Friday, December 9, 2016

Pampered little rich girl "triggers" law instructor's firing

“I’ve been triggered!”… the phrase used by a push, ultra-liberal private school* co-ed, that spawned the firing of her law instructor in Vancouver should sound as a warning shot across the bow of all political and thought leaders in Canada and around the world.

According to the report written by Christie Blatchford in the National Post, the teacher made the unforgiveable mistake of mentioning, by way of making the point that personal opinions often differ from what the law says, that he opposed abortion different from the Canadian law. That comment along with others like some people drive through stop signs, knowing the law says they must stop, sent the young student to some administrators, who, after some consideration set up and apology session inside the class where the “offence” occurred, monitored the required “apology” and then dismissed the teacher for being too personal in his apology. He indicated that the student was an excellent one and that he also liked her as a person.

Tutored in the rigorous expectations, even demands, of the LGBT community, instructors at the school were under intense pressure to refrain from expressing personal opinions apparently, and this teacher with an unblemished record of excellence, was eventually ushered off the premises, and stripped of his income, on which his family depends.

How it is possible that a student, even in such cloistered and cushy opulence, be feeling “unsafe” at such a remark, as part of an illustration of a wider and valid point of illustration and explication is simply astounding. And how such a remark, linked to the “too personal” apology could result in the dismissal of this teacher is not only astounding, it is deplorable, verging on crossing the line of his personal and professional “rights”. Clearly, if there is a defence fund established to initiate a law suit in his  behalf, this will be the source of one of the cheques it receives.

There is a professor at the University of Toronto in a similar politically correct tempest in a tea-pot about being expected to use specific pronouns for transgender individuals, chosen by the individual and then having to be “imprinted” on his memory, so that he does not address the individual inappropriately. Of course, the administration at U of T is supporting the LGBT community in this absurd expectation, in another politically correct and anal tempest in a tea pot.

Just as “freedom of speech” has limits, in that hate must not be permitted, at least in Canada, different from the United States, so too do “individual rights” have limits. We must not be expected to compress, repress and subvert what passes for normal, even professional expressions designed and delivered demonstrably free of animus, insult, patronizing or even a hint of bruising the ego’s of any demographic. And school administrators might  very well be our first line of defence against such sheer anality.

However, for decades, school administrators have demonstrated their willingness to cushion even the slightest criticism to protect the system from having to engage in public controversy with their students and the parents of those students. More than that, school administrators have too often been selected from a pool of “politically correct,” sanitized, compliant and obviously politically astute individuals who have demonstrated their obsequiousness in numerous encounters with their supervisors, both local and provincial. Such servility to the political powers above makes them ideal targets for such reductio ad absurdum incidents as the one documented today in the National Post.

I have some experience in these matters. In another place in this space, I recounted a story of receiving a registered letter from a lawyer, the president of the local conservative party, threatening legal action if I failed to apologize after making an off-hand comment, outside of class within earshot of his grade eleven son, disparaging the local member of the provincial government just elected (of course, a conservative) for having accepted a position on the board of the then Northland Railway. At twenty-six, I did not consider such an appointment analogous or equivalent to a cabinet post, and thought he was abusing his office as an elected politician. Naturally, I apologized, although I have really never accepted my need to do so, and certainly have never forgotten the incident. I also have never, and never will ever vote for the conservative party in Canada, or in Ontario.

Another incident that sticks in my craw concerns a grade eleven co-ed, who received what she considered an unreasonably low grade on a term examination. I had allotted 5% for spelling and grammar, with a ½ point deduction for each error in basic spelling and grammar, up to the maximum of 5%. She was so enraged that she enlisted the support of her parents, a school psychologist and a social worker, to protest the grade in a formal meeting at the school. As there was no change in the grade, the student withdrew from the school at the end of the term and enrolled in a different high school for the balance of her education.

Like others, I have heard of other situations in which complaints have been triggered by individuals who, themselves, bore a share of the responsibility for the narrative which generated the complaint. And of course, those in charge would prefer to eliminate the target of the complaint rather than conduct a thorough investigation to determine the relative degree of culpability, if any, of the participants.

Leadership, especially in public institutions, requires a spine of titanium, linked to an inexhaustible reservoir of vigorous investigative skill and the patience to exercise it. It is far too easy for an individual, such as the co-ed in the original case in Vancouver, to wreak havoc on the basis of an unintended slight, a slight whose existence was neither contemplated nor imagined in its design or execution. And those who did not witness the “incident” are expected, as are all “enforcement” agents, to exercise both the capacity to investigate, and also, (and this is so glaringly missing in so many instances!) a responsible and detached judgement. As a former alderman/criminal lawyer of my acquaintance, put it to the city council on which I was then reporting, “Not all drivers who exceed the speed limit are or should be charged and prosecuted.”
When we permit person skills to dominate our educational agenda, and when we remain silent and thereby compliant in a culture in which skills and trivial data (even if and when collated) to dominate the students’ dexterity and experience in making critical judgements that look at the big picture, we are actively and passively participating in a culture in which more of these absurdities, and injustices will continue to occur.

It another piece we argue strongly against fake news outlets, and in another we argue against the permissive culture that watches and even champions the election of Trump (he outperformed in counties in which opioid addiction, alcohol addiction and suicide attempts are highest in the United States, according to a Penn State study of the election results published in the Washington Post online edition 202) based on lies that perpetrated a completely different universe from the one in which most of us live.
If facts no longer matter, and some extremely fragile and molly-coddled adolescent whose adult circle panders to her every slight (or in her words, ‘trigger’) is able to professionally eunuch her law instructor, with the compliant agency of the wimps at the head of the school, where in God’s name is this ship headed, if not over  very long and steep cataract, from which many of us will wish to jump at the earliest and safest moment?

This incident comes at a time when most North Americans are skittish about the Trump administration, about the spinelessness of the mainstream media, about the spineless political operatives who inflict character assassination in the morning and then climb into bed with their earlier targets in the afternoon, without even a tip of their hat to their hypocrisy.

Where are the people, call them “hard-assed” if you like, who are willing to risk some short-term discomfort for the sake of some important long-term values, values on which a civilized society depends, and without which we are all vulnerable to state spying, to policies pandering to the extremely rich explained by public relations that mask their real import, and in this case, to losing our job and our professional reputation for something every teacher worth his or her salt would do, indeed does, every day in the proper and professional conduct of their pedagogy.


I am not only “triggered”….I am royally pissed, vehemently angry and willing to take to the barricades to shout “STOP!” Are any ready and willing to join this fight?

*Fraser Academy
Read follow up on National Post,  Christie Blatchford: Posh Vancouver school places staff under gag order after teacher fired, December 9, 2016 

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