Trans teacher wins $60K, say ‘they’ rules


Leo Soell in their fifth-grade classroom in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, Oregonian

When Brina Soell became Leo, the fifth-grade teacher asked coworkers to use “they” and “them” instead of “she” or “he.” Soell, who identifies as “transmasculine and genderqueer,” complained of harassment, reports the Oregonian. Gresham-Barlow officials agreed to give Soell $60,000 to settle emotional damage claims, add gender-neutral bathrooms to all schools, clarify policies about transgender teachers and mandate trainings for all principals.

Sexual harassment policies are moving from telling people what not to say to demanding that they “must say certain things,” writes Scott Shackford on Reason.

New York City has threatened employers with heavy penalties if they don’t ensure their employees address each other (and customers) by the pronoun of their choice, including “ze/hir” and other non-standard pronouns. The directive also applies to landlords and tenants, professionals and clients and business owners and customers. Everyone is supposed to ask everyone and remember who’s what.

Requiring people to say things they don’t wish to say violates free-speech rights, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

When the government is acting as sovereign, telling us what we must or must not say on pain of coercively imposed legal liability, the First Amendment is at full force. That force, I think, should preclude government commands that we start using new words — or radical grammatical modifications of old, familiar words — that convey government-favored messages about gender identity or anything else.

He notes that Soell complained of harassment, in part, due to other teachers “refusing to call me by my correct name and gender to me or among themselves” (emphasis added), as well as posting “messages on Facebook that denigrate transgender people.”

Feds: Schools are safer

Schools are getting safer according to a new federal report. Violence, bullying and sexual harassment has declined, the survey found.

About 3 percent of students ages 12 to 18 said they were victims of crimes at school in 2014.schoolviolencephoto

“On college campuses, the number of sexual attacks more than doubled from 2001 to 2013,” reports CBS News. “There’s really no way to say whether those increases reflect an increase in actual forcible sex crimes or just that more people are coming forward and reporting them,” said Lauren Musu-Gillette, an author of the report.

I’d guess it’s an increase in reporting and a much broader definition of sexual assault.

Ken Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services thinks the numbers are fuzzy. “Federal and state stats underestimate the extent of school crime, public perception tends to overstate it and reality is somewhere in between,” he said in a presentation to the Education Writers Association national conference in Boston.

Crybabies on campus

What do students learn in college? Increasingly, they’re learning to be big babies, write Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic.  “Trigger warnings,” “microaggressions” and the zeal to “scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense” are threatening students’ mental and emotional health, they write.
Campuses are supposed to be “safe spaces” where “young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.” Never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Students expect college authorities “to act as both protectors and prosecutors,” they write. It’s a continuation of the message delivered by helicopter parents:  “Life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm, not just from strangers but from one another as well.”

A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

Today’s college students are more likely to suffer from “severe psychological problems,” according to a 2013 survey of campus mental-health directors. Surveys also show students report high and rising rates of emotional distress, write Lukianoff and Haidt.

Cognitive behavioral therapy tries “to minimize distorted thinking” –such as overgeneralizing, discounting positives, and emotional reasoning, they write. People learn to recognize when their thinking is distorted, “describe the facts of the situation, consider alternative interpretations, and then choose an interpretation of events more in line with those facts.”

When people . . .  free themselves from the repetitive irrational thoughts that had previously filled so much of their consciousness—they become less depressed, anxious, and angry.

The parallel to formal education is clear: cognitive behavioral therapy teaches good critical-thinking skills, the sort that educators have striven for so long to impart. By almost any definition, critical thinking requires grounding one’s beliefs in evidence rather than in emotion or desire, and learning how to search for and evaluate evidence that might contradict one’s initial hypothesis. But does campus life today foster critical thinking? Or does it coax students to think in more-distorted ways?

Freshman orientation — now devoted to warning students not to offend others — should teach them this kind of thinking, Lukianoff and Haidt suggest. Students can learn to deal with offensive words and ideas without mommy, daddy or the dean of students.

Friends’ jokes deemed ‘harassment’

A black guy and a white guy are joking around while playing beer pong in a college dorm room. The black student shouts “Team Nigga” when his team scores a point. The white student, a football team mate, says, “How about a white power?,” an inside joke. The black student replies, “White power!” Someone down the hall hears the jokes. Both students were found guilty of creating a “hostile and discriminatory environment” at Lewis & Clark College.

“If it really wants to fight racism on campus, Lewis & Clark should stop wasting its time on jokes among friends who happen to have different skin colors,” said Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Student suspended for questioning governor

After questioning Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy about gun control legislation, Asnuntuck Community College student Nicholas Saucier was escorted off campus, suspended and found guilty of harassment. At his hearing, officials refused to review his videos of the incident, complains FIRE.

Most community college professors don’t speak out on education issues, writes an instructor. “Many two-year campuses are run more like high schools than colleges . . . Much like school principals, some community-college presidents believe it is their role, and theirs alone, to speak out on issues of concern.”

FIRE: 59% of colleges restrict free speech

Nearly 60 percent of U.S. colleges and universities restrict free speech rights, according to Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014 by FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).

