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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Natalie Munroe and the Larger Question

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Three days ago, nobody knew Natalie Munroe.  Now to many, she’s famous – or infamous.  For those who may have been living beneath the sea, Natalie is a teacher.  At one point in her life, she, like so many of us, felt the urge to write and authored a blog. 
Now, a blog can be many things, depending on one’s interests.  For many, it’s a living bulletin board.  Others, the chaotic canvas of random thoughts.  Some people blog about their interests, be it music, books, geology, or whatever they find interesting.  A lot of people, like me, blog about life and the musings thereof.
A blog is a contradiction.  It’s a private space for private thoughts that is also exposed to the universe. While we value our privacy, we love to see that visit counter go up. 

Natalie, responding to some of the utter ridiculousness of the education bureaucracy, wrote a post about grade cards.  In it, she complained about the “canned comments” that the administration urged teachers to use in describing the characteristics of a particular student.  These comments are familiar to anyone who has survived public school, things like “participates in class,” and “needs to work towards potential,” and other statements that achieve the lofty goal of saying absolutely nothing of value.
On her blog, Natalie wrote a set of substitute responses that were far more based on the reality she saw in her classroom.  As she points out, her blog had only seven readers, all of whom appreciated the intended humor. 
But as she discovered, like the mythical Sauron of Middle Earth, nobody escapes the all-seeing eye of Google.  Someone, probably a student, stumbled on her blog.  Soon after, her world exploded.
When I was in school, teachers were less concerned about my self-esteem and more focused on getting me ready to face the world.  If you had deficiencies, it did you no good for the teacher to hide them behind bland statements.  As a culture, we have become almost allergic to criticism.  Criticism fulfills two functions.  It identifies shortcomings and allows the person to focus on improving those areas that require it.  If a person avoids or ignores criticism, then they will never improve or get smarter.  And I thought that’s what school was really about.
More importantly, a person who can’t accept criticism is singularly unprepared for life.  A lot of the people I’ve known who suffer consistent failures in life also avoid corrective suggestions like the plague.  None of us is perfect.  We need to accept that and utilize constructive criticism as a path to improvement.  But in this world of political correctness where a child’s feelings trump every other consideration, her attempt at humor was taken seriously.
After an interview with her Principal, she was escorted from the school, waddling (her word, since she’s more than 8 months pregnant) between uniformed guards.
The reaction has been predictable.  People on the left have been outraged.  Students at her school are shocked.  That they all consistently misquote and de-contextualize her comments is, to them, immaterial.  Folks on the right have been generally supportive, agreeing that there is far too much mollycoddling going on.
I understand that this blog post, which was intended as humor for a very small audience, might be offensive to some.  But from the perspective of my years, I can tell you that the world is out to hurt your feelings and your ability to survive that is key to any success you might dream about.  If  a child does not learn early about dealing with criticism, and failure as well, that child is going to be uniquely unprepared for adult life.  Most people will agree that you may have to endure 10 or 15 interviews where you’re rejected before you get hired.  Once on the job, everyone has to go through the sometimes painful ordeal known as the semi-annual or annual review.  If you don’t know what your boss expects of you in terms of improvement, then how are you ever going to earn promotions, or in this lean economy, even keep your job?
It’s a tough world; a tough life.  Kids have to be built tough to make it.  Parents have to step up to this challenge.  A teacher is there to educate.  A parent is supposed to raise the child.  Too many parents pass their responsibilities on to the teacher.
I admire Natalie’s reaction to the reaction.  She’s standing her ground, which in my humble opinion, is the right thing to do.  Hopefully, out of this hooha will come the basis for a honest conversation about school, education, and children.
Natalie Munroe has drawn a line in the sand.  She’s also done something of which I am a bit envious.
She’s really found a way to boom traffic to her blogsite.

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