Ethics Quiz: The Teacher’s Confession

An unnamed teacher at Bohls Middle School in Pflugerville, Texas, did some candid soul-searching about the nature of bias in front of his class. The discussion was recorded above. It’s fair to say that it did not go over well.

The topic was bias in general, and racial bias in particular. “Deep down in my heart, I’m ethnocentric,” the teacher said, “which means I think my race is the superior one…I think everybody thinks that.They’re just not honest about it.” Later he stated that “everybody is a racist at that level.”

The reaction was as you would predict, though why the teacher didn’t predict it is an interesting mystery on its own. Some students were disturbed, many told their parents about the discussion (or how they perceived it), parents complained, and the school administrators freaked out, as they are wont to do.

First Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Dr. Douglas Killian released a statement regarding the incident the same day, stating that the teacher had been summarily executed.

Just kidding! He had been placed on leave, he said:

“We are aware of an inappropriate conversation a teacher at Bohls Middle School had with students this week during an advisory class. This interaction does not align with our core beliefs as a district. The video of the conversation includes statements that we find wholly inappropriate. The teacher has been placed on administrative leave while Human Resources conducts an investigation. Pflugerville ISD and Bohls MS work together to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for our students. The advisory activity was inappropriate, inaccurate, and unacceptable. This type of interaction will not be tolerated in PfISD schools. Staff checked in with students today. Our counselors and administrators are always available if your student wants to discuss this situation further.We always do our best to ensure the safety of all students; we encourage them to be self-advocates and let an adult know when something is wrong, as they did in this situation; this could be to a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. If you see something, say something. We apologize for any undue stress or concern this has caused. As always, we appreciate the support of our families and community.”

The proverbial other shoe dropped yesterday, after a weekend of perfunctory and objective (I jest) “investigation.” The teacher had been fired, Killian announced:

“Last Friday, Nov. 11, Pflugerville ISD officials were made aware of an inappropriate conversation a teacher at Bohls Middle School had with students during an advisory class. As of Monday morning, Nov. 14, the teacher in question is no longer employed by Pflugerville ISD and we are actively looking for a replacement.

“In addition to providing this video to our administrators, the video was shared to social media by some in the class and has prompted local and national media attention. We apologize to any parents whose students have been included in the video without their knowledge.

“We want to reiterate that this conversation does not align with our core beliefs and is not a reflection of our district or our culture at Bohls Middle School. Pflugerville ISD and Bohls MS staff work together to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our students. The advisory discussion was inappropriate, inaccurate, and unacceptable; and this type of interaction will not be tolerated in any PfISD schools.

“We apologize to our students and families at Bohls Middle School for the undue stress or concern this has caused. We have counselors and administrators available for any of our students and families who want to discuss this situation further.

“We always do our best to ensure the safety of all students; we encourage them to be self-advocates and let an adult know when something is wrong, as they did in this situation. If you see something, say something.

“As always, we appreciate the support of our Bohls Middle School families and entire PfISD community.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Should the teacher have been fired?

I’m going to restrain myself for once: I could write several long posts about aspects of this incident. I think I’ll just jot down a few points, and leave the rest to you:

  • I had several teachers like this guy in junior high and high school. Some of them were also fired. They raised difficult issues in class and discussed them honestly, foolishly believing that their job was to encourage critical thinking, and trusting students to understand that. I did. Many didn’t.
  • Is middle school too early to ask student to consider biases, how they are programed into our genetic codes (“I think everybody thinks that….”), and that part of a teacher’s (parents’, society’s) job is explaining to the young that biases must be recognized and managed?
  • If it’s not too early, was this teacher simply not skilled enough to do the job competently? The task, after all, is like defusing a bomb: if you aren’t precise and skilled enough, you blow yourself up.
  • Should a teacher avoid honestly telling students what he or she thinks?
  • Was the teacher wrong in his analysis. or simply inexcusably politically incorrect?
  • Would a black teacher have met the same fate? I believe that most, if not all, races believe that theirs is the “best” one (which doesn’t necessarily mean superior), but that only some races are allowed in 2022 to express or suggest that belief in public.
  • Why do schools allow students to have cell phones in class? I wouldn’t.
  • I assume the teacher knew the discussion was being recorded by someone. Knowing this, he still opined on racial bias candidly. Is he an idiot? Was he trying to get fired? Is he a brave idealist?
  • “See something, say something”? Seriously? An unwelcome statement or thought is the equivalent of terrorism or crime? “Undue stress?” Whether the teacher should have been fired or not, those two statements are enough evidence for me to conclude that Dr. Douglas Killian (and his kind, which is legion)  should hit the bricks.

30 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Teacher’s Confession

  1. The action by the teacher permanently stripped him of an inherent level of respect for the position he holds. There is inherent level of respect associated with teachers that anyone in the position will be unbiased towards students, after his clear admission of racial bias he longer has that level of trust. In my opinion the teacher should have been fired.

    • Oops, I hit the submit button too quick, I forgot to edit out the word “respect” in all spots and replace it with the word “trust”.

      The comment should read…

      The action by the teacher permanently stripped him of an inherent level of trust for the position he holds. There is inherent level of trust associated with teachers that anyone in the position will be unbiased towards students, after his clear admission of racial bias he longer has that level of trust. In my opinion the teacher should have been fired.

          • Jack Marshall wrote, “Could he have done it without destroying trust if he had been more skillful?”

            Yes.

            I don’t think the topic isn’t taboo in any way and teaching the students to think critically about their own bias and the bias they will face in the world isn’t taboo either.

              • Always helps to first define terms, especially with his audience and such a charged subject.

                Teacher could have introduced certain terms and asked what students thought and felt about them, gradually eased into the challenge of introspection.

                He probably meant well but blundered and it cost him. I would not have fired him but instead privately consulted with the teach and then together address the students and hash it out. It is a lost teachable opportunity like so many others where the first knee-jerk reaction is termination.

                • The problem is there is a bit of a strict liability issue here. His comments ended up online, and unleashed the internet furies onto the school. This causes a real disruption, that would presumably occur until at least his dismissal. Real people, who have nothing better to do than psuedonomously harass strangers another part of the country.

                  The bullying of the furies is unethically coercive, of course (do my will, peasant, or suffer!) But the disruption is real, and his words caused it. The school’s first priority is to protect the students. It’s hands are a bit tied, in that taking a principled stand may direct the wrath of strangers at the kids. Once leaked to the internet, the teacher’s job was sealed.

                  The student’s who uploaded, though, acted unethically. Uploading should be a last resort to redress a grevience (if real and severe). Putting the video online poisons the process, making a just result impossible.

  2. No
    I fault his misuse of ethnocentricity and racial superiority. Being ethnocentric does not suggest racial superiority. It does suggest that people prefer to associate with people with similar histories, traits and values.

    Firing him sent the message that you cannot admit to anything or it could lead to economic destruction. The kids now know if they don’t like a older white teacher who is trying to get them out of their comfort zone and begin thinking they can label him a racist and destroy him.

    Those kids needed to listen before they started bitchin. So should have the school board

    • Agreed. His use of language/wording may have been clunky and/or clumsy but the administration’s response is exactly what you would expect – squelch the controversy before it gets out of hand and causes real trouble.

      I want to know a few things before I make a decision:

      1. How long has this teacher been teaching?
      2. How long has this teacher been teaching that grade?
      3. How long has this teacher been teaching at this school?
      4. What is the teacher’s reputation with the students? Do they like him? Respect him? Is he fair?
      5. Was the advisory topic something he had on the syllabus? Has he lead that discussion before?
      6. Are there racial tensions in that area? Pflugerville is a suburb of northeast of Austin, Texas.
      7. What prompted the topic/discussion?
      8. What is the average age of the students? Middle school is 6th through 8th/9th grade.
      9. What is the racial make up or demographic of the school?

      Those are important questions that need answers. My gut reaction is that the teacher tried to lead an honest discussion about personal biases that went sideways. There are a number of students milling about and recording the teacher. That seems to show a lack of classroom discipline and order. Allowing cell phones in the classroom is another breach of order.

      jvb

  3. Ethnocentrism in itself is not racist. It is about looking at the world colored by your cultural background. We see it displayed on Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day and other ethnic celebrations in the USA. By law, we have months’ worth of Black History, Hispanic history, Native-American History, Gay Pride, and the list goes on. Nothing this teacher said indicates racism, it only indicated cultural pride. He should not have been fired but awarded fro his diversity.

