Tuesday, October 4, 2011

They picked on the wrong victim

Once upon a time, a high school teacher in eastern Pennsylvania started a blog, as a way to keep in touch with her friends and family.  She kept her personal information to a minimum, but she used her real first name and a real picture of herself.  I imagine that she did that so that it would be more personal than the blogs that were just a bunch of words.  She didn't publicize the blog, or intend it to be read by the general public, but, being a bit naïve in the ways of the Internet, she didn't make it private, either.

As with most teachers today, she encountered a lot of frustration in her job.  Many (not all) of the students were whiny, lazy, rude, obscene - even jerks.  Many of these students' parents facilitated this behavior, or even modeled it themselves.  And she didn't get a lot of support from the administration in dealing with these students.

You may think that this was just her point of view, or a direct result of her own bad attitude.  If you think that, then you don't know enough teachers.  Most students are delightful people, and The Future of Our Country - and their parents are great people, too.  But there are an awful lot of The Other Kind.  Public school administrators are a mixed bag, too.  Some are great, and some aren't - just like the management ranks in industry and everywhere else.

So this teacher, whom we'll call "Natalie" just to pick a name out of the air, vented her frustrations on her blog.  It wasn't every blog entry - only 24 out of 84, by her count.  She was very careful to never call anybody by name.  She never even identified the school or the location she was writing about.  Granted, she did use profanity and some non-PC language - but remember, her intended audience was her friends and family.

Well, she didn't know that somebody was eavesdropping.  Some of her students found her blog, and they read what she was saying about them - even though she never called them out by name, they recognized themselves from her descriptions of their behavior.

They could have reacted in many different ways.  What they chose to do was this:  the students publicized her blog, told their parents about it, and set up a number of hate pages on Facebook.  They and other students proceeded to dogpile on this teacher on those FB pages.  The parents, in their turn, encouraged (or tacitly approved of) their children's behavior, and also protested to the school administration.  The school and the administration, rather than stand behind their teacher, as they should have done, took the cowardly way out and suspended her.  All of this happened in a very short time, in February 2011.

Her suspension coincided nicely with the maternity leave she had previously scheduled.  Still, she knew what the administrators were doing.  Somehow the whole affair went "viral," as they say, and it hit the fan - er, the national news.

(Interjection:  she was quietly reinstated in August 2011 - again, the cowardly way out, since she had been so publicly suspended.  Not only that, but the administrators set things up at the school so that she cannot succeed this year, and then they hope they will have cause to fire her.  It's all explained in the two blogs referenced below.)

What happened next could not have been predicted by anybody.  Someone on Facebook saw what these schoolkids were doing to the teacher (basically, they were acting worse than anything she had accused them of), and he spoke up in her defense.  He got pasted just like she did.  Even worse, after he created a support page on FB to counter all the hate pages, many of the teacher's opponents, parents and students alike, piled onto the support page and continued vilifying the teacher - and her supporter.  They got ugly - uglier than anything they'd done so far.  But they didn't know who they were up against.

Most people, faced with this kind of opposition, would simply have shut down the support page and walked away from it.  Not this guy - he fought back.  The kids were dumb enough to use their real identities on FB, so he looked up their phone numbers, called their parents, and told them what their kids were doing.  He called the school and district administration and told them what the kids were doing.  He notified the colleges and universities these kids were applying to, and told them what the kids were doing.  When the local school administrators responded in a cowardly and hypocritical fashion, he called them out on it.  And he started a blog, where he documented every bit of this battle.

The battle has gotten ugly.  The kids keep escalating, and some of them have crossed the legal line, engaging in mail fraud and identity theft.  He has reported this to the authorities, and he continues to document everything on his blog.

Now, you may not agree with his tactics.  You may wonder, as so many other people do, why he doesn't just drop it and get on with his life.  But look at where he's coming from.  He saw someone getting bullied, he spoke up in their defense, he himself became a victim of the bullies, and now he's fighting back.  I'm not saying he's Charles Bronson, but he does take his Avenging Angel duty seriously.

The easiest way to end this battle would be for the students and parents to back down, apologize, and admit they were wrong.  That's all he wants.  But I'm afraid it's gone beyond that.  It's fascinating to watch it play out, albeit somewhat gruesome - like watching a wasp and a spider duel to the death.  It's definitely not G-rated.  If you're interested, here are links to the two non-Facebook blogs:
The teacher
The defender

Here are links to the news story:

If you want to see the FB pages, you'll have to find them yourself.

Warning warning warning!  If you feel inclined to contribute to the discussion, resist that inclination.  You will viewed as a combatant, not merely a contributor, and you will instantly be drawn into the conflict.  And they're not fighting with just guns and knives.  It's better to stay behind the glass and just observe.

If you just can't hold back, and you have to say something, don't give your real name.  This is one case where it's acceptable to post as Anonymous.

UPDATE: For an update on this situation, read my new blog entry here . Basically, the school's plan to get rid of her backfired. Big time.


jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Wow. That is truly scary, and horrific to boot. What is our world coming to? I'm grateful that there is someone like this teacher's defender, who has the courage to speak up. That's a trait lacking in far too many of us these days, I fear. Including, no doubt, in myself.
PS I was talking to my Mum just before reading this, and regaled her with your story. She says to say hi. :-)

Zyzmog said...

For an update on this situation, read my blog entry at http://zyzmog.blogspot.com/2011/10/schools-plan-backfires-making-things.html. Basically, the school's plan to get rid of her backfired. Big time.

1Letterman said...

And the struggle continues...