Vote For The Curmies: The Worst In Unethical Education, 2014

Rick Jones2

Every year, blogger Rick Jones (above) announces his “Curmies” (he is the Curmudeon, after all) nominations for “the person or persons who most embarrass the profession of educator.”

I encourage Ethics Alarms readers to vote over at Rick’s blog. Here are his worthy nominees, with Rick’s commentary:

1. James Miller, President B. Kaye Miller, and their co-conspirators at Bergen Community College, who suspended and demanded a psychiatric evaluation of art professor Francis Schmidt for tweeting a photo of his seven-year-old daughter wearing a t-short reading “I will take what is mine with fire and blood” even after it was proven that the line is a well-known pop culture reference to the Game of Thrones. They did finally back off several months later, but it was too little, too late. In mitigation: if you’re both an idiot and completely unengaged in popular culture, that line might actually make you think about recent school shootings. In aggravation: the shirt is obviously inoffensive, the process was obviously flawed, and the school’s defense of their actions is the perfect balance of irrationality and pomposity.

2. A cadre of incompetents at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, NY, who cancelled the school’s traditional kindergarten show because of concern with making their charges college-ready. In mitigation: I can think of none. In aggravation: these people have no comprehension of child development, of what goes into making a show, of real college-readiness, or indeed of anything other than their own hubris, from what I can tell.

3. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is likely the worst cabinet member of the 21st century, but he outdid even his own high standards of incompetence and arrogance with the proclamation that even students with disabilities will be expected to attain basic standards of reading and math: “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.” Actually, no, Arne, we know no such thing, and if you think we do, maybe you should get off the hard stuff. In mitigation: I got nothing. In aggravation: Duncan’s plan has no upside, will cost pots of money, and ignores differences between students’ innate ability and preparation while pretending to privilege individuality.

4. Wasatch (UT) High School officials, for puritanically altering female students’ yearbook photos without as much as giving the girls the opportunity to fix their alleged transgressions. In mitigation: there was indeed a sign warning students of the need to obey the school’s dress code. In aggravation: the policy was enforced inconsistently and apparently whimsically. More significantly, the level of sexism involved is positively stunning: boys had their pictures taken with shirts gaping open, tattoos, copious amounts of visible boxer shorts… and a cutline “Studs doin’ what studs do best.” I couldn’t make this up.

5. There were plenty of cases of schools’ and universities’ over-reacting to the Ebola pseudo-crisis. We’re going to give the specific nomination to Cline Elementary in Friendswood, TX, not because their craven stupidity was any worse than that exhibited by several other schools, but because of the distance the teacher in question was from an actual outbreak while traveling in Africa relative to the distance to the nearest confirmed case to the district itself: roughly 11 to 1. In mitigation: there was lots of false information circulating, and parents (especially) were nervous. In aggravation: you’re supposed to be a school. Educate. When people are being paranoid idiots, it is your responsibility to keep your collective heads and do the right thing.

6. The administration of Rhame Avenue School in East Rockaway, NY, for taking teacher Vuola Coyle out of her classroom because her students’ test scores were too good. Yes, too good. It costs the school because students supposedly learn too much in 4th grade and therefore don’t show enough improvement as 5th graders. In mitigation: we haven’t really heard the school’s side of this story. In aggravation: even if everything else is false, the school’s addiction to testing, and to practice testing, is demonstrable.

7.The University of North Carolina for allowing a corrupt system of allowing athletes (especially) to enroll in “paper courses” for the sole purpose of keeping them eligible or off suspension to continue for nearly two decades. In mitigation: the real offenses are in the past, as are the worst of the offenders. But if the release of an investigator’s report marks a new event in the minds of SACS accreditors, it can for Curmie, too. In aggravation: it is impossible to believe that a lot of people currently in powerful positions at UNC didn’t know exactly what was going on and did nothing. And if “everyone does it,” it is the portent of very bad things to come, indeed.

8.Assistant Principal Paula Johnson and the rest of the administration of Bayside Middle School in Virginia for suspending 6th grader Adrionna Harris, who took a razor away from a classmate who was cutting himself, immediately throwing it away. But she dealt with the problem instead of calling a teacher. In mitigation: Adrionna was technically in violation of a rule that actually makes sense if not applied irrationally. In aggravation: the administrators wouldn’t have known about the incident if Adrionna hadn’t told them, so she was punished for being honest as well as being heroic.

In part because Rick was very busy this year, his nominations do not include as many subjects of Ethics Alarms posts as usual: only #2, #7 and #8 of Rick’s nominees were discussed here. On the other hand, Rick left un-nominated some truly awful examples of unethical teachers, administrators and institutions that flipped my bippy, such as, these, currently being assessed as I prepare my Best and Worst of Ethics 2014 list. They are a miserable list too, and include…

…Yet another finger-shooting episode…

…The school that disciplined a student for shaving her head to support a friend being treated for cancer

…The school that instructed its students to treat bullies as friends, never report them, and never fight back

…The middle school teacher who gave a student a lap dance in class...

