The New Rules

(Note to readers: I received this transcript from a teacher I got to know when I was reporting for the PBS NewsHour. While I cannot swear that it’s legitimate, this teacher has never misled me in the past.  I’ve changed the names of the principal and the teacher and removed references that might identify the location of the school.)

PRINCIPAL: Well, Mrs. Peterson, I’ve finally managed to connect with all the parents of your students, and I have some good news and some bad news.

MRS. PETERSON: What’s the good news, Mrs. Montoya?

PRINCIPAL: Nearly all the parents trust you and want you to teach their fifth graders the way you feel is best.

MRS. PETERSON: Thanks, but I don’t like that “nearly all.”  What does that mean?

PRINCIPAL: The parents of five of your 5th graders have some problems, and they are invoking the new state law.

MRS. PETERSON: Meaning?

PRINCIPAL: Rose’s parents want to make certain that none of the math problems involve animals, especially dogs and cats, because Rose is allergic to cats and was bitten by a dog when she was three.  They’re afraid forcing her to deal with them, even in words, could bring about a panic attack.  The law is on their side, I’m afraid.

MRS. PETERSON:  OK, so I’ll be careful about math problems.  What else?

PRINCIPAL: Regina’s Dad wants a guarantee that you will cover both sides when the children are studying the Civil War.

MRS. PETERSON:  Of course.  

PRINCIPAL: He means that he wants you to tell the students that Abraham Lincoln owned slaves.

MRS. PETERSON: That’s preposterous! Lincoln freed the slaves. He didn’t own any slaves! 

PRINCIPAL: Well, Regina’s Dad showed me some material he had downloaded from the internet, and he wants that story told.  And he’s claiming one of the five seats we have installed for parents in the back of your classroom.

MRS. PETERSON: What seats? What are you talking about?

PRINCIPAL: The new law requires parental seating for any parent who wants to observe their child’s teacher at work.  He says he plans to be there regularly.

MRS. PETERSON: This is ridiculous.

PRINCIPAL:  It gets worse, actually, because some legislators want cameras installed in every classroom so that parents can keep an eye on teachers.  

MRS. PETERSON: Ok, who’s next?

PRINCIPAL: Wally’s parents have decided to homeschool him during Black History Month, unless the School Board creates two White History Months.

MRS. PETERSON: Are they crazy? The rest of the whole damn year is White History Year!

PRINCIPAL: Well, they say that, since whites are in the majority, there ought to be TWO White History Months, and they are going to petition the School Board to create them.  They don’t want Wally to feel bad for an entire month, because never owned slaves or belonged to the Klan. He shouldn’t be made to feel guilty because he’s white, they say.

MRS. PETERSON: OK, that’s Wally, Rose, and Regina.  What are the other two complaining about?

PRINCIPAL: Sonia’s folks have some concerns about how you are dealing with sexuality and gender issues.

MRS. PETERSON: What do they mean?  I don’t ‘deal with’ those subjects. That’s not in my curriculum.

PRINCIPAL: Yes, but you have a student with two Dads, and Sonia’s parents want to make sure you never ask stuff like “What did you do with your parents this weekend?” or “Do your parents go trick-or-treating with you?”  Anything that would bring up gay marriage and stuff like that.

MRS. PETERSON: What on earth are they afraid of? Do they think I’m grooming their children?

PRINCIPAL: Actually, they did use that term, and I told them they were being ridiculous. Still, they were talking about suing you–and me–if their child comes home feeling depressed or put upon for being straight.

MRS. PETERSON: What if their child is gay, or just confused? Am I supposed to ignore their pain?

PRINCIPAL: Actually, yes, because the new law says that’s none of your business.  And don’t  forget to post all your lesson plans and curriculum materials on line so parents can review everything, with enough time to file objections.

MRS PETERSON: This is getting worse and worse.  This new law is for the birds.

PRINCIPAL: Just one more: Frank’s parents are very upset about the portraits of President Biden and Vice President Harris that hang near your door.

MRS. PETERSON: Don’t they know those portraits hang in every classroom in the school? That’s not my doing.  I think that may be a state rule, actually, or perhaps the School Board’s. 

PRINCIPAL: They know, and they want them taken down and replaced by portraits of Trump and Pence.

MRS. PETERSON: They lost!

PRINCIPAL: Not according to Frank’s parents. The election was stolen, they told me several times.

MRS. PETERSON: Well, I’m not taking down any portraits. President Biden won the 2020 election, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. 

PRINCIPAL:  I asked the Superintendent for guidance, and he told me to take down all the portraits, to calm things down. 

MRS. PETERSON: Now that’s a profile in courage!  Run and hide…  Why can’t we get the other parents involved?  After all, I have 32 students, meaning that 27 families are satisfied with my teaching.  Isn’t there some way to make them aware of what’s going on?

