FORT PIERCE — The St. Lucie County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to suspend without pay Morningside Elementary School teacher Wendy Portillo for one year after she allowed her kindergarteners to vote on whether 5-year-old Alex Barton could remain in class.
Board members acted on a recommendation by Superintendent of Schools Michael Lannon, who also recommended that Portillo be put on an annual contract — Portillo had been tenured — and plans to ask the state Board of Education to revoke her teaching certificate for one year.
Lannon wrote Portillo a letter stating that her actions “caused community and, in fact, worldwide outrage and condemnation.”
Be sure to read the comments; it took about fifteen seconds for the trogs to suggest the whole problem with society these days was the insufficient beating of five year olds. Well, that's why Fark has a "Florida" tag. Here's one compact, but fairly typical example.
Posted by repel on November 19, 2008 at 8:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)And they call themselves "repel." Freud got a few things right. And these people get to vote on school boards. Hell, they even get to serve on school boards. They get to be principles. And, oh, right, they get to be tenured teachers!
Unless, of course, they pick on the wrong kid, in the wrong way, at the wrong time. Then justice occurs, and all the people who have equally odious approaches to enforcing their wills on their children and the people under their power all start rushing around like agitated roaches.
Well, all of that makes it worth bumping this in hopes that you will reread it again... for the first time. :)
Hey, I know it's long. But it ain't just vanity that makes me think it's worth it.
Alex, who his mother says has been diagnosed with autism, was instructed by teacher Wendy Portillo to stand in front of the class on Wednesday and listen as other students described what they disliked about him, according to a police report.
Portillo then asked the students to vote on whether he should stay in class. The class voted 14-2 for him to leave.
"That anyone would do that to a child, it's just sickening," Barton said.
To me, the bones of this story is not so much about the maltreatment of one five year old child, but far more about the public reaction to being made aware of it.
There are very few facts at hand in this story, but before you reserve judgment, I do want to ask you this question; "Given that the facts are substantially as reported, what explanation or unreported facts could exist to make this OK?"
That question and a selection of the reactions by members of the public is what this is about.
I'm an editorialist, not a reporter. I try to look at both sides of an issue, but at the end of the day, it's my job to take sides. Here, though, I run into one of those cases where I don't believe it possible to be objective without abandoning any pretense of humanity. But at least a pretense of objectivity is better than frankly idiotic preconceived ideas. The comments thread at CBS is truly indicative of the sort of people who rely on mainstream media sources for all their information and a deliberate lack of ethical analysis.
Further, I find it remarkable how very many people seem to have world views and moral systems that seem to command them to do the wrong thing in the wrong way at the worst possible time. There seems to be a lot of that going around. I'm afraid I have a very good idea as to why, but this story comes before that one.
Reactions to bald facts of this sort are to me the really interesting part of this story, because these facts speak for themselves. It seems bizarre that one could even begin to excuse such behavior, unless for some reason one is afflicted by the delusion that a person in power and authority over those weaker than themselves is right by default.
The correspondent is obviously unaware that the primary task of a kindergarten teacher is to teach social skills, tolerance and co-operative play. They are likewise clearly unaware of the legal implications of the fact that the boy is under testing to determine if they have Asperger's syndrome. Under IDEA, it's a statement with legal implications that the teacher should have been aware of, inasmuch as Kindergarten teachers are actually on the front lines of determining who should be looked at for special needs testing.Sure make the teacher the scape goat. That way the real issue can be avoided. Some children are too disruptive to be in a normal classroom setting. Obviously 14 children thought this child should be removed from the classroom. Did anyone ask them why they thought this way? Not a great move on this teachers part, but let''s get the full story.Posted by mcdonaj3 at 09:41 AM : May 29, 2008
Five year old boys are disruptive in general, as are five year old girls. Frankly, it's pretty much what "five" is about. So, if you cannot handle a "disruptive child" and make that a positive learning experience for everyone involved, you really should not be teaching kindergarten. Seriously. It's a skill. Not every teacher is skilled in that way. One can only cringe at the thought of how many other children have been so treated by her to the effect of getting their needs denied or attributed to "behavior issues," rather than what seems to me control issues that seem entirely inappropriate to someone dealing with five-year-olds.
