In honor of banned books week, I bring you the story of Nate Fisher, former freshman English teacher at Guilford High School in Guilford, CT. Mr. Fisher is a second-year freshman English teacher who by all accounts was quite popular with his students. He did, however, expect them to complete summer reading assignments, and when one of his students hadn’t, he gave her a choice of books to read over Labor Day to complete the assignment. They agreed upon a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes — Eightball #22, which was republished as Ice Haven. Eightball #22 was listed by School Library Journal as having an age rating of Grade 10 and up. From what I’ve read, it had some mature material in it, but nothing that could be considered pornographic in nature.
Freshman Girl’s parents had objections to the chosen assignment. In fact, their objections were so strong they bypassed the teacher entirely, marching themselves and their objections right past the teacher’s classroom into the principal’s office. When they didn’t receive the response they anticipated from the principal, they went to the police. Then they went to the police in a neighboring town — a relative of theirs — and really stirred things up. The next thing you know, Mr. Fisher was placed on administrative leave and then forced to resign, effectively ending his career or at the very least, putting the brakes on it till the dust dies down.
When I first saw this on BoingBoing, I thought Mr. Fisher had probably exercised some bad judgment in the choice of reading material he assigned to the girl. But two things changed my mind. I actually went through the approved authors published by the Guilford Schools, and there were authors on there with far more explicit and adult material than what I’ve seen quoted from Eightball #22. See this comment on The Beat, quoting a passage from Charles Bukowski’s ‘Women”.
Second, after reading the comments of the person claiming to be this girl’s mother, it’s clear that the objection had less to do with what he recommended to read and more to do with their belief that a MAN gave it to her to read, suggesting with lots of inline innuendo that Mr. Fisher is some sort of smarmy predator out to molest their Precious. The reasoning behind this? He told her to read it first, and then tell him how it made her feel. Hmmm. Have you ever had an assignment like that? Read this, respond. Responsive reading. Not really what I’d call the act of a predator. But it’s clear that the parents wished to paint him in a sinister, ugly light and when they did not raise a response from the administration, they shouted out to a police buddy to put some pressure on. That happened. Fisher was told, resign or we make it ugly for you — you’ll never work in this town again. (Sound familiar? Shades of Julie Amero?)
To get a sense of the depth of evil that such a baseless accusation brings, read the comments of usrngrx here. In particular, this remark frosted me:
We do not have the luxury of assuming everything is OK, so we can only go with what we see. And what I see is a teacher having an inappropriate interchange with a student, which, in every one of these cases below led to some sort of sexual crime.
BTW, usrngrx sounds like a lawyer or a cop close to the case. Just sayin’.
You can read “Danielle’s” comments here and here. She claims to be the mother and the detail contained in her comments lend themselves to some credibility on that score. But it’s the Internet and without some verifiable way to know, you can take it with whatever grain of salt you wish. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, then at least read these quotes:
Now let me tell you, I am not shocked by much, but the first page I turned to was the fluffy blue bunny page – and I was shocked. Why would this teacher think my 13 year old would want to read this! I could not imagine what this teacher had in mind with my daughter by giving her this comic. I was fearful that I knew what might be on his mind!
So the afternoon goes by and my Daughter gets off the bus, I ask her what happened in his class that day and she tells me that – He pulled her aside after class and asked her how reading that comic made her feel.
She told him that she really thought it was disgusting and inappropriate and he said yes, I told you it might be a little bit mature.
Well when I heard this, I was really disgusted. What can I assume in this day and age was this teachers motives?? I put her back in the car and I went back down to the school. I asked to see the principal again and I told him what was said to her after class.
That gives a pretty good picture of what these parents assumed. It wasn’t about the book; it was about their belief that Fisher had evil intentions. So without any evidence to the contrary, without meeting this teacher face to face and confronting him with their concerns and objections, without so much as having the first CLUE as to what this man was all about, they jumped to a conclusion and forced the school administration to force him out. And it really is because he had the misfortune to be a man. Had her teacher been female, I’m guessing they would have had a different approach.
Now the parents are still a bit miffed because their daughter has been the victim of unintended consequences. All they wanted to do was protect her; but there was some serious peer backlash over his resignation, including Facebook hazings, ridicule and rejection. I feel for this kid, I really do. Had her parents chosen a more private pathway to resolution, she wouldn’t be the target of her peers’ anger. It must feel rotten to be new in a school, a freshman, AND have parents who have no qualms about drumming someone out with no facts and then trumpeting about it in the local newspaper. From the New Haven Register:
[Superintendent] Forcella said that the school district’s investigation is closed now that Fisher has resigned. But the girl’s father rejected that explanation, calling the school’s acceptance of Fisher’s resignation a “cop out.”
“Now they don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “They can close the investigation, they’re done with the matter and now they’re out of a sticky situation.”
The student’s parents said they met with Forcella and other school officials on Monday and were told the district would send an e-mail to parents explaining that the girl was not at fault, which they had not received as of Wednesday afternoon. Forcella said the district is planning to e-mail a statement and post it on the school system’s main Web site.
“I’m extremely upset with the administration for not following through with their word of contacting the parents,” the father said. “It looks like we got some teacher fired (over) a Harry Potter novel or Catcher in the Rye.”
The girl’s mother said her daughter has been “crying every night” and asking not to go to school because students who liked the teacher are blaming her. The mother said that some students set up a group on Facebook, the social networking Web site, calling for Fisher to be reinstated and criticizing the student. The family called the police when, they said, a video was posted on the site with a picture of their daughter and a song with the lyrics “Don’t hesitate to exterminate.” The Facebook page has since been removed.
“He’s the cool, favorite teacher of all the kids,” the father said.
His wife said she became especially concerned when her daughter told her Fisher asked her “how the book made her feel,” although the mother added that she has no idea “what his intention was.”
“She was victimized by him to begin with and over and over again for 2½ weeks now,” she said. “We just feel like if people understand what he had given her, then they would understand that it’s not our daughter’s fault.”
Hey, it WASN’T their daughter’s fault. It was THEIRS.
Frank Krasicki (a fellow Julie Group member and member of the Board of Education in Ashford, CT) views the insinuation that Fisher was a predator as a hate crime. He’s got some pretty strong words for the administration of Guilford High School, and I agree with him. First, they should reject Fisher’s resignation and reinstate him with an apology. Second, they should make clear to all parents, students and teachers that they will not entertain insinuation as accusation, but will insist on solid evidence of misconduct before placing a teacher on administrative leave.
I echo Frank’s sentiments and add one more. De-certify the union in that district. Any union that wouldn’t get the facts and stand up for this teacher’s rights should be de-certified at once because the union dues are a complete waste of money.
MiniVan Diaries notes that as a result of the parents’ actions, Fisher’s resignation and the resulting backlash on their daughter, everyone loses. Yes, yes they do.
The father is honest about his vendetta:
“I personally don’t ever want him teaching again,” he said. “There is nothing that he could say that would account for this. … That poor judgment is something you can’t take back.”
Notice how it’s become “poor judgment” now, instead of “child predator”?
Over at Blogher, Leslie Madsen Brooks has an interesting post about “stalker moms“, the K-12 version of helicopter parents. She asks,
In understanding what’s going on in our kids’ schools, are we aiming for transparency or surveillance? And where does transparency end and surveillance begin?
Or put in this context, are we aiming for complete character assassination or just protecting “the children”?
More information about Eightball #22/Ice Haven:
More about this case: