Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Witch-Burning Mentality and Miramonte Elementary School

We don't hang witches today. 
We don't act on the basis of hysteria.
We don't judge entire groups
based on the actions of individuals.
Or, at least, we shouldn't.
This probably isn't a big news story if you're not from Los Angeles.  But it's a story I think that has ramifications, for all of us who have been or are now public school teachers, and for Americans, in general.

We start with accusations of sexual abuse against two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in the City of the Angels. 

In response to what might be a "culture of silence" at the school, Superintendent, John Deasy, suspended ALL 150 staff members.

I find this hard to fathom, not just because I'm a former teacher, not because I don't love my own children, and not because I don't want sexual abusers to face the full weight of the laws.  I find it sickening because this is mob mentality, at least partially unleashed. 

It is a reaction in the face of fear, when human beings are most prone to lose sight of subtle truths, if not obvious ones. 

I have four children and love them all very dearly.  If I thought any of them had been abused at school, by, say the sixth grade music teacher, I would want to hurt that individual. 

That doesn't mean that I'd want to see the first grade teacher suspended.  It doesn't mean I'd believe the fourth grade language arts teacher, who never had my child in class, had never spoken a word to my child, who rarely had time to look up from her work with other people's children during her incredibly busy days, who had no idea what the sixth grade music teacher was doing, because molesters are notoriously secretive, should be suspended.

I would be furious at the "individual," you see.  Yet, even in my fury, I would hesitate to act violently against the accused, because I also realize some accused individuals turn out to be innocent, too. 

Parents were concerned for their children in
1692, too.
I'm an old, retired history teacher and I'm not a fan of witch burning, no matter the century.  I still believe in the Bill of Rights, as well.  There are two teachers accused of criminal acts at this school.  And from what I read one sounds to be guilty.  I wonder if the other might not be the victim of spreading hysteria; but in both cases, the courts will have to act.  The other 148 individuals are accused of nothing.  They "might" have known something.  That's true.  Hypothethically, they might have known. Yet, since I am ready to bet they are good human beings, like myself, or Mr. Deasy, or any of the parents now so much afraid, I highly doubt they did.

It's an insult to all good teachers to act on the assumption that they did and still failed to act. 

If almost anyone I have ever known thought someone was abusing a child, they'd tell the police at once.  If they did not know, I would not expect anyone to demand that they be suspended from work because they lacked telepathic powers.

Read the Ox Bow Incident and consider what happens when angry people react in the heat of the moment.  Go back to 1942, when fear blinded most Americans, and 110,000 Japanese-Americans were locked up, because people who looked like them had bombed Pearl Harbor.  Remember that for a century, an accusation of rape against an African-American male by any white woman was tatamount to a sentence of death, no trial required, and in fact, "rape" was not a prerequisite.  Emmett Till, in 1955, was murdered after whistling at a white woman down South.  Keep in mind that our ancestors had no doubt witches existed--and once hysteria took hold at Salem in 1692 it did not abate till 300 innocent people had been jailed, one witness had been crushed with rocks for refusal to testify and 19 people were hanged. 

Remember, too, that after the attacks of 9/11 hysteria swept this great nation.  In one case a man walked into a gas station/quick market and shot down a clerk in a turban, shouting that all Muslims had it coming for the attacks by a few.  Too bad the clerk was a Sikh, a different religion.  Too bad Muslim Americans (citizens like ourselves) died in the 9/11 attacks.  Too bad other Muslim Americans serve in the U. S. military today, defending the freedoms we say we hold dear, defending us from radicals who happen to share the same name, if not the same spirit, of the Islamic faith.

Read the comments people left on the Facebook page for the movie, Waiting for Superman (a movie which vilifies teachers as a group--and that tells you something about the current status of America's teachers), and what you hear might be the distant growl of the approaching mob.

No one who abuses children should escape punishment.  That would be sick. 

Judging people as members of groups--giving way to fear and hysteria--forgetting why courts exist--this is also sick.


  1. Approaching hysteria, indeed. If you say anything differently, people try to say you're supporting the cultrue of silence.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This post is from a former student; but I deleted her name and reposted myself:

    I think that there is not much to say about this post because it's hard to argue with your logic. Miramonte Elementary is doing nothing but adding fuel to fire that anything said against a teacher is taken as fact and we are somehow all responsible for the act. In this case, I agree that teachers are being demonized. I have to say however, that movies like "Waiting for Superman" and other documentaries bring light to some very real issues. I teach in a state where a teacher gets tenure after 4 years in the classroom. Teachers do not have to apply for it, be observed, or meet any standard other than not being fired in the previous 3. After a teacher has tenure, it is virtually impossible for them to be fired. I have worked in schools where the teachers (and I actually mean ALL of the teachers) literally read the newspaper for 6 periods while the kids are assigned work from a book which is never checked, graded, or gone over. The students continually do abysmally on state tests, get scores on the ACT that an 8 year old from Loveland could beat, and fail classes that are taught at a much lower level than they should. If you worked at McDonald’s and continually burned the French fries, you would be fired, simple as that. A healthy fear of losing your job is not a bad thing. The teaching system need to be shaken up. Teachers need to be held accountable for what happens in the classroom. I admit that this starts with administration, superintendents, and school boards but I’ll save that for another rant. Bottom line, teachers are being demonized unfairly in Miramonte. However, some teachers are demons and work in systems that not only allow a ridiculous lack of professionalism, they breed it. The complacency in the education system must change. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

  4. I'm also posting this creative take from a former student, who responded on Facebook. Curtis Kutschenreuter notes:

    They threw out the baby, the Grandmother, some gold coins, and a Honus Wagner card with the bathwater. Maybe that school board should reassign themselves to diaper duty at a day care. Neve rmind...they don't know how to clean up a mess without resorting to arson.