    • DanL wrote, “Nothing this teacher said indicates racism, it only indicated cultural pride.”

      Hogwash.

      The teacher clearly stated, “I think my race is the superior one.” That is a statement of a true white supremacist. Did you miss that?

      • Yeah, “superior” was the worst possible choice of words, because it means by definition that that he regards other races as “inferior.” That’s racism. When walking through a minefield, it’s best not be blindfolded…

      • He said ethnocentrism. I believe we are all ethnocentric and feel our ethnicities are greater than others. I bet if he asked the Hispanic children whether or not they think their culture is better they would have answered in the affirmative, and the Black students would have said the same. I d not hear him say his culture was the only culture. I prefer my Italian ethnocultural food and music. i do think they are superior. However, when I go to a friend’s house of another culture I enjoyed their ethno-cultural food and music. That does not make me racist.

        • DanL,
          I get the cultural pride thing, but that’s not what happened here.

          The teacher did not say “I think my culture is the superior one” he specifically stated “I think my race is the superior one”. These two things are not equivalent.

          • Steve, this is why I took issue with the firing and criticized his use of language. Far too often ethnicity and race are conflated in meaning. I heard him say race too. I also heard him try to explain his meaning, but the students would not let him finish his thoughts. This is not going to allow the students to learn how to react properly to a less than ideal rhetorical statement. His firing reinforces that such statements about race are inherently racist even if the person making the statement misuses a word or two. Unless we are willing to fire every teacher of any race for making a statement to which students take offense because they are primed to not actively listen to what is being said then we cannot fire only white teachers for simple screw ups.

            It would have been better to have the students examine their biases first by asking if some of the ideas they have about different races can be proven as universal truths. Ask a black student who dances better whites, Blacks, or Asians. Ask a white student if Blacks are smart enough to be a brain surgeon. There are example out the wazoo to show that such ideas are not provable across all people.

            JVB made some excellent points above regarding what should be considered.

            • I think his meaning was quite clear. Listen to the video again, he doubles down on openly claiming that he’s a racist. Sure he said that he thinks everyone is a racist but he openly admitted that he is a racist.

              He broke trust, this cannot be fixed, he needed to be fired.

              • Steve,

                I get your point, but I don’t believe he broke any trust. There was obviously no trust by the student who immediately began the challenge. If trust existed, the students would give the teacher an opportunity to explain himself. In the video, the teacher was never allowed to explain what he was talking about. There is difference between doubling down and repeating yourself in an attempt to reestablish your point while being continually interrupted by two different students. Example: I say “boy am I stupid” that does not make me stupid even if I say it again.

                I see this teacher as an older white teacher who is trying to get to retirement by adopting the woke agenda of the other faculty and administrators. Listen to how he speaks. His tone is almost apologetic. Someone who believes themselves to be superior will not just say so, they will tell you why – and loudly. We also need to consider the context. If the lesson was on bias and he was trying to show that we all have biases based on our race, ethnicity or cultural upbringing and he screwed the pooch in delivery because white teachers cannot discuss these subjects without being in a minefield, I am not willing to seek his dismissal without more evidence that he is an actual racist.

                If he misuses the term racist because he believes the woke powers want to him to admit his privilege and racism, that alone does not make him a racist that uses some imagined power to marginalize and discriminate against others simply by using the term. I view this a psychologically induced confession based on what is transpiring in schools today. I have heard white progressives, politicians and teachers make claims that they are racists for simply having white privilege and their acknowledgement of their privilege is supposed to ingratiate them into the woke group. None of those have been fired.

                I am not one who will admit that I have some fictional white privilege because I have succeeded more so than many minorities. My proof that some white privilege – ergo racist – benefits accruing to me is a fiction is Bennie Thompson of Congress who makes more than three times my top salary when I retired and who demonstrates the intellect of a 6th grader.

                The whole white privilege narrative is built on the idea that if you affirmatively accept the premise, you acknowledge you are the beneficiary of systemic racism and if you don’t accept the premise, it is prima facie evidence you are a racist. This teacher was damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t if he is following the curriculum. If bias is not part of the curriculum, he waded into shark infested waters unnecessarily. Neither is grounds for termination.

