As a retired English teacher and administrator, I was alarmed and saddened to read in the (Dec. 28) newspaper that five Central Bucks School District English teachers were denied the opportunity to participate virtually in the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. Some school board members objected to the teachers’ participation even though it had been approved by building administrators.
The convention looked to be a wonderful opportunity with an extraordinary gathering of speakers presenting engaging and interesting topics. Held over four days (not including the keynote addresses on Wednesday evening), the convention presentations were scheduled for the evening hours and throughout the two-day weekend. I admire the teachers who were willing and eager, after two very, very difficult and draining years, to spend several evenings and weekend days engaged in this work, ultimately for the benefit of the children in their care.
The topic of this year's conference — Equity, Justice and Antiracist Teaching — was and is so pertinent to our times. So much of the literature in our middle schools and high schools is deeply engaged with those "topics." How strange that some Central Bucks School Board members would surreptitiously, secretively (I realize that is redundant, but wish to emphasize it) cancel their participation — again, after building level administrative approval. It was done out of the public eye, not during a school board meeting, and without any public, or teacher, or administrator input. This action is way, way outside the bounds of a school board member’s responsibilities. Certainly, the pittance of what this teacher participation would cost was not a consideration.
So what was their objection? These words? Equity. Justice. Antiracist. Those are not "political" words. Those words are about morality. About ethics. About decency. About compassion. About empathy. All part of what good literature (often the subject matter —per the curriculum — of middle school and high school literature) is about.
The New York Times recently reported on a global survey that asked: "What's the Best Book of the Last 125 Years?" Over 200,000 readers (from 50 states and 67 countries) made a selection and gave reasons for it. The most often chosen book? To Kill a Mockingbird. (Wouldn't it be something if the Doylestown Bookshop promoted for One Book / One Town: that book. So many adults and children reading the book together, offering their different thoughts and perspectives.)
I have a passing interest in what appears to be a clear violation of the Sunshine Act here, but I am more concerned about the disrespect shown by some Central Bucks School Board members to our teachers. And to their building administrators. In effect, it was a slap in the face. A more appropriate response would have been: "We are so appreciative that you are going out of your way to participate in this, and to engage in work that will continue to refine your skills in working with our students. Would one or more of you please tell us, at a board meeting, what you found to be especially worthwhile?"
It has been refreshing to see our youth engaged — lining up, in the rain, hours before a school board meeting so they could say to the adults in the room: "Would you please stop?" In Doylestown Borough we have a student group that address diversity, and we have student representation on the Doylestown Borough Human Relations Commission. We are now distributing our second printing of lawn signs saying "Hate has no place in CBSD". Over my decades here, it never even vaguely occurred to me that such a sign would be needed in our once beautiful and respectful community. The shame of it all. We have taken our eyes off the children. The children are the complete why that gives meaning to why we are here. (I use the word "children" because there is a deeper emotional tug to it than "students.")
The other day I started again to think about my recording of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech, which I used to play for my high school students at East. It seems especially appropriate now.
"...he (man) has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice needs not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
Starting in 1979, Stephen Albert taught English in the Central Bucks School District for 32 years — 22 of them at Lenape Middle School.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Guest Opinion: The voices of ethics and decency shouldn't be silenced