches concluded,
“I don’t usually speak after public comments but in this situation I want to convey my appreciation for the Wheeling H.S. students for coming here tonight to speak to the board. They are brave and should be commended for it.”
“I want to thank Mr. Cook for his comments and his involvement with the students that spoke tonight.”
Note that I don’t blame the students. They appear to have merely been used and misled by the adults involved. Instead, it is the teachers, the principal, and the school board who bear responsibility for this Cultural Revolution-style personal attack. The teacher may have thought this was a lesson in how to be an “involved citizen” but the actual lesson taught was that it is acceptable, even encouraged, to engage in the politics of personal destruction. They may call for “culturally-responsive teaching” to ensure that students learn to understand perspectives other than their own, but what they have taught students is that it is acceptable to jump straight to vicious personal attacks without trying to understand an author’s intent or engaging in a personal conversation. They taught them to see others in the worst possible light, assume ill-intent, and disregard the humanity of their opponents. Were the adults involved blinded to what they were doing, or were they well aware and intentionally manipulating the students to achieve their own political goals? I do not know.
Lastly, we can all agree that racism is unacceptable. But it should also be unacceptable to levy this accusation without serious grounds for doing so, because this also causes great harm.
I will end with the e-mail that, simultaneous with publishing this blog post, I have sent to Petro and Schuler:
Dear Board President Petro and Dr. Schuler,
Last weekend, a supporter informed me that in a teachers’ union Facebook group, I had been called, among other things, a “Neo-Nazi” and a “vile human”. As to the “vile human” comment, levied by a teacher at RMHS, I privately resolved to insist that my younger son will never be placed in a class with this teacher. I also expected that the other teachers would have the sense to discard these accusations and see them for they baseless smear campaign they represent. That proved to have been a mistake.
I am told that last night, after I listened to six teachers/students/parents accusing me of racism and after I made a plea for decency before leaving in disgust, that many others continued in their repeated accusations, that to observers it appeared to have been coordinated by a Wheeling teacher, and that the Wheeling principal was also observed there. (He has since made celebratory posts on twitter.) I am also told that you, Mr. Petro, commended the students on their speeches.
Earlier this week, I was told that in another school district a parent dropped out of the race due to harassment. I have no such intention, but, again, I can only state that to be treated in this manner, and to have those doing so be applauded, is horrifying. It is shameful. Far from being the lesson in good civics that the teachers, principal and the rest of you seem to think it is, it is a celebration of bullying.
I await your (public) apology.