“What Fools These Mortals Be”

Speaking through Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, ol’ Will Shakespeare once again hits the nail on the head.

You may not have heard of Doug Bartlett.  He’s a school teacher in the Chicago Public School system.  He’s been teaching school for 17 years.  He’s currently assigned to teach a second grade class.  Or should I say, “He was.

As the saying goes, “Into each life, a little rain must fall.”  If that old saw is correct, then it’s safe to assume that Mr. Barlett has been hit with an Amazonian rain forest deluge.  He was recently suspended from his teaching position for four days without pay.  That’s a fairly significant slap on the wrist.  What, you might be asking yourself, did Mr. Bartlett do to deserve a punishment of this magnitude?

I’ll tell you.
Mr. Barlett was teaching a unit on tools.  The kind of hand tools that are found in virtually every home.  As part of his demonstration, he showed his class a screw driver, a pair of pliers, and a wrench.  Mr. Bartlett kept the tools under his control at all times.  He didn’t pass them around the room or let his second graders handle them.  When the demonstration was completed, the tools were stored away in his toolbox which was then placed on a high shelf, well out of the reach of his young and inquisitive students.

Having once been a young boy myself who found himself sitting in a second grade class, I can tell you that Mr. Barlett probably had the full attention of his class during this innovative teaching exercise.  There was probably some real learning going on.  Which one might reasonably assume is just what the school system is charged with promoting.

Well, …. maybe.

Upon learning of Mr. Bartlett’s lesson involving tools, he was summarily charged with “possessing, carrying, storing, and using a weapon.”  Which in turn led to his suspension from teaching and his loss of pay.

Ever since reading of this travesty, I’ve been struggling to find a word which accurately describes the school administration’s decision to take this action against Mr. Barlett.  Pathetic is the only term that I can come up with, but pathetic really fails to capture the full depth and breadth of my personal displeasure.  I’m still looking for a more descriptive term.

It’s difficult for me to accept that there are individuals filling top level administration positions in our school systems who consistently demonstrate such a complete and utter lack of judgement and common sense as is so clearly demonstrated in this case.  But the reality is that they are in those positions and they are making decisions impacting our children every day.
Sadly, Mr. Bartlett’s case is not unique.  There is the case of the two eight or nine year old boys who were expelled from school for pointing their fingers at each other during recess on the playground and uttering the phrase, “Bang, bang!”   There is the young girl who was expelled for possession of drugs because she took an Advil that she had in her purse.  And unfortunately the list goes on and on.

Based upon the absence of judgement which is now routinely demonstrated by school administrators all across our country, I can only assume that scissors, pins, and sewing needles have been banned from Home Economics classes and that all Industrial Arts courses have been totally expunged from the curriculum.  After all, it follows that both of these pursuits represent clear and present dangers to our children, not to mention our society at large.

I wonder how long will it be before no one under the age of eighteen will be allowed to enter a Home Depot or Ace Hardware store?  Or if a background check is going to be required if I want to purchase a pipe wrench?

Any man is liable to err, only a fool persists in error.
Marcus Tullius Cicero


Photo credit: jrhode Foter.com CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: horizontal.integration / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA



5 thoughts on ““What Fools These Mortals Be”

  1. I read this and shook my head. The first instinct was to check on this–obviously you must have missed something important from the back story. Nope. According to anything I can find that’s pretty much what seems to have happened. Some of the stories indicate that he showed a pocket knife too but it never left his grasp. I’m speechless.

      • I’m completely lost. I’m school administrator too and know that often you are forced to make decisions in which someone or some group of people will be very negatively affected. These decisions are rarely clear-cut and, regardless of what position you take there’s generally an arguable–and winnable–counter point. There is, however, a pattern of reason that you can rely on to explain why you made the choice you did. In this case, though, I just cannot see the justification. In particular I cannot empathize with anyone would would reach it. Not at all. Furthermore, thankfully in the education system there are generally checks and balances; a senior education officer/district CEO you can appeal to and, after that school board of trustees. Where are all of them? Can everyone be so blind to the blatant, stupid injustice here?

  2. Sadly, I was not surprised by this post. It is happening way too often and is a hysterical response to recent events (Newtown, Colorado, etc.) Teachers and students are being deprived of their freedom of creativity based on keeping the school (safe). I have addressed this in previous posts (A Loss Of Innocence) and still see so many unjustified penalties being applied to children and their instructors.

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