…The school that led the student body in an Arabic version of the Pledge of Allegiance that replaced  “under God,”with  “under Allah”….

…The middle school that had its 8th graders write essays on “whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth”…

…The school that humiliated Jesse Urbina

…The school that included a special yearbook section saluting students who were taking care of their out-of-wedlock children

…The high school drama teacher who held a profanity-filled awards presentation featuring sex toys as trophies…

…The school that fired an educator for “promoting a gay lifestyle” because he wrote an article about “homophones”

…The teacher who  caused a 16-year-old student  to be arrested and suspended because he wrote a passage on his Facebook page, as part of an assignment, that described using a gun to kill a dinosaur.

…The school that suspended a student athlete for stopping a bully’s assault on a smaller student...

…The high school principle who cancelled a student production he had approved because it included gay characters…

…And my personal winner in this category, the school that took away a blind student’s cane and replaced it with a SWIMMING POOL NOODLE!

Between these two lists, an obvious conclusion can be made…so obvious that I won’t even write it down.

15 thoughts on “Vote For The Curmies: The Worst In Unethical Education, 2014

          • I’m sufficiently cynical that the UNC thing didn’t even surprise me. It probably should bother me more than it does.

            I voted for 4 of them, but I think the Rhame one bothered me the most assuming the reporting on it is accurate, because the school was punishing good work, rewarding bad work, and doing so in ways directly contrary to their nominal purpose. Punishing stupid meaningless stuff bothers me, but not as much as punishing obviously correct behavior. That applies to both Rhame and Bayside, but the connection to the very goal of education pushed Rhame over the top.

            • Oh, that was just the tip of the iceberg at UNC. It also pales in comparison to what goes on in the rest of the Division I schools that I am aware of. You can’t pretend that professional athletes are actually students taking classes towards a degree without such deceptions. The inherent dishonesty of the system requires such incidents to prop up appearances.

              I voted for Bergen County Community College because they used the dreaded ‘psychiatric evaluation’ as a weapon. I hate this tool used to arbitrarily punish and discredit anyone an administrator dislikes or wants to silence. As an example, it was used to cover up the mass falsification and misanalysis of date in the FBI lab for years. Evidence was fabricated or blatantly misrepresented in cases as high profile as the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center bombing partially because the whistleblower was labelled as mentally unstable and delusional by psychiatrists. This kept the truth from coming out and kept the FBI lab from moving from the age of folk-knowledge and old-wives tales to the age of science. It is a convenient tool because the psychiatrists always seem to cooperate in labeling someone as mentally ill. A friend of mine in high school had to endure years of medication and therapy to accept the ‘fact’ that his foot was healed and didn’t hurt. The problem was, it did hurt. It had a large, jagged piece of metal in it. The physicians missed it on X-rays take on 4 different occasions. The piece finally migrated to the surface and my friend pulled it out. Despite the fact that trained radiologists couldn’t find the metal on the X-rays, the hospital’s attorney was able to see it from across the room.

              I also voted for Rhame because it is the most obviously anti-education. Unfortunately, this attitude is enshrined in education departments across the country. Knowledge needs to be carefully rationed and evenly distributed. To allow some students to learn more than others or to let them learn too much is a great crime against the idea of equality of outcomes.

    • The monolith of public education (setting aside the “little red school house” as the nation was settled) was a creation for the mass of late19th-early 20th century immigrants who flooded our shores. Public education was planned as a way for such immigrants to (1) learn English; (2) survive in and understand a truly alien culture; and (3) become good voting citizens of the USA. It was a way to educate (to some extent) the working class, and for a long time, it worked. Many went on to higher education and professional jobs (with the concomitant addition to the American economy). Thus, it was hoped, the elite of private schools and the Ivy League would not be the only decision-makers in the USA.

      This, of course, has not been borne out — with few exceptions — and as we further progress in public education — “Core Curriculum” as an example — public education has become a political endeavor — “Let’s make good Democrats out of these kids” — and has everything to do with the fact that our nation’s history is distorted, the Constitution (and its development) is virtually unknown, and that the emphasis on “facts” — however erroneous — has taken the place of teaching kids to THINK, ANALYZE, AND MAKE THEIR OWN IDEOLOGICAL DECISIONS.

      Public education is creating a nation of morons — take a look at the examples of educational “leadership” above — and any conspiracy theorist (I am really not one) could look at public education would say that that was the intent… Less intellect; more control. Stalin had the same idea.

      All of this is why my kid was home-schooled. And I come from an Ivy League family.

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