Monday, May 24, 2010

Asperger Discrimination: Some Self Evaluation

One of my recent posts dealt with some of my reactions to being let go by the high school I was teaching at. I used an email sent by a member of the administration, which praised the job that I did for them even if I they would not be able to have me back as a launching pad to muse about the nature of discrimination and where one draws the line between saying that those with certain character traits are ineligible for a job and saying that members of certain minority groups are ineligible when the characteristic in question is closely related to a specific minority group. The example I gave was that of a black teacher. We need to be honest that integrating society and creating a more tolerant one is not a simple or painless task. Having a black teacher teach a white class is likely to create friction. A world in which blacks carry the burden of integration, of making sure that there is no friction and of having the right "touch" in dealing with students civil rights is one in which civil rights would never get off the ground. Every act of bigotry can be hid behind a smile and the claim that unfortunately the person fails to socially integrate himself. As an Asperger, I see myself as a member of a minority group and feel we should receive everything that society grants to other minority groups such as blacks and gays. Looking back at the post I can see how it could have been misread by people, not familiar with my thought processes, casually glancing at.

To be clear, I was not arguing that I had been discriminated against. I specially pointed out that, even in my black teacher scenario, it is not clear to me that our black teacher would or should win. It would be touch and go. I practice, I suspect, it would come down to the school being able to demonstrate that they are acting in good faith in dealing with blacks and the struggle with students was not simply an excuse or a more politically correct way of framing discrimination. This piece was also not meant as an attack on the school for daring to fire a teacher as "talented" as me. I specially said that I was very grateful to the administration for the opportunity. My whole argument is dependent on the fact that it was very kind of them to write me this letter. A person is never truly in a position to evaluate himself so I have no desire to argue one way or another as to whether I am a "good" teacher or not. I took the stance that overall I did a good job on all things subject to empirical evaluation since that was the school's stance and because it sets up the whole theoretical issue, which I wished to discuss.

My evaluation of myself is pretty much in keeping with how I think the administration saw me. I have a very strong background in the material and I am a good lecturer. I still need to work on my back and forths with students and my tendency to just wind myself up and speak for forty-five minutes straight. My ability to control a classroom is a major problem. I may love teaching and honestly care about the students in my classroom, but I certainly do not have an easy time relating to them. I am brash, loud, and students often find me intimidating. This leads to situations where issues that should have been easily defused blow up into major issues and reach the attention of administrators, by definition a losing situation for me. If I were an administrator, I would have questions about rehiring me since I am one more thing to worry about and a parent brought lawsuit waiting to happen. In the end I think I am a very good teacher for certain types of students. My ideal teaching job would be what Dr. Louis Feldman has at Yeshiva University teaching Classics to two students. I could be the quirky teacher at some college off to the side with his pack of students. This sort of job, of course, is rare in this day and age and is unlikely to come my way.

Any final judgment of my teaching comes down to a question of values. What is the most important part of teaching, being a fountain of knowledge for students to tap or someone that students like and avoids trouble?


Miss S. said...

I am not a school administrator. If you like, I can most certainly ask the opinions of some of them (I work with quite a few ex or current principals and superintendents...although they all work in the public school setting) if you like.

All I can say that in my long a varied educational history, I have had absolutely horrible teachers. However all of these 'horrible' teachers, were the type who basically showed up daily and acted like bumps on a log...widdling the days away until they could collect their pension. However, I do now realize that a good portion of being a primary or secondary school teacher is in fact baby-sitting and entertaining your students. Well it is either that, or outright intimidation. Teachers who did not do well in any of these three areas lost their effectiveness in teaching the class. Even if they were very knowledgable.

My two 'best' teachers in high school fared very differently in these areas. The first, Mr. M. taught a psychology class. In it, we learned only the bare basics about the study of psychology. So why was he a good teacher? Because he was able to encourage ideas and debates that I'll remember for the rest of my life probably. The year I had the class was the year that Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were killed. Some in the class were in absolute mourning practically (including a young man...who was White by the way...who got a tattoo of Tupac's name). Mr. M. (a Black teacher) straight out asked these students what the big deal was. Why did they feel such a personal relationship with men who engaged openly in criminal activity and glorified it? Other students began to agree. Sparking sharp racial and cultural divisions and latent feelings and misunderstandings that both the students and the teacher had. Although it was a sensitive topic, Mr. M. did not shy away from it and knew how to temper the discussion so that the debate remained respectful. He was able to do so using humour and by smartly putting himself in the shoes of the people with the contrary position. I have never wanted to become a teacher, but if I were a teacher, this is really something that I would aspire to do.

The other excellent teacher I had was Miss R. I had her for speech. It was one of the most demanding classes I think I've spite of what I thought coming into it. Miss R. had expectations of us that were far beyond any 'state requirements'. Everything we said, wrote and concluded was scrutinized by her. Not only did you have to prepare speeches, but you had to be well-read or familiar enough with the topic to maintain a question and answer session afterwards. If you would fidget, she would stop you. If you used 'filler words' like um, like, or hmmm...she would also stop you. Pretty terrifying to those who aren't used to speaking in public! About 1/2 the time...she assigned the topic. And they were not easy. However she is the only HS teacher who I remember stood up on the first day and said, "When you leave this class, you will be able to do this, and this, and this...or you WILL fail". And what she said was absolutely true. It was great...she pushed us, and it was really great.

Unfortunately, schools are no longer about quality education. In public schools, they are about getting high scores on standardized tests. In private schools, it is all about making the parents happy (and complying to whatever their priorities are...which are not always the proper education of their child!). This is a big reason why the field of education does not appeal to me too much. The product (education) is not the focus and the bulk of your work has nothing to do with improvment of the final product. That is my opinion anyway.

YUngerman said...

While we're on the topic, does your version of Libertarianism allow for discrimination? See this very interesting NYT piece:

I'm just curious about your personal opinion, in addition to possibly supplying fodder for a future post.

Izgad said...


Thank you for the article.

I fail to see any bind. If you believe that, outside of people causing direct physical harm to other people without their consent, the problems of society are best solved through society and individual choice and not the government then you need to take a leap of faith and jump. Look you either believe or you do not believe. The only issue is what you tell people. We are dealing with a society full of people propagandized for forty years by our public schools to believe that either you support direct government intervention to eliminate racism or you are a racist yourself, a violation of free thought far beyond sticking a cross in every classroom.

This was not easy for me to accept. I struggled for years until I was forced to acknowledge that Libertarianism was the only political ideology within the liberal tradition that was intellectually consistent. So I took my leap of faith.

As a libertarian, I am opposed any government ordinances designed to interfere with the right of individuals and private businesses to practice discrimination. I deal with the issue here.

This is one more reason why I would not desire to sue the school. That being said, since I view Aspergers as minorities it is crucial that they have the same privileges as other groups. It would be government discrimination (something that I do oppose) to allow blacks to sue over something and not grant Aspergers the same right. I am morally opposed to discrimination and using the full sanction of society to go after private businesses that practice it. This would apply to discrimination against blacks, gays or Aspergers.

Miss S. said...

It would be government discrimination (something that I do oppose) to allow blacks to sue over something and not grant Aspergers the same right. I am morally opposed to discrimination and using the full sanction of society to go after private businesses that practice it. This would apply to discrimination against blacks, gays or Aspergers.

I am not familiar with employment law, but I would think the most common group to sue for employment discrimination would be women; not Blacks or Gays. True there are more women than there are Blacks or Gays.