The Great American Witch Hunt

The story of Mrs. G, a modern witch in sensible shoes.

Mrs. G rises from her desk, crosses the room, and forcefully grabs a tissue from the box, part of the bulk pack she purchased with her own funds before that first September paycheck arrived.

She hates herself for getting upset. She should be nonplussed. She is a veteran teacher after all. She has handled aggressive parents many times. There was that executive who asked her and her colleagues which colleges they had attended, smugly stating: “Probably you all went to SUNY.” Or that other parent who told her she was squashing her son’s spirit because Mrs. G had the audacity to ask him not to save his loud, smelly farts for her class. The same boy who refused to raise his hand and constantly interrupted her well-planned lessons. Or that dad who pecked at her every time that her online grade-book was not updated.

This accusation is different, however. It is not about an overindulged child or an arrogant adult. This parental/student complaint is about her teaching. Her integrity is questioned. Her core beliefs as a historian, social scientist, educator, and as a woman are challenged.

She is guilty until she proves her innocence. And, then, even then, this incident will leave a mark, a stain on her solid reputation. She cannot win. She will never be perceived by this parent as anything else but one of those “teachers” no matter what she says. She will teach all year wondering if her words are offensive. She will doubt herself. She will lose her power, her voice, her excellence.

The administrator, who must be at least ten years her junior, explains the parental complaint. The issue is that the student feels uncomfortable in her class. Why? Because, according to the student she is talking about gender, women, and feminism too much. Also, when she teaches about political issues she is only showing one side.

Really? She had a male neo-Nazi in her class last year who proudly wore his MAGA gear and she gave him a platform in her class to discuss issues. She had a female student in her class last year who had the comfort to discuss her intense support for Trump and her happiness on his inauguration day. She had a former student discuss with her how he felt isolated by his support of President Trump among his more liberal-leaning classmates.

But, that was last school year. Now is the time that matters. What have you done lately, Mrs. G? How have you shown both sides of feminism this school year? (As if there are two sides to human rights?) How have you been objective? Which universal truths have you dismissed? How dare you indoctrinate my son or daughter in your elitist, feminist, witchy ways?

She has had a career of positivity. The negative interactions with students and parents minimum, the praise high. Is this the new brave world? Is this new, unfounded accusation part of a trend to discredit certain teachers?

This is a form of torture. She will not be told the student’s identity. The parent will not meet with her. The complaints are vague. This family wants her to consider both sides in her teaching. The student feels uncomfortable.

What is uncomfortable about learning about a maximum number of six women in world history during the entire year? The remainder of the year focuses on men, mostly white men. What is uncomfortable about a teacher talking about political and current topics as they relate to history? Does the student know both sides of every issue discussed, and if not, how can this adolescent determine if multiple perspectives have been integrated?

The claim of discomfort is extremely important to this teacher. But, she is also confused by the generic description. The word discomfort smacks of intimidation and fear. Mrs. G does not recall any discussion of controversial issues in the first six weeks of school. Again, this isn’t last year. Last year brought uncomfortable issues daily, many of which Mrs. G tried to either navigate or pushed aside when students brought up topics, with the line: “Unfortunately, we don’t have time for current events today.”

This year had seemed more like an acceptance of disagreement. A consensus that these are difficult times. An agreement that the unpredictable is the new norm.

So, the complaint against Mrs. G, with such vague and inaccurate claims, seems out of left field, even to a veteran teacher such as herself. What exactly is she to do with this knowledge, and the lack of pertinent information? She can guess who the child is, but she might be wrong. She can continue teaching the curriculum as she has always done but she runs the risks of being accused again. There is no solution.

She has been accused, labeled, and now she is suspect.

Ironically, her senior level history class is discussing the European witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mrs. G finds herself relating to those convicted women — women who were powerless, lacking male protection, and holding ideas about the uses of medicinal plants. The documents that her senior-level students read include quotes from a court-appointed executioner in Eiger, Germany in 1607:

“There was no doubt she was a witch. She wore her hair short like a man, show wore the clothes of a man…”

That famous religious reformer, Martin Luther, writes about witches in another document dated 1522:

“Witches are the Devil’s whore, who suck his staff, steal milk, raise storms, bring illness and plagues and kill children in their cradles.”

As Mrs. G reads the college-level essays, she makes comparisons to trending issues. She thinks of the #MeToo, the nevertheless she persisted quote, and the “I am with her” line of support. She reflects on the Women’s March and the recent Women’s Convention in Detroit, Michigan. She analyzes how women’s access to contraception medicine is in jeopardy and how she may never see a female president in her lifetime. She wonders if she is one of those ‘nasty’ women?

