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Mar. 4 2010 - 1:45 pm | 97 views | 1 recommendation | 0 comments

O.J. Simpson: role model for students?

Three elementary school teachers in Los Angleles were “removed from their classrooms” this week after complaints of the role models their classes displayed in a Black History Month parade. Kids in some classes carried pictures of folks like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr.,  and Harriet Tubman, but other kids displayed images of O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman, and RuPaul.

The mayor and the NAACP have gotten involved, accusing the teachers (all three white men who teach first, second, and fourth grade) of  “making a mockery of African American history.” Says Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:

“I am shocked and outraged by the actions of these teachers at Wadsworth Elementary School,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “These teachers undermined the school's well-intentioned celebration, and they did so at the expense of elementary school students. Their actions were not only cynical, but did a terrible disservice to the students, their families and all of the teachers who work hard on a daily basis to build trust and a productive learning environment.”

via Villaraigosa blasts alleged mockery of Black History Month – latimes.com.

The teachers aren’t talking, but it is hard to imagine that any teacher would actually believe that Simpson and Rodman are justifiable role models for young children. Simpson, for those who missed the Trial of the Century, was acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend and is now serving nine years for robbery and kidnapping. Rodman is the fast-playing basketball player who scored points for bad behavior both on and off the court. As for RuPaul, the famous drag queen,  you could argue that (s)he is a model of multiculturalism, although you could also argue that his/her inclusion was a deliberate provocation. (RuPaul doesn’t care which pronoun you use: “”You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.”)

Now, it’s long known that many people in the African American community object to Black History Month, alleging that it ghettoizes black culture. February is, after all, the shortest month, and it’s bitter cold. But it’s hard to imagine that’s what this little episode was about. Folks are calling for the teachers to be fired. But some parents interviewed didn’t see it as a big deal. “I kind of laughed at it,” Sharon Tinson told the Associated Press. “I wasn’t offended.” The union has yet to say boo.

But let’s make a comparison. Let’s say the Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School decided to have a parade honoring teachers. Forget Helen Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan. Forget Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger accident. Forget David Benke, the teacher who tackled the gunman in the recent school shooting in Littleton, Co. Imagine what the teachers would think if kids paraded around with pictures of these “heroes”: Pamela Smart, now serving a life sentence for hiring her 15-year-old student lover to kill her husband; Mary Kay Letourneau, the teacher who went to jail after bedding a 12-year-old student and later married him; and Eric Maxwell, the coach who recently threw a volleyball at one of his own players. Somehow, I don’t think the three teachers in question would find that prank so funny, do you?


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    About Me

    I spent a good chunk of my adult life as an arts reporter/critic/columnist for the Boston Globe. Among other things, I covered the cultural wars of the early 1990s (remember Mapplethorpe?), reviewed theater, and profiled all sorts of interesting characters. I also wrote an early column about online culture, which led me to become one of the first online war correspondents during the conflict in Kosovo, an odd but exhilarating gig for an arts maven. While I was a fellow in the National Arts Journalism program, a colleague handed me a gloomy article called “Print is Dead.” I eventually got the message and took a buyout from the Globe in 2001. I had vague dreams of saving the world, but instead had three kids in 17 months. Therein lies my newfound interest in public education. I am hoping to create a dialogue about what’s wrong, what’s right, and what’s up in our schools today.

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    Here’s a piece on new ideas in education, in the Boston Globe Magazine.