Teach the ABC’s, Not the I Hate Thee’s

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Teach the ABC’s, Not the I Hate Thee’s

Drawing by Andrea Verschuyl

Drawing by Andrea Verschuyl

Drawing by Andrea Verschuyl

Things get hairy when teachers get scary.

Andrea Verschuyl

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America makes a big deal of bullying. Our educational systems fight tooth and nail to prevent student-to-student harassment that can be devastating to both the individual and (as recent tragedies have indicated) to entire communities. Entire assemblies are organized to huddle students beneath an umbrella of protection against the misbehavior of some of their peers. However, the hubbub of anti-bullying propaganda left one Julio Artuz out in the rain. No one believed Artuz when his teacher began harassing him in class, not the administration, not even his family. So the special education student from New Jersey decided to take matters into his own hands.

Armed with a cell phone, Artuz waited for the next time his teacher launched into an angry tirade against him. When his teacher finally did begin his rant, Artuz filmed the entire ordeal, publishing the shaky video to the media.

The video (too explicit to be shown, although it can easily be found on all news websites) depicts the anonymous and enraged teacher berating a frightened Artuz, who interjects witheringly that he desires to be called “normal” and not “special.” This seems to only further the misguided wrath of his teacher, who attacks Aruz in front of the entire rubbernecked class.

When the media got their hands on the film, the visual was immediately plastered in every news station, initiating a hasty response from the principal of Bankbridge Regional School: “Our school district takes all bullying, harassment, and intimidation allegations seriously. We do not tolerate it. The safety and well-being of our students is our first and foremost concern. It is of particular concern when an allegation is made against a teacher. We take great pride in maintaining a healthy, safe and secure educational environment for our students. Immediately, upon notification of a complaint, we followed steps established by the Board of Education…The actions depicted on the video do not reflect the mission or culture of our school.”

Yet, for all the school’s precautionary measures, the teacher was not fired. Rather, he was given paid leave, which is far more hospitable than the cold shoulder of a pink slip that most teachers have been given due to recent system budget cuts. Some feel that the video should have been solid evidence that would immediately cause the school administration to fire his teacher. After all, what investigation is needed in the light of such clear abuse?  Teacher unions counter that the due process of investigation and interviews must occur before a teacher loses his pay and position.  However, this well-intentioned precaution seems misguided when it is taken into account that Artuz actually had the footage of his bullying.  This scenario unfortunately could send a mixed message to students who naturally don’t consider all the behind-the-scenes considerations of due process. On the surface, it projects the idea that authority figures are untouchable, and that the student’s situation is hopeless even if they find the courage to exhibit their mistreatment to their community.

The Artuz debacle has uncovered a blind spot in our academic systems. We are so focused on maintaining the sanctity of student-to-student relationships that our schools have failed to moderate teacher-to-student relationships, causing the public to question how many Artuzes are out there, too frightened to voice their complaints to their communities. The lingering message of Artuz’s story is not one of triumph, where the bad guy goes down for bullying a helpless kid, but one which questions the value of student rights versus those of their educators. Should the word of a minor be questionable even when they present evidence to prove that they are being mistreated at school? Did the teacher in question get fired, or fired quickly enough to send the right message?  In any case, a teacher who has the audacity to abuse his student should face serious consequences for his actions. If not, then clearly the balance between student and teacher is not nearly so level as it should be.