76% of teachers are women.

Mrs. G wonders if she is a modern day witch?

And then she smiles, because if she is, she is in very good company.

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5 Reasons Why I, a 43-Year-Old Woman, Binge Watched ’13 Reasons Why’


Over the recent spring break, I binge watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s book of the same title. I am not the target audience for this work, but I could not stop watching this story about adolescence, sexual assault, and teenage suicide. The following is a list of five reasons why I, a middle-aged woman, was enthralled with the story:

1. I teach high school social studies

When I returned to work on Monday, I felt myself scanning the faces of the adolescents that I teach in a large suburban high school north of Syracuse, NY. As I was getting through a lesson on the cold war, I began to wonder how many of my students sitting before me had watched the series? At least half of my class? What were their takeaways? Which character(s) were they most like? Which part of the story resonated with them? Who among these classes was suicidal? Were my students like me, did they continue to live with the characters like I was?

Occasionally a film or a book will strike a chord with my students. I had previously heard students discuss Jay Asher’s novel, but I think the movie will have a deeper impact on adolescents — a group that is tremendously visual. The story is slick, a California cool. If a tired old lady like myself felt compelled to binge watch this movie, adolescents will watch this on repeat. A myriad of conversation topics arise from this story — sex, alcohol, drugs, parents, school, sports, cliques — it covers the spectrum of the high school experience.

2. I have had students attempt suicide

Almost every year I hear about a student attempting suicide. Thankfully, I have not known a student to be successful, but every year at least one student whom I have taught attempts to kill them self. The school I teach in has wonderful social workers, counselors, and teachers, but schools are not equipped for mental health issues.

As a classroom teacher, I hear about the suicide attempts with a statement of confidentially. Teachers get bits and pieces of a student’s story. We hear things like: “Jimmy took a shotgun to the gut last night.” “Nicole took a lot of pills.” These students are absent for a time period. They return, and I am supposed to act like nothing occurred. My job is to teach facts, not to counsel. I am completely useless when it comes to my student’s mental health.

As I watched 13 Reasons Why I searched for signs that might be apparent to me in the reality of my teaching. The main character, Hannah Baker, continually showed me that she was so normal. She was interacting in a typical high school. The actress told the audience that there were no signs. There was only silence. Silence is the enemy.

3. I am raising two daughters

The stupid internet went out two nights in a row during the time when I could watch the series without my daughters’ awareness. So, I found myself hiding in my bedroom, the door shut, trying to keep my daughters away, as I finished watching the series. My twelve-year-old daughter was my biggest concern. She had caught me earlier and commented that her fifteen-year-old cousin was watching this. I said, rather abruptly: “You can’t watch this.” I said it so quickly. I had to protect my daughter. It wasn’t just the sex, it was the entire story that made me pucker. I just don’t think she is ready. I am not ready for her to see rape.

“You can’t watch this.”

However, it is not the sexual aspects of the story that bother me as much as the mental health issues. Two students in the story kill themselves and others locate weapons or escape with substances. As I watched the anguish of Hannah Baker’s parents in the film, I connected with their struggles. They were having financial difficulties and marriage problems. They were not “seeing” their daughter. I worried about my own parenting. Am I missing my daughters, especially the oldest? She is entering adolescence. I want to give her freedom. I want her to be independent and competent. I also want to be the wall that she swims to — I want to give her a safe place to rest and restore herself from a hurtful world.

If you are interested in exploring the parental side of this issue, Ijeoma Oluo, in her piece ’13 Reasons Why’ Scared The Shit Out Of Me — And It Should Scare You Too, does a fantastic job of explaining every parent’s worst nightmare.

4. I wanted to compare

I was curious to see if my own high school experience compared to the one portrayed in 13 Reasons Why. It held up. Although I graduated over twenty years ago, the setting of the story is iconic: the American High School. I also remember watching teenage movies in my youth. 13 Reasons Why was reminiscent of Pretty in Pink’s images of rich and poor kids. There were The Breakfast Club similarities with the cliques and the social outcasts. There were also times that I thought about the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, especially in terms of the pressure of sexual interaction.

However, my generation did not have fucking social media, and cell phones equipped with cameras that could instantly message the entire school. Images of our worst choices were not permanently stored for continual humiliation. My generation could escape school. We could go home. Adolescents today are tethered to their phones and are bombarded by drama, images, and a fake sense of intimacy.

