Monday, March 28, 2011

Wings: Leonora Rustamova

Teaching high school was the worst job I ever had.  There were highs and lows, but success is ALL about the middle of the road. 

Teach a feminist poem by Margaret Atwood to complement Ovid's Metamorphoses and you're likely to get complaints.  You can't go too high or low:  it's like Ovid's myth of Daedalus and Icarus. When the mythical inventor Daedalus manufactures wings, he has to prepare for the trip.  He instructs his son, Icarus, medio...ut limite curras, to fly in the middle of the path, not too near the sun or he'll get burnt.  In the case of Leonora Rustamova, she both invented wings and flew too high.   She invented a teaching method, and her own method melted the wax holding together the wings.

I read an article in the Observer about the fall of Leonora Rustamova, a successful teacher in the UK who lost her job after 11 years.  She wrote a 96-page novella, STOP DON'T READ THIS!, based on the lives of five of her 16-year-old students. The rebels in her class started reading.  She was promoted.

Then the book was accidentally published on the internet.  Rustamova was fired.

Leonora Rustamova
It's a long story, and I can't find the book, because it's been deleted, so I can't judge. According to The Observer, The Daily Mail, and other papers,  Rustamova's book named the school, the students, and described some of their issues:  drugs, truancy, stealing, students' crushes on her.  It also said a gay teenager resembled a Mr. Gay UK finalist, and described a boy's setting himself on fire.

Many of the boys and their parents, however, supported Rustamova and protested on her behalf.  All I can say is the UK must be much, much, much more liberal than the U.S..  The born-agains and tea-party conservatives  in the U.S. ban books and fire teachers all the time. The teachers are not necessarily teaching anything radical.  

Facebook is the root of all evil. A teacher in Georgia was fired in 2009 for posting a picture on Facebook of herself holding a wine glass and mug of beer.  A teacher in Massachusetts recently lost her job after trashing students and parents on Facebook (she thought the page was private).  A teacher in Iowa was fired after she wrote on Facebook she didn't believe in God. 

Oh, the internet.  So, in light of U.S. problems,  I have to be honest:  what was Rustamova thinking?  

And, in addition to Facebook, any sexual content in the curriculum can stir up problems. Parents rabidly complainabout books.  Sometimes students do, too.  A professor of mine retired ten years ago, worried about the possibility of sexual harassment complaints if he taught Aristophanes's Lysistrata. There's a whole life's work down the drain. I teach adults, but no longer feel free to talk about the phallic imagery in Catullus's poems. Some would regard it as normal and some would think I was the anti-Christ.  It was a different atmosphere when I was growing up.

So I'm not in the least surprised by Rustamova's losing her job.  She'd have been tarred and feathered in the U.S.

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