Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 7, 2005

Puh-lease: The issue is classroom control

I doubt it will surprise anyone that the ongoing Gilroy High School Day of Silence controversy has caused me a plethora of eye rolls, a surfeit of two-syllable puh-leases, and a surplus of head shakes.

A letter to the editor, signed by 28 Gilroy High School teachers, made this eye-roll-inducing claim:

“If The Day of Silence had been in support of African-American students who had been taunted with racial slurs, if it had been in support of young women who had been the victims of rape, if it had been in support of people struggling against dictatorship, or if it had been in support of the victims of terrorist attack, there would have been no outrage at the board meeting.”

Puh-lease. Their crystal ball is plugged into an entirely different future than mine. My crystal ball says that there would have been outrage at the board meeting no matter the cause Day of Silence supported. Why? Because I, and many others, objected to teachers participating in the Day of Silence because we believe teachers are obliged to use all of their faculties during the time that they are paid to teach.

The Day of Silence cause – ending harassment of homosexual students – is a just one. So is the cause of ending genocide in Darfur. So is the cause of curing autism. So is the cause of helping battered women. So is the cause of preventing child sex abuse. So is the cause of better funding of public education. So is the cause of reforming election technology. I could go on and on.

GHS Visual Arts Instructor Eric Kuwada’s comments about why he signed the letter, which were included in reporter Kristen Munson’s story on the dispute, sent my eyeballs spinning.

“I supported the letter,” said Kuwada. “I don’t believe anyone should be discriminated against.”

Well, duh. I don’t believe anyone should be discriminated against either. That doesn’t translate into not speaking when I have a job that requires it.

I don’t get paid to write columns in support of good causes while I’m working as a technical editor, so I don’t do it. Instead, I edit technical documents when I’m working. Teachers don’t get paid to be silent in support of good causes, so they shouldn’t do it. They get paid to teach, and that’s what they should do in the classroom, using all of their abilities.

But Kuwada’s inane analysis wasn’t the end of my head shaking, because I hadn’t reached the part of Munson’s article about math teacher Wayne Scott’s outrageous email message to teachers.

“In light of the fact that the executive board of the Parent Club voted to undercut teachers who participated in the Day of Silence, I for one will not be supporting the Parent Club in any way …” Scott wrote in response to an email seeking teacher support of a Parent Club-sponsored career day.

Who will ultimately be hurt by this ridiculous, short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction? Not the Parent Club, certainly. No, Scott is effectively punishing students because he disagrees with some of their parents.

To borrow phrases from Scott’s own letter to the editor criticizing The Dispatch editorial board’s Day of Silence position, Scott should “should fully consider all of the implications of a position such as the one” he has taken in not supporting the Parent Club. Further, “advocating for action before fully considering potential consequences of the action is careless,” and Scott “should know better.”

I believe the heart of this issue is not discrimination against homosexuals, or First Amendment rights, or board policy on controversial issues. I believe this issue is really about who controls what happens in classrooms. That’s why the GUSD accountability plan is meeting with such resistance from some teachers, and that’s why some teachers are bent out of shape that parents object to teacher Day of Silence participation.

If you clear away the smoke of inflammatory rhetoric, the diversions of trampled rights, and the noise about controversial topics, you’ll find a red-hot battle over control.

How much say should parents have in what goes on in public school classrooms? What about administrators? Can the community demand accountability? Can it require that teachers teach?

These tough questions that are apparently too hot to handle, but these are the questions that are key to the future of Gilroy schools.

Day of Silence, puh-lease, let’s not waste any more time on it. Instead, let’s deal with the issue at the center of this controversy: Control.

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