Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Point of All the Convo

I had a long phone conversation today (and I am not a big phone person; I'd much rather e-mail) with a woman who found out about me because of, uh, the recent article in the Ink.

I stood in the lobby of the movie theatre, missing the movie (which I don't care about), the cloying smell of steamy popcorn and grease in the air. I pulled my jacket ever tighter against the gusts of cold wind coming from the hard-cranking air conditioner, but I was absolutely comfortable.

I ended up talking much longer and more intensely than I expected because the call was important.

The woman on the other end of the phone was wonderful, and we had much in common, and I had great concern for her story, which she so graciously shared with me.

I'm not going to say what we talked about (it was business), but what was most striking to me was her stated belief: "I found you for a reason."

There is a reason behind all of this. People keep telling me that. I keep forgetting.

Another recently-made friend told me yesterday (or was it earlier today? The days are blending together) that,"The test comes before you understand the lesson." I'm paraphrasing; it was something like that.

As a teacher, I'd hope that would not be the case in any class. But life is a different story.

I just checked my Twitter messages, and another virtual stranger just told me, "You have so many friends you don't even know yet."

That's heartening. Is it true? Perhaps. People from all over the world are writing to me and cheering me on. I thank them all.

I have received so many very kind e-mails and comments sent to me via my blog.

So, too, the mean ones keep coming in; I think it's a calculated attack. The comments don't even make sense. It's like people were told to bug me with certain lines.

For example, someone just tried to criticize me, in a very snarky way, for calling Bush "Bushie" in my model speech. Um, I didn't even do that. How about you actually read it?

Plus--even though I have zero love for George W. Bush, that's what the man and his wife Laura call themselves. They like that nickname; it's no dig. It just means I know that because I'm well read.

(And "Poppy" is what he calls his dad. It's a family name, and well-known fact. It's not a put-down. I think Poppy is a far better politician/person than his son.)

Whatever... as a webmistress recently explained, "The ultracons like to dominate the comments." The more noise they make, the more important they can pretend to be.

It doesn't change the fact that only 25% or so of the population thinks they know what they're talking about.

Even Catholics are bitterly divided, with one segment decrying the intolerance of the other.

Which way will the Catholic church go? Time will tell. Perhaps it will split. (I am not advocating that; I'm just wondering out loud.)

I have no interest, as I've told people, in debating the finer points of conservative vs. liberal. If you ask me, that's a total waste of time. We think the way we are first told to, then--as I hope--we think for ourselves. However that works out, it's probably the way it should be.

We will never be of the same minds. Our society is bitterly partisan, utterly divided. I wish it were not so, but that is not to say that I wish all people believed the same thing.

Think for yourself, as I always tell people. But don't tell me how to think. I've already made up my mind.

If you don't like it, don't listen. You will not change me. You will not silence me.

My opinions are as valid as yours (and vice versa). If it makes you crazy, don't let it. I won't let you affect me, either.

Rather, I'll just enjoy the kind, supportive words I've received. They keep coming in. There are many of us of similar minds, and that's great. It's good to know.

As for those of you who believe the opposite--it's not like I don't know you're there. Rest assured, you have your own forums. Enjoy those. Use them.  Otherwise, though--please take it outside. I have a book to finish and a new one to start.

The notoriety you're giving me works well for me, even if it can be somewhat annoying to deal with. So I guess I can thank you, too, nasty commenters. You've made me famous, at least for a while.

Is that what you wanted?


  1. I always believe things happen for a reason. As for people with nasty comments, I did not read into your complete reason for getting nasty comments other than misinterpreted political so- called name calling. It's called Freedom of Speech ... hate people who love American freedom until someone says something they don't want to hear. It's not a double standard. Right? or am I deluded?

  2. It's a very interesting (and weird, hard to fathom) debate about Freedom of Speech, that's for sure. On the one hand, it's a cry for freedom, or a longing for the "patriot days" of old, and then it's also massive repression of opposing thought. Teachers are told to teach Freedom of Speech and then aren't able to practice it themselves...ironic? Absurd? Yes.

    Thanks for writing,


  3. Dear Mrs. Collins,

    I just came across your story. As a teacher in a private school myself, I can sympathize with the difficulty you encountered. I often find myself self-censoring both in the classroom and online (Facebook, blog comments, etc.) because of the concern for my job if my views became known to powerful figures in the parent body. (Although, as a conservative teaching in a liberally inclined school, my self-censorship is coming from a very different direction than yours.)

    I certainly agree with you that it is important for teachers to teach their students to think independently and not just blindly accept the perspectives that they have received from the establishment around them, whether it be their parents or their teachers. (They also shouldn't automatically accept one authority over another, nor should they simply reject these authorities in favor of fashionable ideas.)

    We want our students to be able to look at both sides of a debate honestly and objectively, and to be able to assess the arguments made for each side without prior prejudice.

    We also want to teach our students how to present their own opinions in the most effective manner possible.

    In a case such as your own, I would have expected you to teach your student how to present her own opinion in a more effective and conciliatory manner. In other words, you should have taught her the skills she needs to think and argue for herself. It seems to me, from what you have posted here (I'm unclear if you actually gave the speech you posted), that you have chosen instead to model what a "proper" political opinion is in the first place. It appears that your modeling is actually political advocacy.


  4. LazerA,

    You should probably read some other postings of mine to get the full story. The lessons I'd been teaching for nearly a week were all about presenting opinions inoffensively.

    It is very difficult for a teacher to "undo" a lifetime of conditioning, however. I wish I were that powerful--but then again, it is not my place to tell people how to think, only to guide.

