Living My History Lessons
As I sat there at the long rectangular table, constructed from small tables added each time our group increased, I felt like I was back in history. Here we were, twenty some people in a ma and pa local coffee shop, closed for its evening rest before the regulars ascended upon it early the next morning. We were gathered to discuss serious community issues, and it dawned on me that it must have been just like this in 1850 Anytown, US, or 1915 Soviet Union, or maybe 1938 Germany. We were living the history I read about growing up, but always seemed so distant, so it could never happen here in America.
I wondered how many citizens of Germany, met and discussed the abuses of the state, just as we were doing, not aware that the next day or week, that gas chambers awaited them. They, too, must have thought they could change things, I thought. The feeling that we might be deceiving ourselves that anything could change, kept rising through my body in waves, caused by my trying to repress them and put them back in my gut. This became increasingly more difficult. By 4:30 AM, I found myself having to write them away.
So here I am, hoping that by putting these feelings on paper, I can vanish them, the way the state vanished the record of my teacher tenure hearing regarding my termination three years ago. They have to leave, so I can get back into life.
This was a meeting of parents of special needs children who were being devastated by the state. The arsenal of tools available to the state to accomplish their agenda was breathtaking. There were moments when I felt like I was going to choke from the reality of how I was living in a state that was espoused to be the home of the free, but was barely a home of the brave. Tales from parent after parent of how their child had to have psychological testing to be permitted in their public school abounded. I knew it was retaliatory because they did that to me.
My school had their testimony for fees psychiatrist, Dr. Fink, appropriately named, who thought the Hippocratic Oath evolved from the word hypocrite, wrote a report that I was imagining harassment and that I might be delusional, to make what they were doing to me my burden rather than their travesty. They had their ways.
Then there was the repeated calling of the DCFS, Department of Children and Family Services, to investigate parents whom the schools determined might be abusing their child. These were convenient conclusions arrived upon when a parent asked for something the district didn’t want to provide. There were sagas about misdiagnoses and refusals to listen to experts about conditions the schools, knew nothing about. There were children who were highly functional with one teacher, and operating as though they should be institutionalized with another teacher, proving the incompetence of some of the staff. There were frequent references to an excellent special education teacher who had been recently terminated with trumped up charges after she advocated for a child. The parent of that particular child expressed torment that the price he had to pay to get his child’s needs addressed, was the firing of this caring teacher.
Administrators know how to teach parents to stop advocating for their child. They take something valuable away. Actually, I knew that terminating this teacher was inevitable. She has integrity and that quality is incompatible with our public schools. But killing two birds with one stone must have delighted these demented beings.
In every case, these were parents trying to get their schools to educate their special needs children, dealing with schools trying to avoid having to do so, even though there are federal laws in place guaranteeing their needs be met.
I kept thinking about how I, as a dedicated and successful teacher, had no hope of ever being employed. But he did. “How much more can I watch my world be turned upside by this education Mafia and still stand in my power?” I thought.
Then there was the boy who was locked into a house rented by the District, with a young man, who was not certified as a special education teacher. The mother was told she would be arrested if she came near the building, and she described her feelings of helplessness having a child with a disability with a random man. After all, knowing the sinister ways of these administrators, she could expect that this man were not properly screened. There were stories of principals who told parents they simply did not like their child, and principals who had arrived at decisions, pretending to have investigated, but having simply arbitrarily concluded that the child couldn’t have what outside support said the child needed. The same principal who fabricated charges against the dedicated special education teacher, let parents know that she held the power and she would determine the fate of any child any way she chose. That was way too close to the threat with which my superintendent severed my peace of mind the day I told him about illegal and immoral actions undertaken by our principal; he said that if any staff member escalated any issue, he would make their life miserable.
Escalating an issue meant asserting rights. I thought I lived in America and that I could. I was wrong. Not in education where the power to make teachers, parents and children’s lives miserable flowed like water flooding a basement during a torrential rain.
It was obvious that many of the decisions administrators had put forth, were attempts at frustrating the parents to the point where they would leave the district and ridding the district of the burden and expense of an unwanted child. It worked. Most did leave. Just as I, a former teacher, was exiled from a district because I had the audacity to think that teachers were supposed to advocate for children, and that teaching was a profession rather than a blue-collar paycheck opportunity, these children were disposed of with equal rejection. For a moment, I visualized the cattle car of rejects in 1940’s Germany, being sent away because they irritated the state, as did we.
This state wasn’t the Gestapo or the KGB. It was the state of Illinois and the thread of devastation was emanating from the ISBE, or the Illinois State Board of Education. The room felt surreal. We were a group of people being or having been ravaged by our state, desperately trying to feel like human beings, while being treated like animals. This couldn’t be happening, I thought.
A parent activist who heads up a local group of parents arranged this meeting with a representative of the Illinois Congress, Susan Garrett. I could see the horror on Susan’s face as she absorbed the stories one by one. But it wasn’t horror mixed with surprise. It was obvious that she knew the stories that she was hearing were true. I was invited as a former teacher who was trying to expose the abuse foisted upon teachers who were trying to help children. Administrators knew that they had to silence teachers to maintain this system that would revolt the mind of any freethinking individual. I had personally lived through a period of psychological rape that I thought I had put behind me. I thought that, until last night.
I could feel the feelings of utter despair, of being shattered with no one to turn to, of invasions of my soul that I had a difficult time getting others to believe. As each story unfolded, so did part of me. I attended with my agenda of trying to free the teacher slaves so they would keep their masters honest. I left feeling the despair that Rosa Parks must have felt when jailed for trying to be treated civilly. The similarity of the violations suffered by these children, to those inflicted upon me, were too close to enable me to keep my emotions intact. I kept thinking, People did know about how the Jews were being treated in Germany, and millions of them died anyway. How can I think that merely exposing this outrage will result in anything more than what happened in Germany? People didn’t seem to care enough to do anything then, why will they now?
