Note: Article contains mild profanity.
Here’s hoping other folks can relate—if not to me being the center of the universe, then at least a similar sensation of cosmic coincidence within their own lives.
Or perhaps not. But if I am alone in thinking that, an article I encountered last week certainly did not help my narcissist tendencies—and in the most unflattering of ways.
Along with scandals involving my old college newspaper, and the Virginia school districts where I was born and worked previously, the article was one of several recent news items that have intersected with my own lived experiences on a deeply personal level.
Based on a recent study from the University of Georgia, it sought to uncover the common traits in people who were considered to be “assholes.”
Lo and behold, with each quality that was listed, I perceived a common theme: Most sounded like they were describing none other than yours truly.
It got me reflecting, as I sometimes do, on my personal deficiencies and regrets—how I might have been more empathetic here or less demanding there.
And then came the kicker:
The researcher quoted in the article was a former intern of mine, going back to when she was a high-school student and I, a 20-something editor for the local newspaper’s youth section.
Was she actually talking about me?
SPOT THE A-HOLE
It didn’t help that my former intern’s study singled out characteristics like “middle-age men” and “ex-bosses.”
I concluded that the premise was semantically flawed since people’s connotations of the word “asshole” might be more limited than the researchers assumed, with other equally unpleasant words used to confer similar stereotypes upon different demographics.
Still, the study’s shortcomings did not necessarily rule out the possibility that I was one.
“When we talk about behaviors, the asshole was not necessarily being antagonistic toward people, but they just didn’t really care about what others were thinking or how they were perceived by others,” the researchers observed.
Thus, it’s possible I was so self-absorbed that I did not even realize how I was projecting myself. Sin by omission.
While it is generally unfair to prosecute the past, it’s also possible that, in hindsight, subsequent events and experiences have redefined how those once-fond memories were evaluated.
In the intervening decade I have, sadly, fallen out with some of my former staffers over politics and various disagreements. Others just lost touch and faded into the distant past.
In some of the more challenging classes, in fact, it’s quite safe to say that I was an asshole—although it pains me to think some otherwise decent students may carry that perception for the remainder of their days.
A THANKLESS (AND QUIXOTIC) TASK
Ultimately, there is little anyone can do to change how those around us may perceive us according to their own biases.
For teachers, dodging discontent from all directions, this can be a particular frustration.
Under the best circumstances, they face the burden of pushing students to expand their narrow perceptions and broaden their horizons.
It is their duty and honor to build trusting interpersonal relationships with students, and doing so should be welcomed.
But in reality, any sort of meaningful instruction is apt to offend someone.
In the worst scenarios, teachers are the most overqualified, tax-subsidized (albeit, often underpaid) babysitters around.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t truly terrible teachers—incompetent left-wing-activist hacks who have entered the field in bad faith with the express intent of maliciously indoctrinating young minds to embrace controversial, Marxist worldviews.
Florida teacher is upset that teachers won’t be able to talk about their sexuality and claims simply saying the word gay can get you fired. pic.twitter.com/2Hf9CY9SDc
— Libs of Tik Tok (@libsoftiktok) April 18, 2022
Likewise, there are some in the field of pedagogy and childhood development who, unfortunately, have their own prurient interests at heart.
I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to say when Twitter let me back on and here is my official statement on the matter: pic.twitter.com/goxaty2rkV
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) April 11, 2022
Still, I feel a certain ambivalence about the recent trend of condemning all teachers as “groomers,” since doing so may cause more harm than good.
A DISSERVICE… AND A DANGER
To begin with, applying such a broad and trite accusation risks minimizing the seriousness of the offense, turning sex abuse into a sort of joke.
I recall telling a pair of students (African–American, female sophomores) during our study of To Kill a Mockingbird that it was unwise to toss around casual accusations of “racism” because doing so would debase the experiences of those who truly endured it.
The same is true of Nazism, as I tried to impart during my unit on Elie Wiesel’s Night.
And as the faculty of the University of Virginia warned the Cavalier Daily staff recently, students claiming that a speech by former Vice President Mike Pence would incite violence were similarly painting a false, hyperbolic equivalence.
“It is also a disservice to those who are the victims of actual physical violence,” they wrote in an op-ed.
Yet, just as it risks blunting the poignancy of the word itself, the “groomer” label also poses the danger of frightening off more good teachers than bad ones.
There are plenty of negative stressors and degradations that even the best teachers must cope with—and retention is hard enough without thrusting educators’ careers into the center of a political dispute involving the vilest of slanders.
When all is said and done, only the most brazen and shameless ones will find it worth persevering despite the stigma.
Instead, to win the debate in the long term, conservatives must be the party of both parents and teachers.
A PROFOUND (AND PROFANE) SHIFT
When it comes to defining classroom boundaries, concerned parents have sometimes hedged by citing the Supreme Court’s famous standard for obscenity, delivered by Justice Potter Stewart in 1964’s Jacobellis vs. Ohio.
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so,” he wrote of plaintiff Nico Jacobellis’s efforts to screen a French film, Louis Malle’s Les Amants, at an Ohio cinema. “But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
Ironically, Stewart was speaking out in defense of the problematic material.
Moreover, pro-values conservatives may think twice about quoting him when they realize that he was one of the concurring votes who would go on to interpret abortion as being the law of the land in Roe vs. Wade.
Although the moral decay since the decency-obsessed 1950s may be hard to refute, it was the failure of conservatives then to choose their battles and frame their issues wisely that ultimately led us to the Swinging ’60s and to where we are now.
As some followed Ozzie and Harriet down the garden path of wholesomeness and light, shadowy subversives led the rest of the country on a fast track to Sodom and Gomorrah.
To be clear, there is no reason for any form of sex-based instruction—or politics, for that matter—to seep into elementary classrooms where it is inappropriate to the age level. And there are other limits that every rational person ought to agree upon without need for negotiation.
Yet, somehow, the immoral Left has once again baited the moral majority into a standoff that relies on false assumptions and absolutes, ultimately leading to an untenable position of imposed censorship.
They don’t necessarily need to win on logic or principles—only to make the other side seem like the bigger assholes.
In time, it may be conservatives’ very opposition to groomerdom that helps to normalize it within the broader public sphere.
And then there is the ready-set trap of accusing none other than anti-groomer Gov. Ron DeSantis of hypocrisy:
EXCLUSIVE: Ron DeSantis partied with underage girls at drinking party while teaching at a Georgia school
— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) October 25, 2021
As usual, it all comes back to moi.
That school where DeSantis got his start as a high-school history teacher was the same one where I got my start as a student (in the lower and middle school), just a few years before his arrival.
Unfortunately, there may indeed have been some groomers—or worse—in the ranks, even back then.
But Darlington also sowed the seeds of greatness for at least one person whose life intersected with it… And DeSantis turned out pretty good too.