The good news: For the sixth consecutive year, however, this percentage has dropped.

The federal government is sending confusing messages about the relationship between harassment and free speech, the report notes.

Rudolph’s revenge

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All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.

Cyber-bullies charged with stalking

Two Florida girls, ages 12 and 14, have been charged with aggravated stalking, a felony, for cyber-bullying a classmate.
Rebecca Sedwick
Rebecca Sedwick, 12, committed suicide in September.

“Witnesses said that the girls sent messages to Rebecca, calling her ugly, telling her to drink bleach and die, and saying Rebecca should kill herself,” reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The “tipping point,” Sheriff Grady Judd said, was when the 14-year-old wrote on a social media site,  “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a fuck] ?”

The girl’s parents deny she sent the message, claiming her Facebook site was hacked.

The girls “repeatedly and maliciously” harassed Rebecca while all three attended Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, investigators said.

“Several students corroborated stories of both girls bullying Sedwick on different occasions, through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up, and at least one actual physical fight,” a Sheriff’s Office report said.

Judd said neither family cooperated with investigators, so the girls were placed under arrest Monday and charged with the third-degree felony. The 12-year-old was released to her parents because she demonstrated remorse to the judge, but she can’t go back to school.

The 14-year-old is in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice until her next hearing.

Slate’s Emily Bazelon is the author of Sticks and Stones, wonders “why are we blaming two young teenagers instead of holding the adults around them—their parents!—responsible?”

Bazelon asked readers why kids write cruel taunts online like “Can u die please?” Caitlin Armtrong, the counselor at Unaka Elementary School in Elizabethton, Tenn., asked the question to 7th graders. Six of 22 said they’d been told they should die or kill themselves. They wrote:

“Its about popularity.  Sometimes, I think people do mean it.  They think it will make you feel like a loser if they tell you that you shouldn’t be alive…and it does.”

“People . . .  don’t know that most kids don’t let these things just roll off. They just aren’t thinking.”

“Kids are mean. It is a simple fact. I’ve been mean.  . . . No one is listening to us, they think we want attention. We don’t. Nobody cares, so it keeps happening.”

“Kids say to go kill yourself because they don’t really know you. And if they don’t know you, they really just don’t care what happens to you.”

“Some kids are just full of hate.”

“It makes them look cool. It is the meanest thing you can say, so they say it. The meaner you are, the cooler you look.”

“Honest conversations with kids” is “the first step to make suicide baiting online unacceptable,” writes Bazelon.

Bullies are narcissists with contempt for their victims, writes Paul Coughlin.

Teacher suspended for profane outburst

A high school English teacher was suspended by Los Angeles Unified for a “profanity-laden outburst” that was recorded by a student. It went viral.

In the clip, which was recorded by a student on Sept. 26, the teacher yells “I know my f–ing s–t. Don’t f— with that. I’m tired of trying to educate you, and you guys resist every step of the f—ing way. Get the f— out of here.”

“You know, I had a weak moment,” the suspended teacher told the Daily Breeze.

The outburst occurred at new school for performing arts, HArts Academy, located on the campus of Narbonne High.

The teacher added that the clip was recorded by a student who had been heckling her in front of the 12th-grade class. That student then allegedly brought the recording to a Narbonne High faculty member with whom the teacher has had an adversarial relationship. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.

Narbonne has refused to let 90 students transfer to HArts, which forced the smaller school to lay off four teachers and let the comprehensive high school hire three teachers, reports the Breeze. Bad blood between the two faculties explains why Narbonne teachers publicized the sound clip, the English teacher said. “These are people who used to be my friends.”

Students are not allowed to have cell phone in class, much less to record their teachers.

When cruel is cool

As an eighth grader in 1986, John Cook urged a girl to commit suicide in the underground newspaper he briefly published with two friends. He accused another of promiscuity. He attacked black teachers and classmates with racial slurs. In Confessions of a Teenage Word-Bully, Cook tries to understand why he did it and the effect on his victims.

Ramming Speed was filled with gutter racism, written by me, that turns my stomach to think of today. It directed at two young girls the same sort of highly public, humiliating sexual slander and innuendo that helped drive 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to kill herself in 2010 in Massachusetts, and it literally called on one of those girls to commit suicide. As much as it was an act of defiance against a school administration we perceived as wanting, it was an act of brutal and indefensible bullying against children we knew to be vulnerable. It was wanton adolescent cruelty of the sort that routinely makes headlines today.

The girl urged to commit suicide by “Ramming Speed” did attempt suicide.

Cook was trying to impress the “cool kids,”  writes Emily Bazelon on Slate. The most promising strategies to prevent bullying rely on shifting the social norms, “figuring out how to make meanness socially costly, as opposed to power-enhancing,” she writes.

Bazelon links to a story on “slut shaming” on WNYC’s Radio Rookies. Reporter Temitayo Fagbenle, 16, interviews a friend who boasts of ruining a girl’s reputation by posting sexual photos of her online. He’s reveling in the “coolness points he scored,” writes Bazelon.