17 October 2013

Comin' Around Again

When I was a newly-minted teacher, I was all of 21 and a half years old. The half counts, just as it does for newborn babes. My career was in its infancy. I was as young and cute as I was ever going to be as an adult and I had the shiny optimism that only a begining teacher has.

I had a lot of ups and downs that year---just like anyone else. My room was outside the main building, across a courtyard from the office. There was one door. Being an early bird, I would often come in and get set up for the day. There weren't that many people around, but Fred---our custodian---was out and about. I didn't think much about his morning visits at first. I'd been told in my certification program to make friends with the secretary and janitor at the school I ended up in---that they were always the most important people. I couldn't have kept Fred out of my room anyway. He had a key for every door in the place. But the conversations always bordered on the creepy, no matter how busy I tried to make myself appear or how boring a topic I picked. Things took a turn for the worse when Fred showed up drunk at my house one Friday night and tried to barge his way in. I had to ask my principal to intervene. I didn't want him to lose his job. I just wanted him to stay away if I was alone in my classroom (and not bother me at home). In an area just post-Anita Hill, but before a greater focus on sexual harassment, Fred kept his job (and his distance) after that. Over the five years I was at that school, we were able to settle in to a professional relationship.

I bring this up only because there's been quite a disturbance in the online science universe of the last few days. And it has me rattled just as much as my experience as a newbie teacher, but for very different reasons.

Unless you follow a lot of science bloggers on Twitter or subscribe to their blogs, you might not know that "the blogfather" of many of these spaces has been accused of (and admitted to) sexual harassment of at least one female blogger..and there are more coming forward. Bora was a part of the early edusphere, hosting a couple of the education carnivals when that was a thing 7 or 8 years ago. I don't know of any other online persona who has done so much to support communication...his larger-than-life appetite for learning always on display. He's a founder of ScienceOnline, a conference I've attended and supported. He's someone I've given money to when his family was in need...someone who shared an interview with me...someone I've cheered on as he's gained attention and responsibility. Discovering that he has tried to take advantage of this feels like the kind of disillusionment you get when you find out Santa Claus isn't real.

It's not my business to understand his personal life...and I'm not here to judge whether he is or isn't a good person. It isn't that simple, anyway. All of us make good and bad choices. All of us have to deal with the consequences. There isn't a bank account of good decisions that can be drawn against. You don't spend years spreading goodwill in order to build credit to excuse missteps. Just doesn't work that way. But the cognitive dissonance is dizzying. How could someone who has done so much to build community (and who I have had nothing but positive conversations and interactions with) make such poor choices that result in him being ostracized from everything he loves? My heart breaks for all involved, especially the women who have carried the burden of his actions. I wish them strength and courage.

As I've gone about my work this week, all of this is in the back of my mind---from my own experiences with sexual dynamics in the workplace to reconciling the person I know with the person people are talking about. I feel sad that the one of the only ways we can build understanding of equity in the workplace is to go through these situations. I keep reading posts from others---about how people knew (but perhaps didn't take big enough steps) and what appropriate consequences should be---think that I will make sense of all the pieces. They're hard life lessons, even for old teachers like me who hope this stuff will stop comin' around again.

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