PRINCIPAL:  Almost all parents appreciate what we do, but they don’t have a clue about what’s going on.

MRS. PETERSON: That’s the truth.

PRINCIPAL: I wish I could work with you to figure out how to get parents involved, but I have a meeting with some School Board members. They have big plans for Teacher Appreciation Week.

11 thoughts on “The New Rules

    • Thanks, David I am trying to find a home for this and would appreciate your reactions. Best John

      John Merrow

      Blog: Themerrowreport.com Latest book: “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education” (The New Press) Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour, 1984-2015; NPR, 1974-1982 Founding President of Learning Matters 646.373.3034

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  1. John, we have a number of significant dilemmas, which vary from state to state and in some cases district to district. The kind of thing you shared is being widely posted on social media – and young people are hearing it. A faculty member and I surveyed almost 600 Mn youth in 2000, before the pandemic hit.
    * 94% agreed or strongly agreed that “teachers can have a really big impact on students’ lives
    * 85% were not interested in becoming teachers
    * Most important reasons students offered for being discouraged about being a teacher were “encouragement to do something else, money, and behavior of other students

    Unquestionably teachers in some states and some districts face the kind of thing you describe. But the state laws you describe have NOT been adopted everywhere.

    So for me, the questions are how can we simultaneously help create a more attractive environment for learning and teaching, acknowledge the challenges, but also point out the satisfactions of being a teacher.

    Right now my impression is that much of the message many students are receiving is: “don’t be a teacher.”

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    • Hi Joe, take a look at the provisions for teachers in the new MD Blueprint law…pretty remarkable. Among them: 1. Immediate 10% raise 2. Establish new pay scale tied to a starting salary driven by the average starting salary of other professions requiring a similar level of education, 3. 20% (roughly a day a week equivalent) less time in whole class teaching, now devoted to one on one with kids, parents, collaboration and planning with other teachers, doing their own research, visiting classrooms, heavy incentives to secure NBPTS cert, aggressive reliance on a career ladder so teachers don’t have to leave the classroom in order to earn enough to avoid feeling they need to become an administrator, much less reliance on the accumulation of courses, credits and degrees. All devoted to an effort to make teaching truly professional.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s satire, but I’m afraid that it comes pretty close to the truth in about a dozen states, including Florida, Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa and more…..

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    • For all its imperfections regarding public schools, I’m glad I live in California, and contemplating this kind of idiocy makes me all the more glad.

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      • @John There are another kinds of hyper-politicized education in California. Some examples:

        1) A proposed gutting of advanced mathematics in the CA curriculum (8th grade algebra axed and calculus de emphasized) in some pursuit of equity:
        https://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=13658

        2) A SF School Board that failed to reopen schools after pandemic subsided, replaced merit based admission to Lowell high school with a lottery, and tried to rename Abraham Lincoln high school because Lincoln was racist. It was so wild that voters in SF voted to recall 3 school board members in a 70% landslide.

        Those are the attention grabbing stories, but the more structural problem is that, “California lags significantly behind other states in student achievement.”
        http://hanushek.stanford.edu/publications/getting-down-facts-school-finance-and-governance-california-0

        California ranks 41st on 8th grade math:
        https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/profiles/stateprofile?chort=2&sub=MAT&sj=AL&sfj=NP&st=MN&year=2019R3

        I grew up in California and had the privilege of attending some excellent schools with fantastic teachers. The numbers don’t lie though, and California schools overall should be a lot stronger and student achievement fantastically higher. There’s a serious under appreciation of how far California is behind in public K-12.

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      • About 20 years ago we produced a film about California public education, “First to Worst,” that may still be available on YouTube.Sadly, what we found then probably hasn’t changed. However, I don’t have as much faith as you seem to in standardized test scores. If you have time, take a look at “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.” Thx

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      • Hi Matthew–I realize that the problems in California’s public education system are enormous, difficult, and disturbing. And you didn’t even mention the issue of elementary schools that serve low socioeconomic students de-emphasizing civics, history, and the rest of the social studies, despite those students being less likely than those in higher income schools to learn at home (from their parents or others) about how to be informed and productive contributors to local, state, and national government and politics. Despite these problems, some of which result from a different perspective on the relationship between educational excellence and equity, the state of California is not actively promoting lies and the misunderstanding of history in ways that some states are. And the attitudes of the state educational leaders, curriculum designers, and legislators responsible for warped educational views in most of those misbegotten states seem to me to be largely reflecting racism, a lack of interpersonal trust–which is necessary for us to have a functioning democracy–and a lack of at least a modicum of open-mindedness, particularly regarding our deeply flawed government. A California actor who became Governor who became President said that “government is the problem.” What he should have said was that BAD government is the problem. And we see examples of intentionally bad government negatively affecting the perspectives of the students and their parents in those states’ public schools. John

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