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News ::
Keep the Heat on Teachers who Harass Army Kids (english)
11 Mar 2003
That is my assessment of the flood of dozens of Feedback e-mails I have received since my article about the Maine teachers accused of verbally harassing students who were the children of deploying Army National Guard soldiers “Denounce Teachers Who Harass Military Dependents,” DefenseWatch, Feb. 26, 2003). Judging by the passion expressed in a lot of the e-mails I received, this issue has touched a deep nerve inside many people.

First of all, I noticed at least four articles in locally and nationally-distributed newspapers. The Washington Times led the charge on this issue by publishing two stories on Feb 28 and Mar 4, and my own Op-Ed piece on Mar 3. The most recent article shows that this issue is slowly starting to get the attention it deserves:

“A Maine legislator is investigating complaints that teachers harassed children of Maine National Guard members and says, ‘There should be some dismissals if the incidents are substantiated … I'm looking for any situations like that described by the National Guard and looking for any independent confirmation .… I don't think a letter goes far enough. I believe there should be some dismissals, because that sort of activity does not belong in a school,’ said Republican state Rep. Michael A. Vaughan.”

The spirit of the statements above are a sharp contrast to the statements in the Feb. 25 memo that Maine Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese sent to his school principals and superintendents:

“We believe in the right to discuss controversial issues and express ideas and opinions freely in a civil manner .… Recently, it has been brought to our attention that some school personnel around the State may have been less than sensitive to children of military families regarding our continued strained relations with Iraq .… Children who perceive a school staff member or their peers as being insensitive to their beliefs and the potential danger to their loved ones …. I am asking you to remind school personnel that these are difficult times for our nation and that the families of military personnel need our sensitivity …. I encourage you to emphasize the importance of creating and maintaining a supportive climate that is sensitive to all children and their families in these unsettled times …. ”

I believe in the old adage, “Either you are part of the solution, or you are part of the problem.” After reports appear of verbally abused children is not the time to emphasize sensitivity to children of deploying service members. Now is the time for corrective action, not “too-late” attempts at prevention. Offending teachers must be held accountable for the damage they inflicted on innocent children. In my humble opinion, Mr. Vaughn is a part of the solution, and Mr. Albanese is a part of the problem.

On March 3, the WMTW Newsradio website in Portland, Maine, ran a very short article that suggested that this issue has been blown way out of proportion:

“The head of the Maine Army National Guard says the flap over educators making inappropriate comments to students with military parents has been blown out of proportion.

“Maj. Gen. Joseph Tinkham says there have been no new incidents since last Tuesday, when the state education commissioner put out a memo on the issue. And he says national media figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly exaggerated the extent and nature of the problem.

A Guard spokesman expressed frustration that news reports have focused on a few negative incidents rather than the "the 99.9 percent of educators who are acting professionally.”

I have not heard what Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly said about this issue. I have no doubt that the vast majority of educators are acting professionally, but my concern is with the “0.1 percent” of educators who are not. One negative incident is too many.

The overwhelming majority of e-mails I have received has been positive and supportive of the harassed students and their families. I have had requests for the schools’ and harassed students’ names so readers could organize card and letter writing campaigns for those students and their families. Others wanted those names to include in their prayers. Many thanked me for having the courage to speak out on this issue. I even received two invitations to be interviewed on live radio talk shows.

Another trend has been intense rage, anger, and frustration directed toward the offending teachers and the state education commissioner. Many people want to see the harassers make public apologies and then be relieved of their duties as teachers.

A number of current and retired teachers wrote to tell me how upset they were to learn what those irresponsible teachers did to those children. Some expressed frustration that the irresponsible actions of a minority will overshadow the dedicated and professional actions of the majority.

I did receive and respond to a small number of negative e-mails. These unexpected e-mails did not follow any particular trends. The most bizarre one was from a reader who said he was actually proud of what those teachers did for carrying on a war of words using love and not guns. Others seemed to view this issue as a freedom-of-speech and freedom-to-protest-a-war issue. A couple of others tried to engage me in a political debate about the moral and ethical pros and cons about war with Iraq.

I responded to another angry e-mail with:

“If almost 100 percent of the teacher corps is influenced by what I wrote, I hope the non-bad ones will be positively influenced to help weed out the bad ones who verbally harassed the children of deploying parents. I suggest you direct your anger away from me, a mere messenger, and direct it to root out those bad teachers. Good teachers should not be threatened by what I wrote, but I hope the bad ones are running scared now that their stories are aired in public.”

Finally, at least a couple of readers from other parts of the country told me that they have heard of similar incidents in their schools. They offered no details, but the possibility that what they heard may be true sent chills up my spine.

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