Aside from everything else, should the parents choose to, she will be sued, her principal will be sued, the school district will be sued - and if even a vaguely competent law firm is involved, they will loose.
Nonetheless, here are some good ahumerikun objections.
SMarieE...I have long had trouble understanding this sort of thinking - and I grew up with it. I'm a product of the worst aspects of both nurturing parenting and the strict father model - that is to say, whichever model produced the simplest answer requiring the least parental investment.How about the "Normal" kids'' right to an education? Why should they have to be exposed to the disruptive, annoying and perhaps even threatening behavior of the "Abnormal" kid? There''s no justification for mainstreaming in my opinion. It makes life difficult for the normal kids and the teacher as well. I realize the parents of children like this have their hands full, but don''t make it the problem for another twenty or thirty children plus the instructors. This child singled himself out by his behavior, not the other way around. I would just pull my kids out of any class that contained a child like this. Normal individuals have rights too. I''m tired of catering to every misfit in this country on the grounds of diversity or mainstreaming.Posted by drivelphobe at 09:38 AM : May 29, 2008
It's difficult for me to keep the resentment from boiling over - obviously. So let us take it as a statement of predisposition and move along. As the White House says of Scott McClellan - I'm a disgruntled former child, even as he is dismissed as a "Disgruntled Former Employee." Indeed he is. And - pay attention to this - in both cases, you are expected to assume that because disgruntlement exists, there is therefore no legitimate cause for dissatisfaction.
Presumably Scott did not get some perk or recognition he felt entitled to, and therefore he's taking out an illegitimate and disproportionate resentment upon his former boss and colleagues. You are expected by the White House to firmly believe that any criticism of Our Dear Leader is deliberately malicious and inaccurate by definition, because Authority is always correct.
When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” ~ Richard Nixon
Here's a commenter's reaction to Scott's book that clearly shows this "frame" at work. Chillingly, I'm quite sure this reaction is perfectly genuine and sincere.
Scotty McClellan is a little boy. He is not a man. Men make their own decisions and show loyalty to their friends and family. An immature little boy like McClellan makes up stories about his own family member molesting him, just to become the center of attention.Posted by S_Temper at 06:36 PM : May 30, 2008
Well, unfortunately, the book is, if anything, an understatement of the mental and moral failures that led us to this place of decision. You might wonder where the hell child molestation came from in the above commenter's mind. Well, it's simple. At root, child molestation is an abuse of authority, and if you sincerely believe that a person in authority has the right to exercise their authority exactly as they wish without criticism or recourse, this is precisely the response you would expect. So long as a person in authority gives due to those who give them their authority and "go along to get along," they can do no wrong. If they choose to fuck their own eight year old son, it's to be presumed that that choice is in fact "in the best interest of the child."
I mean that quite seriously, even though I am stating an obvious absurdity. It is - according to "traditional family values" - utterly inappropriate to question the decisions of any competent local authority. Furthermore, that assumption even makes sense within context. First, there is the fundamental presumption, as stated by the correspondant, that any criticism is indeed either a lie or at best a misunderstanding of intent. And second, there is the far more valid presumption that it is literally impossible to validly second guess the decisions of an authority "on the scene," or productive and socially useful to dictate what they "should have done" without having walked a mile in their moccasins."
I actually agree with the above to an extent, but with a fundamental caviat that is, I have noted, widely dismissed as irrelevant; that Authority comes with Responsibilty for outcomes. Without that assumption of Responsiblity, Authority is a mere privilidge that achieves no useful end. Frankly, in an ideal world, people should avoid unnecisary Authority as if it were the very plague.