While absorbed in that thought, the woman next to me leaned over and told me that no one believes her. Other parents get angry when she tells her stories, because they are so unbelievable. They are certain that the schools couldn’t be that wicked. I kept thinking, Is exposing this going to matter? Did people allow the extermination of the Jews, thinking just as these unsuspecting parents did, or that the tellers of the tales were the problem? I pondered that since this meeting was held in Skokie, a town notorious for current day Nazi marches, made the history of the Jews more vivid in my mind, or if the uncanny similarity to tyrants operating with little scrutiny painted a picture that I was supposed to heed in a way I couldn’t determine. I felt fear, something I had managed to conquer since distancing myself from the perverted school at which I had taught.
We left the meeting in agreement. The ISBE was an evil agency, spun out of control with political patronage. Due process was a concept that might be available to terrorists, but not subjects of the ISBE. The hearing officers in place to help these parents, and likewise for teachers, were hired guns, ready to push the agenda of the government entities and make any challenging citizen sorry they ever thought they could assert their rights. The theme of retaliation hung in the air, replacing smoke that once filled rooms of desperate people trying to stay afloat in a world where they were drowning.
Representative Garrett cared. I could tell. She reminded me of the two honorable Board members who did everything they could to support me, when I was a teacher targeted by my sinister superintendent that partook of his job perk of intimidating teachers for pleasure. I left knowing in my heart that she would get no further than these two men did in protecting my rights. It was all about numbers and politics, and the good guys didn’t have them at my school, and even less so in dealing with the state. The system was set up to allow those who choose to abuse power, to do so. It was almost like children and teachers are targets at a carnival stand, and the administrators are entitled to filling their guns gratis as special friends of the festivity. Those rotating targets would be knocked down, not because of great skill, but because of the endless supply of ammunition – power – that assured they would accomplish their goals, in the same way a parent indulges a toddler by purchasing tickets for endless attempts to win.
It has been several years since I taught in the toxic institution we call public education. I have made great personal strides in putting these intrusive memories behind me, and moving on. I have channeled my energy and desire to help children as a teacher, into becoming an activist, trying to expose teacher abuse so we can take back our schools and have them become really about our children, rather than tools of patronage.
But last night I couldn’t do my work. That meeting stopped me dead in my tracks. The genocide of these children and parents was more than I could bear. I will have to refuel my spirit before I can believe again that I can make a difference. Somehow it will happen. It always does. I just don’t know how right now.
This story was written in April of 2002. Several months before, I had noted that George Ryan, Governor of Illinois, had stated at his web site that education is a “front burner” priority with him. Then, at the General Assembly the leaders organizing for educational reform stated that their mission was to find out how to attract good teachers. In Governor Ryan’s opening address at the statewide education Summit November 19, 2001, he said: “And every teacher deserves more than our support – they deserve action. Education and the future of our children have always been the top priority of this administration. And it will remain my top priority for the remainder of this term. So in December of 2001, I wrote a letter to Governor Ryan seeking help with the ISBE, against their attempts to obstruct justice.
His office finally responded to my letter in about April of 2002, after several follow up letters requesting a response, saying there was nothing they could do about the hearing officer not ruling and suggested that I seek out support through a civil rights bureau.
I also wrote several letters to our Attorney General at the same time. Doug Simpson, from Attorney General Jim Ryan’s Illinois Office, had faxed a letter to State Senator Kathleen Parker stating he would assign the Head Civil Rights Officer from his office to assist me in my troubles with the ISBE, the same day as the meeting described above. Parker’s assistant came to the meeting armed with this fax and presented it to me before I spoke.
I received no follow up calls or letters after this meeting. However, someone from the Attorney General’s office spoke with the powers that be at the ISBE and by May 8, 2002, a decision was threatened out of Rubin, the hearing officer who had neglected his legal duties for over a year and one half at that time. Prior to that time, the ISBE had “no way of making him rule.” Suddenly there was a way, after all my noise.
The decision was a continuation of the abuse of the state, but an abuse that is fully documented unlike 99% of teacher abuse that occurs daily throughout our nation. The Attorney General’s Office, under the auspices of our current Attorney General Jim Ryan, who is currently campaigning for governor, has now abandoned me saying that there is nothing they can do about the fabricated decision since civil rights does not support teachers who are retaliated against for speaking out. I told the Head Civil Rights Officer assigned to help me that the union had declined to support my appeal and that I was going to have to represent myself; I asked if she would help me with that as I have no knowledge about where to find cases or how to write a brief. She declined, saying I should have a family member help in spite of the original promise made by Doug Simpson.
I wrote to Simpson about my disappointment, and have received no response. I had also requested that the Attorney General’s Office investigate the ISBE for corruption, or using tax monies to further political agendas illegally. Simpson told me that it does not warrant investigation even though Jim Ryan is now campaigning on televison about how he indicted corrupt government officials during his tenure. I guess corruption in education is not that important. State Congresswoman Susan Garrett is running for State Senator. The ISBE continues to ignore the pleas of teachers and children. The good news is that this is America- and I wasn’t sent away in a cattle car, but without NAPTA all of this would be business as usual and education would continue to be a perversion of justice. Hopefully our loud, proud American voices will be heard – eventually.
BY THE WAY, this teacher received action – EXILING. I guess that is what our Governor meant.