A Difference of Perspective

I’m not an innocent. I know that everyone has a different view of the world and that no one sees anything exactly the same way. I’m okay with that, even – it makes life interesting and, on good days, it challenges growth.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day. In honor of the day, and to promote awareness of TCC’s fledgling GSA, I took my multi-colored markers to every white board I had access to. I put up a big, pink triangle in a corner and wrote “It’s National Coming Out Day – do you know who you are?” then drew a rainbow flag and “TCC’s GSA” at the bottom of the point. It didn’t take up THAT much room on the boards, and I thought it was important to get that message out to our students.

While I was waiting for the professor who teaches in my second period classroom to finish his first period lesson, I drew my little announcement on the corner of the board of the room across the hall – the room that my coworker occupies for second period. He finished, we switched rooms and while I was drawing the notice on my board, he was erasing it on his.

Now, I should say here that I UNDERSTAND that it’s HIS board for the class period and that he was WELL within his rights to erase the message. That didn’t keep me from fuming about it, though.

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I know, from what trusted people have told me, that this colleague of mine is homophobic and closed-mined. He believes what he believes, and no one is going to change his mind, regardless of how compelling the argument might be – or how shaky his foundations for belief are. Be that as it may, he is also a TEACHER and, as such, has certain ethical responsibilities to present his students with a range of information and ideas. While the NCOD message may not have been particularly relevant to his lesson plan, it certainly wasn’t HURTING anyone, either. As I said, it didn’t take up much white board space, it wasn’t offensive or pornographic or incendiary, it wasn’t ugly to look at and, most importantly, it wasn’t put there FOR HIM! I intended that message for the students in the class, and my coworker’s erasing it was, in my mind, equal to censorship.

My lit. students came into the room to find me at a low-grade seethe, and managed to get out of me what had been the trigger. A couple of my students (who, it turns out, had been students of Eraser Boy) decided that, when he dismissed his class for break, they’d not ONLY go back in there and put the sign back up, but they’d pass out GSA buttons and information to the students in the room while they were at it, which is exactly what they did.

Can you guess what happened when the teacher came back?

My class and I were all seated quietly around our table, the door to the room left ajar, listening for Eraser Boy’s reaction. He came in, took one look at his board, and said something to the effect of “YES, I KNOW who I am, so can we stop with the signs, already?!” and rubbed the message out again.

What. Ever.

I know I’m going to have a confrontation with this man at some point. I’m not going to go LOOKING for it, mind you – I’m not like that – but I know that, at some point, he’s going to say something ignorant and hateful in my presence and I’m not going to let it go because I promised myself that I WON’T let ignorant and hateful things go – my morality tells me that silence is tantamount to complicity in things like this.

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14 Comments

Filed under colleagues, concerns, frustrations, Gay/Straight Alliance, General Griping, student chutzpah

14 responses to “A Difference of Perspective

  1. Sooza

    I get where you are coming from. I too believe that silence is deadly. But what has come out of you ripping in to this guy? You did come in to his classroom and put something on his board. If, as you say, it is his board to do with as he will, why are you fuming?

    Perhaps a better way to approach it would have been to come in to his classroom and talk with him about it. Ask him if he would mind if you put something up on the board. Explain it to him. If he says “no”, tell him that you would like to come in during the break to talk with his students. If he refuses, you start to have a firmer foundation for the discussion. You aren’t going to change his mind by sneaking in behind his back and drawing stuff on the board (or inciting your students to do so).

    If he is feeling threatened, you aren’t going to be able to bring this discussion to the next level. It’s only going to be another battle.

  2. WL

    I have to agree with Sooza. Personally, I prefer to limit my political statements to my own property. I like buttons, but on my own backpack*; lapel pins, but on my own lapel; bumper stickers, but on my own car. On shared, semi-public property … um, no.

    *Which sports the “Gay Rights Equals Human Rights” pin shown here (I have no affiliation with this site except as a customer): http://www.deltaspark.com/peacepins/pins.html

  3. Ooh. I feel a little on the defensive here.

    While I appreciate what you’re both saying, I didn’t have any particular problem with putting the message on semi-public space. While tolerance and equal rights ARE part of my personal politics, I’m also organizing an on-campus group that is working on having a very visible and vocal presence on that campus. It wasn’t inappropriate for me to put that message in classrooms for a couple of reasons: first, no one “owns” a classroom – we share them and move among them from class to class and term to term – so I wasn’t defacing “his” property any more than he would have been interfering in “mine” if he’d put a math club meeting announcement on the board of the room I was using (which I wouldn’t have erased, by the way). Second, the environment on TCC’s campus isn’t exactly friendly to queer kids, and I think it’s important for students – both queer and not – to know that (finally) there’s an on-campus resource and presence for them.

