Mary Grabar

Maybe the death of an 18-year-old at the hand of a jealous husband will put an end to the rib-poking and television footage of bikini-clad teachers straddling motorcycles or gyrating in garter belts.

Maybe now that 18-year-old Sean Powell is dead, it won’t seem so cool to have had an affair with the hotty high school teacher.

Maybe now that we see the consequences of having the teacher transformed from an authority figure to a cool friend we may question current pedagogical methods.

But probably not, considering who runs our schools. As study after study has indicated, most educators do not emerge from the top tier of college graduates.

These administrators, curriculum devisers, and teacher trainers will continue in their schizophrenic way: by divesting teachers of the authority traditionally endowed to adults—especially those in the classroom—and at the same time being puzzled by student-teacher affairs.

Time was when the teacher was an authority figure, someone to be feared, not a pal, not anyone a teenager would choose to spend time with.

That was a time when parents were held in the same regard.

But today the child rules. Sometimes the child is a six-foot male with raging hormones in a classroom with females in various modes of provocative dress, including the teacher, who does not lecture but holds rap sessions, where each and every opinion from students is given the consideration of that of a panelist at a scholarly conference.

The ethos of relativism dominates the conversation as well. The big sin is to declare a right or wrong. "What's right for you may not be right for me."

Most college students utter this inanity as if a wizard were inside them pulling their vocal chords. This ethic of relativism is so predictable as to be boring and it quashes any meaningful discussion. I hear it over and over from college students: Who are we to judge? Who are we to judge a culture that places its women in seclusion and hides and immobilizes them behind yards and yards of black cloth? Who are we to question ritual suicide? Who are we to question sexual relations between any two (or more) human beings? This is what the college professor is faced with.

It begins early in education and by high school it is the rare student who can defend notions of right and wrong.

In fact, given that the method of teaching promoted in education classes and in teacher seminars today is that of "facilitation," the barrier between teacher and student is not much of one at all. The teacher becomes a peer, and according to the regnant ethos, it’s okay to have sex with one's peer. (Remember, judgments about sexuality are verboten in the classroom too.) The emphasis on "discovery," "group work," and "discussion" puts the teacher in the role of facilitator, not someone who has knowledge to impart, but someone who brings the innate wisdom of each genius in her classroom to the fore.

Furthermore, the teacher is ordered to make learning "fun." The result is a classroom of sprawling college freshmen dressed as if for spring break, many of whom do not even have the assigned reading material in front of them.

The high school student today is likely to have spent more time engaged in mock U.N. debates than in learning the rules of grammar.

Indeed, on college campuses students form chapters of the Model United Nations Club. And I have seen no more convoluted argumentation from a free-wheeling, un-schooled mind than I did from one of these students in his papers. I am sure that the poor guy had been told from the time he could read that his ideas were original and profound. But he would be incapable of writing a simple memo. The other students done such a disservice are those in honors classes, who are used to being told that they are the best and the brightest. I had the occasion to teach such a class of freshmen and was surprised to find that I had to fill out evaluations on students on such criteria as their "leadership abilities." Unfortunately, there was no space to check off N/A, "not applicable," as I would have liked.

When we grant students authority that is unearned or assume that they should demonstrate "leadership abilities" in the classroom, we give them a feeling of maturity beyond their years and real knowledge level—or on par with the teacher.

Today, what is considered more shocking than sexual relations between teacher and high school student is that a husband would kill his wife's lover. Decades ago, when sex was not such a casual thing, the murder in a moment of passion would not seem that unusual. >p>But that was before teachers became peers and told students who had been told that they were smart enough to be U.N. delegates that anything goes.


Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at www.DissidentProf.com. Her writing can be found at www.marygrabar.com.