Let's take a look at the first quotation again:
You see, there is a reason why we have laws, rules, standards and expectations; it's because very few, if any human beings are worthy of or capable of making useful decisions without the benefit of standards, expectations, limits and regulations.Sure make the teacher the scape goat. That way the real issue can be avoided. Some children are too disruptive to be in a normal classroom setting. Obviously 14 children thought this child should be removed from the classroom. Did anyone ask them why they thought this way? Not a great move on this teachers part, but let''s get the full story.Posted by mcdonaj3 at 09:41 AM : May 29, 2008
In searching for foundational materials for this post I found a video of George Lakoff explaining in very small words for a lay audience the fundamentals of why many conservatives would consider the above quoted paragraph to be at worst a rude statement about a matter of common sense.
Frankly, at one time before my own reality check into the boards, I could well have uttered it myself. At the time I assumed, as I still do, that with authority over others comes responsibility for outcomes and that persons in authority should be held accountable according to the standards they set for themselves and for the intents apparent in the rules they set for others, even in breach of those rules. Nor have I really changed that view, I just realized that my assumption about what other people understood when speaking of or accepting authority was wildly wrong.
But, I've come to understand that as wrong as Conservatives - and in particular, Social Conservatives - often are, it's not due to willful evil or malicious dishonesty in the main. Indeed, I'd be fairly confident in predicting that the vast majority of social conservatives are utterly sincere in their desire to do the right thing. Worse yet, I would actually put a large number of those who deliberately and destructively interfere with the sexual development of their children, including those who literally molest their sons and daughters, as being fairly sincere in their attempts to be responsible authorities and parents in the light of the ethics they hold.
You see, that's the real problem. The question is not so much the ethics, but rather, who designed the ethics you have and to what end. Further, regardless of what you or I believe of the proper outcome predicted by their promoters, do those ethics actually work out in practice? In other words, leaving aside any objectively ethical or arguably moral end, have results occurred that would fulfill the letter of stated or even un-stated intent?
But before you can really usefully ask and answer these questions, you need some intellectual tools to make this analysis possible; further and more difficult, you need to be able to set aside any prejudgment of "right" and "wrong."
George Lakoff has a lecture that gives you a usable and inspirational overview of these tools. It's an hour long, it's going to shake the foundations of your understanding of our culture and you need to take the time, whatever your politics.
Among other fascinating ideas within, Lakoff, a life-long, committed Liberal, makes the point that there is nothing immoral or inconsistent within the ethics of the average conservative voter. So please watch it. And then for extra credit, please ask yourself "what critical issue does Lakoff's work imply that he seems to have missed here?
The following was expanded from a response to a comment on the video that I imagine was made by some fairly well-educated conservative commentator, blogger or "shill." That is to say, Conservatives are indeed paying people to read and respond to such things as a matter of course. Liberals think this dishonest, Conservatives are untroubled, so long as that which is expressed would fit within the mainstream of Conservative thought.
It would be considered to be an honest exercise, such as working for the Cato Institute or accepting advertising on one's site. I do accept advertising, and I'd gladly consider taking a chair at any institute that would have me as I am. And indeed, this goes to the issues of credibility, honesty, and framings that lead to differences in how Conservatives and Liberals assess those vital traits.
Yes, Lakoff has a political bias, which he states up front. But, far from his conclusions arising from his liberal bias, it was the cognitive dissonance caused by his political "frames" that caused him to realize that there was a problem to be solved, and in fact, if you listen to the whole, it's led him to examine the very basic assumptions of classical Liberalism to find them wanting.
I should add that an intuitive grasp of those lacks would be obvious, if not entirely explicable to anyone of a general conservative bent with some real world experience in terms of applying assumptions about behavior to actual people "in the wild."
After viewing the whole, review the first few minutes. I doubt frankly that this is an insight that a person who was not politically biased would likely have noticed. I would not have tripped over it, because [I think] I have a more eclectic selection of "frames."