    I did not give the speech, no. And it gets complicated; the speech was offered here as a model of "if you're going to be political and contentious anyway, here's a slightly gentler way of doing it."

    Hope that explains more.

    Thanks for your note,


  5. Ms. Collins,

    I came across your story via today's WSJ and immediately linked to the original story which appeared in the Inquirer.

    Regarding that newspaper's poll question - should you or shouldn't you have been fired - I responded "Not Sure."

    Frankly, reading a couple news articles - even buttressed by browsing your own blog writings - doesn't give me near enough info on you or your teaching style to allow me to offer an informed "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on the question of your dismissal.

    What I can offer is an expression of "good luck." I sincerely hope that you're not underemployed for long. (Your local, state, and federal authorities need you to be paying taxes!) (*GRIN*)

    Going to the heart of the greater debate... I fear there's far too little education involved in... er... education nowadays.

    (Not your fault... not personalizing the "accusation"... simply stating my opinion.)

    Beyond that, certainly there's not enough diversity - intellectual diversity, ideological diversity - in America's classrooms, be they public schools or private schools.

    Anyway... again... good luck to you.

    Bill Barker
    Harriman, NY

  6. Bill,

    Thanks for your note. I find it absurd that there is even a voting option on my story. Everyone wants to be on the jury here, it seems.

    But rest assured, the story is much, much more complicated than it was described in the press. And I take tremendous issue with the (politcally-motivated, of course) micharacterizations and incendiary conflation of facts published in the WSH and Philly Daily News.

    I have an Op-Ed coming out tomorrow in the Daily News. Look for it...

    As for trying to ascertain what sort of teacher I am, I suggest you browse some of my postings from earlier months (Feb, for example), before I was consumed by the minutiae of this crisis.

    I have written about teaching essay writing "The Biggest Problem the World Faces Is..." and SAT and AP exam tip giving.

    Also read the comments by my students following many (usually more recent) posts.

    There you go. Lots of reading.



  7. The problem with the internet is that very often in things like commenting sections of blogs that have garnered the attention of people like yours has, the voices of reason often get drowned out by the sheer amount of idiotic crap that gets posted by a distinctly moronic group of the population. It's easy to get discouraged when you see so much inane garbage being propagated so widely by a very vocal and very stupid portion of humanity.

  8. Don't you just love hypercritical invective. The method is so much more persuasive than reasoned argument, eh Anon?

  9. Herein lies the problem when everyone uses the "Anonymous" button. I am just about to force the issue of every commenter having to use a name. If I get around to it.

    I will call you Anon1 and Anon2.

    Anon1 hit the buzzer first and gets to come on down...

  10. As I stated in the TNB comment, there are two kinds of people in this country. There are people who think and ask questions and make up their own minds on things and delve into the unknown, and there are those who don't think, who just do and say what they are told and live in fear of the unknown. Sadly, we encounter both, but for every one of the latter I encounter, I'm more determined to be one of the former.

  11. I I wrote somewhere else, I believe, "if we tell people what to think, are they really thinking?"

    That's the issue here: letting people think for themselves.



  12. By the way, EC, I read your post on the John Birch Society's website about certified teachers and it made me laugh. You seem to think what makes you a good teacher is the fact that you style yourself as a "grammar cop" that knows the difference between "affect" and "effect."

    Most every private school teacher I know without a certification knows ZILCH about classroom/behavior management. That aspect of teaching is just as important as content knowledge.

    I think it's also funny that you would post to a blatantly right wing website, since you indicate that you despise conservatism.

  13. Dear @marksrightbrain,

    We can agree to disagree about the certified-or-not-teacher issue, but the fact remains that many of the finest private schools specifically ask for teachers NOT to be certified. There are reasons for that--specifically, issues of professional expertise. Sure, the classroom management problem might rear its ugly head, but generally, the private school students don't need as much management.

    What I have found as a teacher of 11th and 12th grade students (and college) is that I have not (maybe once) had a problem with "misbehavior" or inattention, etc. Teaching these grade levels also works well for me as I operate on a higher-frequency, perhaps, and relate better to and can better teach older, more mature students *who want to be in school.*

    If I posted to John Birch, I would think that would demonstrate that I don't discriminate on the basis of politics. Rather, I see even more need to educate those with right-wing views on the crucial topic of educational reform. There seems to be much suspicion of and vitriol toward teachers by a certain mindset. There is much disparagement and distrust of teachers, it seems, and that generally seems to be from where it emanates.

    Anyway--I will blog aboutt this soon.

    I have no idea what you are talking about in your other messages to me. Who are you, and why are you trying to attack me?

    I don't know what you meant by the internet address thing, as when I posted to John Birch, I did so from my old school, not from my home. Anyone from that school could have "been me," but as I have never heard of you before, I can't address this.


    Elizabeth Collins

  14. Heard about your plight through a link from Metafilter to the Inquirer story, which mentions your blog. Sorry to hear that the neo-Birchers won and that critical thought seems to have lost. At least that child will be woefully unprepared for any college other than Bob Jones (which unfortunately deems Catholicism the Great Whore, so it's not really an option).

    Anyway, good luck, and hopefully some of the other kids will be spurred to good, honest pluralistic liberalism by your travails.

  15. Thanks, Josh.

    College for kids with extremist helicopter parents should be will be a real cultural upheaval, to be sure. I used to teach in a college and we were seeing problems there with parents calling up demanding their kids' report cards. There was a zero tolerance for parental interferement policy in effect there, however. I respect that; kids in college are effectively adults. They should learn how to handle themselves.