AN OP-ED ABOUT me by Christine M. Flowers ("Political Teacher Gets an F, as in Fired," June 10) recounts, based solely on a story in the Inquirer, the unfortunate saga of my firing. I lost my teaching job because of accusations made against me by two parents who claimed I "humiliated" their daughter, on a blog posting, for her political views. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I've apologized in every forum imaginable for the misperception that I maliciously wrote about a child, I can't in good conscience agree to this assessment of the situation.
I wrote about teaching a writing lesson, and being "dismayed" that the lesson didn't fully click, as evidenced by a speech I heard by "a student." It never occurred to me that anyone would ever claim this "student" could be identified. I am, of course, terrifically sorry for any perceived slight, but must insist, again, that it was not in the least malicious but an entirely innocent mistake.
Suffice it to say, however, that my case is not merely political, although readers' responses to it will certainly be (and have been) colored by their own political views.
I was called a "political" teacher in the headline, but the course I taught was English. How could I possibly dare to interject politics into English class? Maybe because it wasn't a real English class. It was college-level argumentative rhetoric, based on short news pieces and persuasive essays about issues that affect people. It was not a literature course, not a grammar class.
Ms. Flowers attacked me for being (gasp!) a liberal. As such, she implies that I might possibly "indoctrinate" a conservative child with my un-Catholic (although I am Catholic) political views.
I can hardly blame Ms. Flowers for jumping on this idea. The political side of my story is irresistible. But my story is not just about politics, and my "sword-crossing" with two parents who said they didn't like what they saw as my "agenda." No, my story is also about free speech. Should teachers be muzzled, or should they have the intellectual freedom to be honest about their own world views, and how those views were formed? After all, we don't want our children to simply regurgitate what they've been told. True education means equipping people to read a variety of ideas and then form their own articulate opinions. If we tell them what they're allowed to think, are they really thinking?
My story is equally about power, money, and influence. Do parents who have a good deal of money automatically have the right to dictate the education of other children, not only their own? Shouldn't our schools be ivory towers of idealism and free thought? When, too, will teachers be allowed to do what they do best - teach? When will good teachers with impressive credentials, and stellar professional reputations like mine actually be trusted with the education of children? Only when they cease to vote or have lives outside school?
That's what a teacher does: equips students to start asking questions and then find their own answers. I only wanted to inspire my students to keep reading more, to keep asking "Why?" That's education for life.
Read more about this story on Elizabeth Collins' blog, prettyfreaky.blogspot.com.