Saturday, December 18, 2004

Southern Maryland happenings

First, a little background: I currently live in Southern Maryland. This is a beautiful land, with plenty of trees (GORGEOUS falls!) and plenty of space. It is fairly conservative politically--two of the three counties that "make" SoMD went for Bush this year, and the third was neck-and-neck. And yes, there is an element of "red-neckdom" here--but I don't view that as a bad thing!

So in this culturally conservative area, I find the following happenings around town to be of interest:

The WaPo did an article this week called "Teacher's Request to use Personal Days in Dispute". This story is about a SoMD elementary school teacher with 30 years of experience in the county who requested to take the 3 school days prior to the 4-day Thanksgiving weekend off as "personal days". The school Principal, for reasons not entirely clarified in the article (there is mention of an "overrid(ing) concern about keeping enough teachers in classrooms over the holiday week"), denied the request. The teacher filed a grievance, and the Principal responded by saying that if the teacher could provide a compelling reason for the leave, it would be granted.

So far, this all seems fairly mature. The Principal has her reasons for saying no and has the AUTHORITY to say no (the article points out that the leave requests must be approved by the petitioner's supervisor, which should be the Principal). When presented with a grievance, Mrs. Principal simply asked for a reason to tilt her personal decision-making scale in favor of the teacher. This is how I believe management and employees should work--decisions should not be made "in a vacuum", and when a grievance is filed in accordance with regulations, it needs to be addressed--not conceded to, mind you, just addressed. I think the Principal, so far, as acted as one might hope a professional administrator would act.

But then the story breaks down. In response to the Principal's request for a compelling reason, the teacher essentially responded with (and I quote from the article): "Personal days are personal--I don't have to give a reason." And she, also, is exactly correct--she doesn't HAVE to give a reason.

But the Principal doesn't HAVE to allow the leave, either. And in this case, said Principal did NOT approve the leave. And this is where it gets really interesting!

The teacher, unwilling to work those three days, also unwilling to call in sick for those three days, and ALSO unwilling to accept the letter of reprimand that would result from her just not showing up for those 3 days, decides to retire. Which is entirely her choice--the fact that the administration is given the burden of finding a way to responsibly educate the teacher's class is merely an aside to the story at this point.

Chew on this for a second: who is this teacher thinking about when she decided to retire? Is she thinking about the school? Is she thinking about the union that has employed her for 30 years? Most importantly, is she thinking about the children? Heck no! She's thinking about herself, and her precious 3 days of leave versus her precious record that can't be tarnished by the awful shame of a letter of reprimand--a letter which, it should be said, would have no effect on her pay, either now or in retirement. But she's got scruples, at least--she won't call in sick because that would be wrong! (This is what happens when ideals are so small in scale that they can't even see the top of the heap of problems that have got to be addressed and resolved)

Now, she wants her job back. And as you might imagine, the WaPo take on the article is entirely pro-teacher: she's a worker of great pedigree and record who was unjustly wronged by a management that didn't look out for the needs of either the employees or the students, blah blah blah. . .

Listen, folks, the bottom line is this: she retired. Her choice, when faced with 3 otherwise somewhat acceptable options (not that I condone calling in sick to backdoor the personal leave system), was to create a 4th option that severed her relationship with the school system. And now she wants her job back?

Sorry, lady, that ship has sailed. If you want to teach in the district again, you go through the same ringamorale (nice word!) that every other applicant goes through. If you get a job, there's a 1-in-300 (or whatever the number of classrooms are in the district) chance that it will be in the same school and at the same level as the job you had in October of this year. And depending on the rules of the contract down there, my personal take is that her previous 30 years of experience should not count with regards to pay and benefits. And if she does get re-hired, she clearly shouldn't draw a pension (for her previous service) while still in the employ of the school district.

This wasn't a "leave of absence"--this was a hissy-fit gone awry. And she should be treated appropriately by the school district.

Item #2: my son came home from school this week full of information about Kwanzaa. Turns out that one of his class' topics du jour was Kwanzaa, and he was filled to the brim with information about the holiday. I, of course, was a little shocked. Having never understood Kwanzaa (the roots, the reason, etc.), I had assumed that it was a religious holiday on par with Christmas and Hannukah--both of which surely would NEVER be taught in a public school, unfortunately.

So I asked my boy a few questions about what he had learned. It is a credit to the little guy that he was able to give answers to my queries--also a credit to the teacher, who apparently did a good job of transmitting the message the school wanted to send about Kwanzaa. It appeared at no time did their study take on a "religious" context--and my "shock" died down.

But I was still curious about Kwanzaa itself. And I went to this website that talks about the origins and purpose of the holiday. And I see contradiction, at least in terms of the "message" of the school district. Oh, how I love research!

On the website (ostensibly written by the founder of Kwanzaa--it doesn't get much more original-source than that!), they stress that Kwanzaa is NOT a religious holiday. From the site: "Finally, it is important to note Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness."

What else is Kwanzaa? Well, it is "an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture which was being conducted in the general context of the Black Liberation Movement of the '60's". . .

Also, "Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles)"--one of which is Imani--which means "faith", or to go a step further: "To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle";

Lastly, "an emphasis on the importance of African communitarian values in general, which stress family, community and culture and speak to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense."

So let me get this straight: my son is taught about this "cultural event" in his public school--an event that stresses the separation of the African culture from the AMERICAN culture that is what should REALLY be taught in this public school?

Listen, I don't have a problem with teaching the principles of hard work, community-minded responsibility, belief in a cause, etc. I DO, however, have a problem with a public school district recognizing that this "Separation Celebration" is more worthy of my kid's attention during this season than are the roots of "THE" season.

And you can't even say that it's a religious thing--thanks to Kwanzaa. You see, there is one other element of Kwanzaa that I left out from above: "Kwanzaa is. . . a time of special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation".

So Kwanzaa brings creationism (not directly, but it IS a central meme to the celebration of Kwanzaa) into my son's classroom during this season--but the Judeo-Christian beliefs that spring from creationism and are so central to defining what this season means to, say, 90% of the population of this school district, get left at the gutter's edge. The hypocrisy of public education knows no limits!

Third item: DC's bid to get a baseball team. Could this be any more comical???


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