The Duty To Confront, Part Two: A Teacher Takes A Stand


Here is the tale of a teacher who understands the duty to confront-–and not to consent to being a victim from Washington Post local columnist Jay Mathews latest:

Linda Johnson, a retired California teacher, told me what happened…

“About 10 years ago, my student teacher and I were walking my first-graders to the computer lab,” she said. “One little boy started to yell and jump around, so I asked him to go back to the room with the student teacher. In a few minutes, the boy’s father came along to check his son out for a dental appointment. When he saw the boy crying, he went ballistic and came running after me. He cornered me at the entrance to the computer room and screamed at me in a menacing way in front of my students. He waved his arm at me in a threatening way.”

He warned her never to do it again. It looked like the man was going to hit her. “I was very frightened for my students and was careful not to provoke him further,” Johnson said.

Fifteen minutes later, after school was dismissed, she went to the principal’s office and found the father reporting her to the vice principal. [Johnson] screamed at the man: “If you ever threaten me in front of my class again, I’ll go to the police.”

…The next day, as Johnson expected, she was called into the principal’s office. The vice principal also was there. They told her that they were putting a letter in her file for screaming at the man. “Excuse me,” she said. “I am the victim, and I will write the letter. I am also going to file a report with the police.” When the principal, not expecting this, tried to retract what he said, she walked out of the office and went straight to police headquarters. She signed a complaint against the father, accusing him of “disturbing school.”

She sent a letter of complaint about the way she was treated to the superintendent, the teachers union president, the principal, the vice principal and every member of the school board. She asked for letters of apology within 30 days. By the time the police case came up, she thought she might have been too hard on the father and told the court that she didn’t think he realized he was committing a misdemeanor.

 “Don’t worry about that,” the court commissioner said. “He knows his felonies from his misdemeanors.” The father was indeed a felon. …The school district banned the father from the school and transferred his children to another campus…

Teachers who have had such experiences will understand how good Johnson felt when the two administrators gave her their letters of apology.

As in Part One, this reminds me of another personal experience, this one from the weekend, and not yet finished.

As you may know, as I have written about it recently, the theater company I helped found and that I have served as artistic director for twenty years just ended its run over the weekend, in large part because I decided it was time. A main reason was the diminishing support, financial, organizational and otherwise that we were getting from the County that provides us performing and rehearsal space.

On the morning of our final two performances, having just been absent from performances for a week on travel, I was told that the newly hired County employee in charge of the costume collection had entered our theater lobby, removed the retrospective lobby display, covering the recent seasons of the theater, from the five glass display cases, and replaced the contents with a display of vintage costumes. Our staff had arrived for the Friday show to find our lobby material scattered.

“We just leaned our display against the wall,” my producer told me. “The cases are locked. There’s not much else to do. I just heard about it.”

I did not react to this news well.

It was a Saturday (last Saturday), so I called the one senior County Arts staffer whose home number I had, and reached him. I know him, and more importantly, he knows me.

“Hi,” I said. “Apparently one of your staffers just invaded our theater on our final weekend—with two sold out hoses expected– and took down our display. We have that space until Monday. Not only did she have no right to do that, it is typical of the arrogance, stupidity, lack of professionalism and incompetence we have been experiencing from the County for years now. I am not going to stand for it today.”

“Jack, she doesn’t report to me.”

“I don’t care.”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“Sure there is, and here’s why you will do it,” I explained. “I have given many interview to the local media, including the Washington Post, and all of them asked why we were closing the company down. In the interests of being nice, I didn’t mention the major factor of your department—not you personally, as you have always been responsive and supportive—treating this theater like something on the bottom of their shoes. I have those arts reporters and bloggers on speed dial, and if those costumes aren’t out of those cases and our display back up by the time the audience arrives for the matinée, here is what’s going to happen.

“This outrage will be described to the news media, by me. They answer my phone calls. It will be on blogs and it will be on Facebook and other social media. I will make sure that the County is embarrassed and exposed, and that every member of our audience,who are taxpayers and arts lovers, will receive along with their programs today an account of this entire incident and others, along with addresses and phone numbers of County officials.  Then the story will go to our subscribers, donors, and mailing list.

Finally, I will, personally, re-set our displays, even if I have to break the cases to do it.  I am not bluffing. You know I don’t bluff.”

“I understand,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our displays were back up an 90 minutes before the performance.

I am not through with the County yet, however.

Oh, no.

Oh no…

16 thoughts on “The Duty To Confront, Part Two: A Teacher Takes A Stand

  1. Well, there was the time I had a hearing in which I was disciplining a fireman for filing a fraudulent report to get a second bite at open enrollment, which had closed, because his wife was pregnant and wanted better coverage. I was angry that he had written a lie, and slammed the report down on the table confronting him.

    The union representative pulled me aside afterward, and told me that if I did that again he would “break my fucking arm.” I raised my hand and told him if he thought he could do that he was welcome to come ahead. The fire chief stepped between us and told us both to cool it.

    Afterward I went down to municipal court and swore out a complaint for assault (defined as threatening with harm). I subsequently received a call from the attorney representing the union demanding that I withdraw it. I told them not only was I not going to withdraw it, but, if successful, I would pursue termination and forfeiture of pension, ending with YOUR GUY WILL LOSE EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN THING HE EVER WORKED FOR!

    So I pushed it forward. The guy ended up with a fine from the court and a ten-day suspension from the City (his record was otherwise clean), but to this day he has never threatened me or any member of my department again.

  2. Jack,
    I’m not sure where you see the parallel in those stories except for the use of threat with the administator. The woman was the victim of harassment and potential assault, while you were the victim of incompetence. One involves mens rea, the other a distinct lack of mens altogether.

    Congratulations, I guess.


  3. It is baffling to me — I have worked with many theater organizations over the years and each time I cannot believe the politics that are involved. Petty, stupid politics. People with their own agendas who would rather see the whole thing come crashing down rather than work together and make something beautiful.

    I have found this to be true with music and costuming organizations as well. (I don’t belong to any costuming groups, but 1/2 of my Facebook feed contains stories similar to what Jack recounted above.)

  4. On one of the morning shows today they ran a hidden camera experiment in a café. A fake interviewee sat at a table next to some patrons and then began to ask if his resume looked realistic enough and that his ideas sounded genuinely professional enough but that he was faking the whole thing.

    Late a fake interviewer sat down, heard the pitch & read the resume and decided the interviewee sounded like a perfect match for the company. The whole time, the patrons, knowing a whole set of lies had been foisted, sat listening.

    Then the interviewee excused himself to the restroom.

    The test was to see if the patrons who knew the interviewee was a phony would intervene and inform the interviewer.

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