Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Daring Mighty Things
9:14 pm edt
"We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies
victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities
necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."
Theodore Roosevelt, 1899.
What is it about having been emotionally abused and bullied by a
school principal that has put steel in my soul? Values instilled long ago by my father, now dead almost thirty years, rear
up and out of my belly shouting "That is wrong!"
Employees are being abused and bullied right now throughout
my school district. That is wrong. Employees are being silenced with fear and intimidation. That, too, is wrong. Employees
feel alone and isolated; victimized by bullying principals and assistant principals.
My former principal, for example,
has destroyed personal and professional lives. Obliterated them. They're off the map. Can't find them anywhere. That's wrong.
And my school district is on the wrong side. I do not speak of "their side" and "my side." No.
I speak of a right and a wrong side. There is a side of truth and there is a side of lies. There is room for nothing else.
I write again and I state with conviction: my school district is on the wrong side.
There are many who
caution me. Some are afraid for me.
There are others who are outraged at my audacious stab at honor.
I, myself, have moved beyond the throat clutching fear of reprisal from my district's leaders. In my sunny worldview, I
think they will "come around".
But I am not now so naive. I know they may come looking for me still.
Look to hold me accountable for something they themselves cannot identify.
I have, however, experienced an absolute
certainty. Standing up for current targets; speaking up for past victims; finding my own voice to tell you about my own hellish
experience of abuse; is the right thing to do.
Our 32nd president, Theodore Roosevelt wrote of "daring mighty
things" in his 1899 "Strenuous Life" address in Chicago, Illinios. He spoke of difficult work that must be
This then is work that must be done. Abusive leadership in our schools must end. It must stop. It is, it
seems, up to me then, to call out district leaders on their blind eye turning. It is time to hold schools' leaders accountable
for their behavior, not just their students' test scores.
Ironically the walls of schools' hallways are plastered
with character building messages. Courage! Truth! Honor! Friendship! Children are encouraged to stand up for friends.
Tell the truth. Be courageous. "We will keep you safe from reprisal," we tell them.
too, must feel safe. They must feel safe to tell the truth, for that is the lesson children most need. At my former school
there were monthly celebrations about values. I organized those celebrations. I organized them while ugly and untrue gossip
about me swirled all around me. How do I know this? Because I had heard ugly words and derisive laughter about those who had
gone before me.
My former school is not a safe place for the innocent.
Employees must feel safe to try
new ideas, for that is how they will invigorate children. At my former school I was told "I would not counsel."
I was only to "do what [my principal] told me to do." Only that. Even then I may have shuttered the windows of my
creativity. Even then I may have only opened them to the world outside of my former school. I may have stayed in the dark place,
like so many others at that school, of doing only and exactly what I was told to do..... If only what I had been
told to do had been legal, I may have done it.
My former school is not a safe place for the creative and the honest.
Employees must feel safe to admit an honest mistake, for children seeing that will help create our new adult citizens.
At my former school, mistakes made, although honest ones , are passed from person to person like frizz-bees. They are difficult
to catch, but one better catch them and quickly toss them to the next person. The most strategic maneuver is to not alert
the person to one's having chosen him for the frizz-bee toss. He'll maybe miss and then that mistake is his.
most satisfying part of the frizz-bee toss game is to bombard one person with all the mistake frizz-bees; frizz-bees coming
from all angles all at once until there is a pile of them at that person's feet. Then there is no question who will take the
blame. It doesn't matter that the person knows nothing about any of the mistake frizz'-bees at her feet. In fact, many of
the mistake frizz-bees belong to the principal himself.
My former school is not a safe place for the guileless.
Employees must see their district's leaders honestly admit a mistake. Take charge, like Teddy Roosevelt. Dare a mighty
thing. Dare to be honorable. Dare to be courageous. Dare to tell the truth.
There is healing in that.
There is trust.
There is peace.
There is, sadly, no mighty thing at my former school.
Sadder still is this: I am beginning to see there is no one, except perhaps me so far, daring mighty things
in my school district.
I pray I am wrong.