5. I am Hannah Baker

And so is every girl. The female teenage body is the most objectified and fantasized image in the world. Every time the picture of Hannah Baker’s underwear peeking out of her skirt was passed around we understand why women are not yet equal. It is portrayed as “boys being boys.” When her ass is grabbed in public and rated the “best” rear end at her high school, nothing about her intellect is celebrated. When the student president reaches up her skirt as she drinks her milkshake, we witness the constant assault to her innocence — any ownership of her sexuality is eroded away. Her vulnerability is so raw that by the time she is raped it almost feels inevitable. As the crime is committed, the camera lingers on her expression — one of complete frozen resignation. Her soul is depleted and the sexual act evokes a scene of a veteran prostitute.


Ultimately, I will watch this movie with my daughters. I am confident that this story will come up in conversations with my students. The degree to which I am disturbed by this work is a positive force for my teaching and parenting. It is a wake-up call for me to see my students and my children in the world in which they need to navigate. Maybe I was not the target audience, but I urge anyone who loves an adolescent to watch this series.

Here is another article about ways teachers can discuss 13 Reasons Why: https://www.weareteachers.com/discussion-questions-13-reasons-why/

This piece on medium.com:  https://medium.com/@brownberryfarm/5-reasons-why-i-a-43-year-old-woman-binged-watched-13-reasons-why-5c1ca46f1cbb

I am a Feminist, but I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton

There, I admit it. My dirty little secret is out. Go ahead and attack me. Unfriend me. Block me.

I marched in Washington, D.C. in 1992 to voice concerns that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, but in 2016 I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I co-led the group Womyn’s Action Coalition (yes, with a Y) on the SUNY Geneseo campus during the 1990s, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I live in New York State (a blue state), but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I am a proud member of the American Federation of Teachers, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I hold a master’s degree, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I am a white, college-educated, middle-class woman, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I have born witness to serious abuse of my mother and sister by the hands of men, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I was raised by a single mother who did not always get child support, had to resort to food stamps, and often did not have health care, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I love nature and do my part to protect the earth, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I am worried about gun violence, and violence in general, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I want everyone to have affordable, quality healthcare, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I fully agree with and support same-sex marriage and equality for all, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I do not fear Islam or non-Christian faiths, but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I would love to see a female president (many female presidents), but I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I also did not vote for Donald J. Trump.

I am the moderate voice of America — neither extreme left nor right.

I live in a blue state but in a red county.

I live on 40 acres in small town rural America.

I co-own a small business where I see my husband’s labor taxed at 70% (business and personal tax) so that for every dollar he physically earns he gets to keep thirty cents.

I own guns (lots of guns) and I love how my husband has taught our daughters gun safety and skills.

I live outside of Syracuse, NY which resembles the Allentown, PA that Billy Joel sang about in the eighties.

I love to travel and see prosperity in America, only to return home to witness economic blight.

I don’t have any friends who are extremely racially diverse than me. However, I do have many students who are.

I believe in God, but I don’t find peace and happiness with organized churches.

I would have loved to have marched with my daughters in Seneca Falls, NY on January 21, 2017, so that I could show them the amazing diversity of American voices, but there was a swim meet to attend.

I did not vote for Hillary Clinton because ultimately I did not relate to her. She spoke well, she was more than qualified, but she just wasn’t my candidate. I was tired of the Clinton, Bush, Kennedy dynasties. I was saddened by how the Democrats led Common Core implementation and the Race to the Top educational policy impacts. I was frustrated by Clinton’s role in her husband’s perjury and sexual scandals. I did not agree with her foreign policy. I was worried that she would get nothing accomplished in a republican held congress.

If you relate to only one side, you might not like my message. My moderate ideas are not sexy. Moderation will never make major headlines. No one will tweet about my message. Or, maybe you share my secret? Maybe you have kept silent to avoid tempers rising with angry dialogue across the well prepared Thanksgiving table? Maybe you too want our country to move on from hateful speech, angry posts, and polarization to a more solution oriented consensus-based philosophy of governance? If you do, then please join me to spread a moderate, solution-oriented, inclusive message so that we have a representative democracy that is intent on political discourse not on sensationalism and “alternative facts,” but one that truly demonstrates the power of the people.

If you liked this, please click the ❤ to share. I sure appreciate it. Thanks!

For those of you who have not scrubbed me out of your life, here is my follow-up article: “10 Ways to Practice and Model Civil Discourse (Or, how not to be an a-hole!).”