  4. The teacher should not have been fired. It is a now-classic overreaction by a school system that should be razed and its land salted.
    Unrelated to the ethics issue, I couldn’t help but wonder if the PfISD chose to include the “f” in this acronym to prevent the regrettable pronunciation of PISD.

    • Like the Administration & Student Services building which was amusing when all of our buildings were referred to by their initials – LRC, CP etc.

  5. As I read through these comments, I am wondering how sincere this individual’s statement was and how much of it was the result of progressive self-flagellation.

    Far from being a “white supremacist” (as Steve has argued), he might have just accepted the progressive supposition that white people are inherently racist. Then, since he is white, he must be racist. And, since being racist means that one believes one’s culture is superior to others, he must believe that his culture is superior to others.

    It’s all very logical. Stupid, but logical.

    -Jut

    • JutGory wrote, “As I read through these comments, I am wondering how sincere this individual’s statement was and how much of it was the result of progressive self-flagellation.” “Far from being a ‘white supremacist’ (as Steve has argued), he might have just accepted the progressive supposition that white people are inherently racist. Then, since he is white, he must be racist. And, since being racist means that one believes one’s culture is superior to others, he must believe that his culture is superior to others.”

      This is a very fair argument that I hadn’t thought of. Indoctrinated, as in taught to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. Definitely a possibility.

  6. When I first read this and before I viewed the video, my bias kicked in after years of hearing constant irrational false smears of racism, then I viewed the video multiple times. When I started the video I was actively looking for something to feed my bias, something like something they cherry picked his words out of context, or he a was using an analogy that was being twisted into a personal smear, or he was presenting a theoretical argument for discussion purposes, etc, etc. My bias could not be fed with what I saw. Then I thought maybe this was just a gaff, so I watched the video again with that in mind but I couldn’t justify that either. Then I thought that maybe this was a Freudian Slip but then he doubled down on saying he was a racist. I simply couldn’t find anything in the video that would feed my bias.

    The simplest explanation that doesn’t feed my bias is most likely the right one, the man is a white supremist racist and a damned stupid one at that and there’s nothing in the video to convince me otherwise. That teacher made his bed and now he has to sleep in it, I wouldn’t hire him for anything that had any contact with others.

    When racism is right in front of your face, state it.

    • Something else…

      When someone admits to your face that they’re a racist, believe them, and whether you think it’s true or not is not relevant right now because you are not in their head and the likely hood that they’re going to openly admit to such a terrible thing if they don’t truly believe it to be true is slim to none.

      Whether they’ve been indoctrinated into believing a falsehood about themself or not can be determined later date, for now believe them, they’re telling you the truth from their perspective.

      • When someone admits to your face that they’re a racist, believe them, and whether you think it’s true or not is not relevant right now because you are not in their head and the likely hood that they’re going to openly admit to such a terrible thing if they don’t truly believe it to be true is slim to none.

        Whether they’ve been indoctrinated into believing a falsehood about themself or not can be determined later date, for now believe them, they’re telling you the truth from their perspective.

        Hogwash!

        By which, I mean Bullshit!

        The MeToo movement was founded on believing truth from their perspective.

        Sorry. I know people lie for lots of reasons. I take next to nothing at face value.

        I certainly will not accept any axiom that forces me to abdicate my own judgment about any matter.

        -Jut

        • JutGory wrote, “The MeToo movement was founded on believing truth from their perspective.”

          Uh, no. These are not the same thing.

          The MeToo movement was built upon believing accusations of another individual from their perspective not confessions of from an individual.

        • JutGory wrote, “I know people lie for lots of reasons.”

          Sure. However why would an individual “lie” and tell others that they are a white supremacist and a racist knowing full well the context of those things and that they would be condemned for it? From what I could see and hear, the teacher wasn’t under duress of any kind, he didn’t start the conversation with anything that could reasonably indicate that this was all theoretical for teaching purposes, he didn’t indicate that he was joking, etc. etc.

          JutGory wrote, “I take next to nothing at face value.”

          Neither do I. Did you read my comment above?

          Why is it so hard to believe a confession that’s stated honestly and not under duress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.