    How would (would?) my putting the message on the board be any different than my tacking a poster to the wall (which, by the way, I would have done had I had any time to go to the print center)?

    I didn’t incite my students to do anything – they came up with the idea on their own – I just didn’t discourage them from doing it. And I don’t really think that anything was done behind anyone’s back; as I said, the message wasn’t FOR the teacher, it was for the students.

    The reason I was fuming was that I was hoping that the things I’d heard about this teacher were misinterpreted, if not outright wrong. He makes queer people uncomfortable in his presence (I know; they’ve told me) and I thought that his students in particular would benefit from the message I was trying to deliver.

  4. I know that you’re feeling defensive but we’ve talked about this before (I’m thinking about some conversations during the internship that shall not be named) so I’m going to forge ahead and be honest about it please don’t take it as piling on.

    If it had been a math meeting announcement and he’d erased it you wouldn’t have been mad, you know? You made a choice to alter a semi-public space and so did he. His way may be childish an unnecessary but he’s got the same rights that you do. If, let’s say, you worked in an office and someone of equal rank did something that you disagreed with and you discussed this without his knowledge with people of a lesser rank then it would, I think, be considered inappropriate. Had you held the same conversation with people of your own rank, whole different story. Do you see where I’m coming from there? It’s tough being in the position you’re in because you have a duty to the students in your group but you also have professional obligations within the ranks of the professors and when those 2 loyalties are in conflict things are messy.

    I don’t agree with the guy, that’s for damn sure, but I think the way events went down did undermine his authority with students and that side effect will make it more not less easy for the queer population of the campus.

    All that being said I think that it’s not a bad idea to push the dude’s buttons, I just don’t think that during the school day is going to be effective or practical. After he’s had some time to heal from this scuffle I’d love for you to send him an e-mail explaining what the GSA’s mission is and inviting him to attend a meeting. Sometimes cookies make uncomfortable feelings go down better, Mary Poppins was on to something.

  5. Hey, and while we’re talking Campus Conflict what ever happened with Henry’s come to Jesus meeting?

  6. sphyrnatude

    I have to say that I would have erased it from my white board too. Not becuase I don’t think the organization is worth supporting, but because political stuff simply does not belong in my classroom. I would just as quickly erase campaign slogans, sports scores, and social announcements (and have at on etime or another removed all of them).

    The test I use for leaving stuff on the blackboard is as follows:
    1) does this have any relevance to what I am teaching?
    2) to test for offensiveness, I replace key words so that the message is exactly the opposite of what is posted. If either the original or the modified bit os offensive (or is something that I think will be offensive to one of my students), it gets erased. No matter how often it is posted. Without comment.

    There are a number of reasons. First of all, if I want to post something on the board in a class I am teaching in, I will. The simple fact that I am teaching in the class tends to suggest that I support any message that is on the board while I am teaching. My job is not to share (or force) my political vies on my students. It is to teach them the class material. If there is something on the board that makes any one of my students uncomfortable in any way, it means that my job (teaching material) is now harder. Teaching is hard enough without uneeded distractions – politically correct or not.

    And that whole PC thing. While supporting a cause may be acceptable to the majority of students, that does not make it right, nor does it make it OK to try and force others to accept it. Don’t get me wrong – I love the fact that colleges and universities are places where people can be exposed to a bunch of different ideas, and choose to like/support them or not. But there are a ton of social extra-curricular venues for those activities, and I don’t want them in my class. For me, if I let the PGA (Peoples Gay Alliance) post their propaganda on my blackboards, I’d be morally obligated to allow every other group – from the right wing conservative organizations (that hate gays) to the radical left (that hate *any* organization) to the myriad of contradictory religiouse and other special interest groups. this is simply not what I am at school to teach….

  7. WL

    “no one “owns” a classroom – we share them and move among them from class to class and term to term”

    I got that (which is why I referred to it as “shared, semi-public” property). But if it doesn’t belong to either of you, then doesn’t he have as much right to remove what you put up as you have to put it up in the first place? Each of you puts things the way you like them to be when *you’re* using that room.

    “I wasn’t defacing “his” property any more than he would have been interfering in “mine” if he’d put a math club meeting announcement on the board of the room I was using (which I wouldn’t have erased, by the way).”

    Right, but a math club meeting isn’t the test, is it, because it wouldn’t have pushed your buttons. How would you have responded if he’d put up a political announcement that offended you? And kept doing it every time you erased it?

  8. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, Everyone. I have to admit to being a little defensive about being challenged, but I also have to say how much I appreciate the challenges – you’re all making me think a little bit more (and more carefully), and I’m grateful for that opportunity.

