Words, words, words. How beautifully they serve in our search for truth and speaking our minds, and yet how easily they are manipulated to bend to a fixed mind and a personal agenda.
I’ve been the object of some recent attacks that have used and abused words, and I’d like to examine some of those words, from a purely academic standpoint, of course. I’d rather not dwell on the Armenian assimilation thing except to say that I have, from the beginning, objected to only one sentence written into the mission statement of an organization. I repeat, one sentence. Not one people, not one ethnicity, not one nationality — just one sentence that flies in the face of my school’s mission to bring our students together.
The latest attack on my character came from a gentleman who seemed to find catharsis in pillorying a school teacher who had the audacity to question that sentence. I would ask this gentleman and others similarly inclined to find just one student of the thousands I have taught over the years who might have detected even a hint of the prejudice they suggest.
I can save him, and others, the trouble. I’ve had a long love affair with my Armenian students, and my Latino students, and my Filipino students, and my Korean students, and my Vietnamese students and my — I know my shortcomings as a teacher, but prejudice is not one of them.
I would ask also that my detractors come to terms with the hundreds of people who have contacted me throughout the city to offer words of support, not to denigrate anyone, but to express the same frustration that I expressed about the separation in our city and in our schools. So enough of that and on to Allen Freemon, the president of my teachers union who accuses me of “duplicity” and “hypocrisy” (yow!). He’s a very nice man, but I have to challenge his understanding of words.
Having questioned his leadership, he has returned the favor by questioning my loyalty to our union. He claims that I have “refused to sit down to discuss our differences,” and perhaps therein lies the source of his confusion. We were actually standing up when I did indeed face him with my issues with the union. But more on that later.
A few months back, I and a few other colleagues dared to disagree with our union leader in his unnecessary and completely unwarranted assault on former Glendale Unified School District Board of Education member Chuck Sambar. Agree or disagree with Sambar, the man has devoted his professional life to the children of our community, and he did not deserve the public criticism Freemon leveled against him. His letter to the Glendale News-Press on Feb. 12 was titled, “Board member’s absence is inexcusable.”
This coming from a teacher who asked for more paid release time from his principal job as a teacher so that he might better perform his duties as president of our union. Maybe I’m just out of touch with things, but I persist in believing that a teacher’s most sacred responsibility is to his students. If we’re going to create an exalted position (union president) that takes a teacher out of his classroom for a substantial portion of the year, then let’s drop the word “teacher” from his job description.
My disagreement with Freemon was about the purpose of our union and my role in it. He chastised me for not being a “team player” and violating our union’s “code of conduct.” I said that I do not recognize any code that prevents me from speaking my mind. Freemon insists that I did not first run my disagreements through the union hierarchy, as if I were a soldier who did not properly respect a chain of command. I, in turn, told him directly that I did not agree with a union that stifles dissent and marginalizes members who dare to disagree with leadership.
I mentioned to him that a number of union members and reps had complained about such tactics and the adversarial tone of the union, and his response was, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” That was my signal to disengage from Freemon, thinking at the time that he was being either purposely obtuse or genuinely oblivious. Either way, we had nothing further to say to each other.
In the meantime, we’ve had elections in our union. All of the people I supported lost, and I imagine Freemon and his minions have found vindication in the results. It does occur to me that I am out of touch with a new regime of union leadership that favors a “them vs. us” strategy in our dealings with the school district.
Be that as it may, I promise to leave both of these subjects alone — no matter what is written — and sign off for now as your prejudiced, xenophobic, duplicitous, hypocritical (I welcome additions here) columnist.
But let me just add that I celebrate my profession, that I am grateful for the richness that comes of cultural diversity, and that most of all, I absolutely love the idea of people of all varieties and assortments coming together and finding common ground. While we stumble over our words and mistake one another’s intentions, I am convinced common ground is what we all seek.
DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@ sbcglobal.net.