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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