    WL, he wouldn’t have had to put it up “every time I erased it” because, unless it was taking up space that I NEEDED on the board (and I can’t imagine that it would), I seriously doubt that I WOULD erase it. The announcement -whether it be an endorsement for a political candidate I dislike or an invitation to a KKK rally- wouldn’t be directed at ME – it would be directed at the students. Unless it’s OUTWARDLY offensive or inflammatory – if there were unacceptable words (and we ALL KNOW what those words are, so please let’s not go there about where that line is) or contains obvious threats to individuals or groups, I’d leave the announcement where it is – and those of you who know me in real life know that’s the truth.

    Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I will defend to the end someone’s right to spout things that I personally find hurtful or distasteful or offensive because doing so protects MY rights to say the things that *I* think are important. I’m secure enough in my beliefs – and grown-up and enlightened enough – to share a room with someone (or something) that I don’t personally agree with – PARTICULARLY if whatever it is is intended as a message to students. Things like this provide opportunities for learning and decision-making and really great discussions, and that’s the whole point of being in college….

  9. nhfalcon

    I hate to say it, Mrs. C., but I think I have to agree with the other pilers-on, especially sphyrnatude.

    The “unwritten rule” seems to be that so long as a teacher at TCC is teaching a class in a room, that room “belongs” to him / her, and if he / she chooses to erase something, then he / she has the right to do so, more so than you have the right to put something up there when it’s not “your” room.

    As sphyrnatude said, if it’s not relevant to the material being taught, then it doesn’t need to be up there.

    Are there so few truly public spaces at TCC to advertise your beliefs that you have to use semi-public spaces, too, and unnecessarily get into these petty little pissing matches with close-minded people?

    As far as your students going back into the room to put the message back up again goes, if he “has certain ethical responsibilities to present his students with a range of information and ideas” don’t you have certain ethical responsibilities to teach them that it’s not right to go behind people’s backs when they’re not looking and intentionally do something to piss them off just because you don’t agree with them?

    Don’t misunderstand me – your is an organization with a righteous cause that I believe in and agree with, but there is a time and place for everything, and, in my opinion, that was the wrong time and place.

  10. What I miss in the comments is that it is, in my opinion, the task of a teacher to teach students to broaden their minds and their hearts to people of different convictions. I think it was the right thing for you to do to point out to them that it was coming out day, and in this way make GL rights the subject of discussion. I think many gay students will be grateful.

    The only question is: was this teacher correct to erase the text from the board? This is a difficult question. He was teaching in that room, and I can imagine that he didn’t want that message on the board (even if didn’t have negative feelings about homosexuality). On the other hand, I think it is pretty childish to wipe the message out. He should have known better.

  11. It did sound to me like HE thought the message was aimed at HIM.

  12. He probably did, Clix. My point is that this is not MY problem – nor should it be the students’…

  13. Siobhan Curious

    If I had been in your colleague’s position, I would have left your message on the board because I thought it was an important message. If it had been a different message, one I didn’t agree with, I would have exercised my privilege to erase the board. (The rule in our college is that teachers need to erase boards completely before they leave the classroom to the next teacher.)

    If I were in your position, I would also fume, but I would be fuming about the fact that my colleague was a homophobic jerk, not about whether or not he had the right to erase my message. He had the right, I think. When you are in the classroom, you send your messages. When he is, he sends his. If we don’t have classrooms of our own, we need to create a personal space when we walk into a room that was someone else’s personal space a few moments ago. There is no room in his personal space for pro-gay messages, sad as that is.

    We could argue that it is also the students’ personal space, but that is really only true as far as a teacher allows and creates that. We set the tone, the rules, and the subject matter in our classrooms. We decide what gets written on the board; even if that means allowing students or other teachers to write on the board, the teacher in charge is the one who decides. That’s part of our job, and each of us carries it out as best we see fit.

  14. I’ve thought about this post for several days. One of the prices we pay for living in a free society is the very difference of perspective that caused you to put up the sign and your colleague to take it down. It is not easy to agree to disagree. There are injustices in this world that make me seethe–and not a low-grade seethe either! But I have to remember that everyone has a right to his or her opinion, no matter how hateful or despicable that opinion may be–and then I have to move on. Seething isn’t good for my blood pressure. If I stay caught in the seethe, then I am am likely to end up not only in a confrontation with those with whom I disagree, but also in a conflagration–and I’m probably the one who will be incinerated! It’s just not worth it. Sometime it takes years for truth to dawn in the human soul. Sometimes the darkness of prejudice holds on stubbornly and never lets go. Here’s my advice for what it’s worth: “Kill” your colleague with kindness. You never know, you just might win him over. But even if you don’t, you will have taken the high road.

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