Sunday, April 10, 2011

Big Brother Is Watching...

Once upon a time... I used to try to teach George Orwell's novel 1984 to my honors level 9th grade English students.  I always had the hardest time getting them to understand some of the basic elements and themes of the novel.  As they often lamented, they just didn't "get it".  Eventually, as the curriculum changed, I found other novels and pieces of literature to teach, and 1984 was put back on the shelf.  On occasion, however, I would revisit the novel and try to figure out how I could make the story relevant to my students, so they would "get it" when I next decided to teach it.  In actuality, it wasn't that my students just didn't "get it".  They couldn't imagine it.  And, I couldn't paint them a picture because I didn't "get it"; it was not relevant to me.  Until I could find a way to truly understand the dystopian universe crafted by Orwell, there was no way I would ever be able to get my students to understand it.  As it turns out, I did not need to wrack my brain.  All I had to do was wait for the world to catch up to Orwell.

Enter the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, ethnic and racial profiling, threatened government shut downs, a tanking national and global economy, restrictive union laws, an eerily long series of natural disasters, rising oil and gas prices, multiple foreign "wars", and the increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter.  Welcome to the new dystopian world.  Perhaps Orwell would have done better to title his novel 2011.

Today we have government sanctioned phone taps.  Any law enforcement agency can pull up a person's phone, email, financial, and personal information at a whim.  The government can also 'monitor' your personal email for keywords and phrases.  Is it just me, or has this all gotten a little out of hand?

Take for instance the recent string of news stories involving teachers and students.

1.  A teacher gets fired for a comment she post on her Facebook page regarding the intelligence of her students.  No names were used.  Just a person venting a frustration.  She gets canned for it.  A personal comment made to friends and family about a crappy day at work.

2.  A school district is under fire for inappropriately monitoring students, and teachers, via district issued laptops.  Some person in the technology department for the school system (most likely under direct orders from upper level administration) logs on remotely to a laptop issued to a student.  The tech person witnesses (allegedly) an illegal act and use of drugs.  The student is disciplined by the school.  The parents and community are enraged.  And rightfully so.  Invasion of privacy?  Most definitely.  Tell me, how many times before has that school system remotely logged onto a teacher or student's computer.  What else did they see?

3.  A teacher gets fired for a tirade she posts on her personal blog.  Again, a teacher frustrated with her day, week, year, school system, political maneuvering, and the grow apathy of students and parents, vents to family and friends via a personal web page.  Someone else sees it.  A parent, most likely, or administrator is outraged.  The teacher is fired.

Now, please, I ask you.  How many of you have ever left work after a stressful and trying day and said unkind, mean, derogatory, or insulting things about your boss, your employees, or place of employment?  Yes, that is what I thought.  Every one does it.  Even people who love their jobs have bad days and say mean things on occasion.  So, answer me this, why would you think it would be any different for teachers?  Why does the entire world think teachers have no life outside of the school?  Why are teachers not allowed to voice their frustrations?  It is not like the teachers began verbally berating and abusing their students in class.  They vented to an outside source to attempt to dispel the frustration and not take it back to the classroom.  How is that wrong?  Why are teachers not allowed to be human?

I currently refuse to reside in the same city in which I teach.  My reasoning? The last thing I want when I leave work is to run into students or their parents at the mall, a restaurant, or the gas station.  Why?  Because they ALWAYS feel the need to approach me and interrogate me.  Don't believe me?

1.  First year teaching, my husband took me out to dinner one Friday night for my birthday.  In the middle of my meal, an adult approached me and asked, "Are you Mrs. So-and-so?  At Such-and-such High School?  I'm Fill-in-the-blank's mom."  I smiled and nodded, and acknowledged the woman.  Before any thing else could be said, she sat down at our table and began grilling me about a recent assignment I have given my class.  Half way through her questioning she states, "I hope I'm not interrupting your meal, but..." And continued on with what she wanted to know.  After approximately 10 minutes, when I had answered her questions as best I could, I suggested she call me at school the following Monday, when I would be better prepared to answer her questions, or she could schedule a conference and come in to the school.  At that point, she reacted as if I had insulted her, replying, "Well, I was trying to avoid having to do all of that.  You can't just explain it to me here, now?"  Is that how other professions work?  Do you interrogate your physician on the golf links about an upcoming surgery?  Do you corner your CPA at the grocery store asking about your taxes?  Do you pester your attorney at the local YMCA about a court case?  No!  You call these people, these professionals, at their respective offices, make appointments.  Why would it be any different for a teacher?

2.  My second year of teaching I went to the local mall early in the spring to shop for a bathing suit.  Now, I am a female, so this is never a pleasant experience.  Even women with perfect bodies experience anxiety over shopping for and selecting a swimsuit.  Well, I am definitely less than perfect, making swimsuit shopping doubly traumatic.  Anyway, I went to a local mall to purchase the least offensive suit I could find.  I selected a few options, and proceeded into the fitting room.  Upon exit my fitting room to look in the mirror, I was accosted by a parent of a Journalism student.  The parent was upset about an article her child had published in the school paper, and was demanding that I explain myself and reasoning to her.  So, there I stood, in an ill-fitting bathing suit, with an angry woman blocking the door to my fitting room, demanding that I explain how I had allowed her daughter write an article and publish it in the school paper.  (I want to add at this point, that this is the same article I sent home for her parents approval.  The same article that came back with a parent's signature and a rather terse note asking why the parents were being asked to "edit" the article.  After all, wasn't that my job?)  I attempted to politely extract myself from the situation, but the parent would have none of that, still refusing to allow me entrance to my fitting room.  The entire situation ended with store employees having to intervene.  Several days later, the parent showed up at school for a parent conference.  When I showed her the paper with her signature and snarky letter granting me permission to use and publish the article, all I received from the woman was an "Oh" before she left.  No apology for her rudeness or impertinence.

There's never an apology, by the way.  I have been witness to many parent conferences over my career where parents come into the school building yelling, and screaming, and cursing out the entire school.  Even when they are proven wrong in their assumptions or false conclusions (or discover that their precious child lied outright to them), there is never an, "I'm sorry."  It is always the same.  "Oh."

Yes, in today's world, we are getting closer and closer to Orwell's dystopian universe.  Emails, phone calls, websites, and blogs are all monitored.  People are being punished, disciplined and fired for making disparaging remarks about their employers.  The government is attempting in control everything.  Professionals are having to spend more and more time justifying decisions and choices than actually working.  Everything is being scrutinized.  Every decision is examined by a multitude of people.  Every person is placed under a microscope.

Now, while I agree that there should, naturally, be some measure of checks and balances in place.  Not all teachers good.  Not all government decisions are bad.  But, there needs to be some level of common sense injected into every situation.  Where has our common sense gone?  If people do not find it, and start using it, we are all really going to see firsthand, George Orwell's vision of the future.

Remember, Big Brother is Watching...