Now that Lakoff points it out, it's obvious, but it's a forest/trees thing. Really, how easy is it to notice that you are NOT thinking about something?
It really does take some sort of extraordinary experience. I've not yet read the body of Lakoff's work, and I rather hope that my criticism is a "commonplace," something already addressed in the body of his work and/or within the work of his colleagues. But at the moment, I consider Lakoff's insight to be bizarrely miraculous - something that could only be noticed by someone predisposed to ignore it.
Lakoff has inadvertently done for me what Noam Chomsky did for him, that is to say, provide inspiration for an insight that may well be viscerally unwelcome to the "Person of Inspiration."
I give him rather more credit than that, but my observation does trend in that direction. You see, when Lakoff speaks of the distinction between the "Strict Father" and the "Nurturing Parent" models of family and (as metaphor) of our political and civic duties, it's apparent to me that he assumes the nurturing parent to be inherently superior to the Authoritarian parent.
As much as I would prefer to accept that, I do not believe that assumption is actually defensible, due to the essential nature of human complexity and perversity. I'm certainly willing to stipulate that for him, the nurtuant parent model worked very well. Further, I'll concede something I think pretty obvious, that he would not have flourished as well given a typical "strict parent."
But no parents are typical, nor are any children. If Lakoff has siblings, it's quite possible that one or more of them would have done better in a stricter context, given that the contrasting model was applied with equal skill, compassion and concern.
Lakoff approaches compromise when he observes that none of are products of any pure model. We are all subject enough to the contrasting model to be able to achieve some basic understanding of the other viewpoint, in most cases. I have a piece of commonplace wisdom taken from that great source of spiritual wisdom, Buckaroo Banzai: "wherever you go, there you are." And that observation in this context is intended to point out that the toolkit you have from childhood is the one you will have to rely on to raise your children and commit acts of civic duty.
Now, this intuitive understanding may and should be enhanced by advice and informed by results - but at the most basic, you will view all of those adjuncts and additions from the viewpoint of your most basic frame. It is therefore immaterial for either myself or Lakoff to observe that you "should" "know better" or approach the problem from a different direction. No, what will happen, despite our best intents is that our approaches will not apply to every possible situation. This is the point where we have to grit our teeth and admit that it does "take a village."
But then, this is not actually a bad thing. As much as Social Conservatives to my (far) right and (way far) "down" on the Libertarian "map" deride the trait of individuality and decry the recognition of the virtue of Diversity, diversity is the "potential difference" that makes all society, all culture and all commerce possible. Or in other words, as John Donne observed:
This is the mother and the father of Adam Smith's "invisible hand." Indeed, I don't see it as being invisible; but it may well be to many. Nonetheless, all markets exist due first to inherent human interconnectivity and second to an inherent imbalance of resources and needs.
That is to say - each of us has a unique selection of talents, resources and abilities, things we hold to be commonplace. We tend to value more those things we cannot do easily for ourselves, and fortunately, there are very few people so "normal" that they do not have a "best thing" that is all that common, or a "Worst thing" that is so overwhelming that we cannot function at all without the benefit of a better solution.
That gives us a basis for trade, for interconnection and for social engagement. All human interactions are based on transfers of wealth and even more importantly, highly individual definitions of "wealth." Further, we have to acknowledge that we cannot usefully dictate to
others what that "wealth" is - but we can, should and must insist that all trade is "fair trade."
For this is one of ten fundamentals of my understanding of ethics; to the degree that a trade is unfair, it is theft to that degree. And theft, I will hope you agree, is wrong.
UPDATE: The perp teacher has been "reassigned." Hopefully to a cube in an administration building moving piles of irrelevant paper from stack A to stack B.
tag: Alex Barton, CBS News, The Morning Show, IDEA, Kindergarten, Morningside Elementary, Wendy Portillo, ethics, authority abuse, George Lakoff, parenting, parents