Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Angry Viral Videos Are Not The Way

So today somebody on Facebook posted a link to a video that is (or hopes to soon be) viral, at least locally. The video was the parent of an autistic child who was claiming that his son was verbally bullied by the teacher and staff of the special needs classroom in the school that he attends. To back this up, the man sent his son into school with a hidden recording device. This entire story kind of freaked me out on multiple levels, not the least of which was the fact that I used to work at that school and with that same student. Now this is my personal opinion on what a situation like this says in general, so I'm not going to be giving any names or places. If you're familiar with any of them, please don't mention it anywhere, as the last thing I want is for any of this to come back and bite me in the ass. Bullshit like this is the reason I quit that line of work in the first place.

However, as it turns out, the father was right. Some of the audio that was caught on tape ranged from inappropriate (such as the teacher talking about getting drunk the previous night) to verbally abusive. According to the dad's self-edited video transcript, at one point the aide says "you're such a bastard" to the child. Behavior like this is of course inexcusable and should not be tolerated. Any school employee who engages in institutional abuse like name calling is beyond wrong and should not be allowed around students. When I was there, I worked under a very good teacher, and for the most part, a very good group of classroom aides. There was one who would say inappropriate things in front of students sometimes, and I believe she got transferred out of that room after I left.

In any case, I am of course a strong opponent of any type of bullying; institutional, peer to peer, or otherwise. I, like probably a majority of people, have been through it in some ways myself, and it sucks. I really approve of the action that has been taken in the past several years to try to recognize and address this problem.

But with that said, I want to look at the dangerous precedent that occurs when any parent that feels like it has the ability to open up Windows Movie Maker and spread viral videos around the Internet. Now, as I said, in this case the father was right that his son was being mistreated by the staff. In the video it mentions that the aide responsible for these comments was in fact fired, and the teacher and other aides were all reassigned to different schools. It would appear to me that even though the pain of the experience cannot be undone, a measure of justice was served. However, in the video, the father rails against the teacher union rules that allow the names of those involved to be kept secret, and demands a public apology from everyone involved. He mentions he's not going to sue (which is pretty admirable considering that many parents of special needs students love nothing more than big cash settlements from underfunded public schools when they're already rich), but its clear that the woman losing her situation and the rest of the staff being reprimanded over this matter is not sufficient. There has to be a viral video that incites rage, and a big production needs to be made. Its not enough that the school district took action, but everyone in the world needs to know about it as well, and every member of the classroom, guilty or innocent, and the school system as well, needs to have its reputation tarnished.

The biggest reason that crusader parents making viral videos is dangerous is because for one, they're completely one sided. There's no editor, there's no fact checker, there's no due process. The video is just the parent saying his side of the story as angrily as possible with well-placed editing to make it appear exactly the way he wants it. I know for a fact that he, like most parents of disabled kids (or maybe just parents in general), completely downplays the extent of his child's disabilities. He mentions that his son flipping out and having breakdowns in class was a new phenomenon related to the bullying, and that normally he never acted out anymore than "quietly mumbling to himself" and so forth. I had personally seen this kid launch into unprovoked tantrums years ago when I worked there. No, they were not common, but they did happen, and on one or two occasions, they could be somewhat violent. Even though this fact does not have too much bearing on the events that occurred, it is nonetheless a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts on the part of the father in order to further his case. Most people watching the video would probably not even think to question such a minor statement of the video, but because I was familiar with the student, I caught it instantly.

Another reason these videos are dangerous is because sometimes they achieve their goal: to incite rage. One of the comments I saw after this video was posted read, and I'm paraphrasing here, something about "taking those cunts and slamming their heads into a wall." Right, because the best way to deal with verbal abuse is more verbal abuse, and to crush women's heads. Some people really don't think about what the fuck they're saying, because this is the Internet and let's all kill everybody for everything! Now while I'm sure the father of the student wouldn't condone the brutal murder of a room full of teachers, that doesn't mean that by releasing an inflammatory video of a matter that should (and for the most part has been) handled through the proper channels, he hasn't started down a path that could lead to threats of violence or worse. He does not reveal the last names of the staff in question (seeming to indicate that if they don't come forward for an apology, he will), but that doesn't matter. He's already revealed their first names, where they work, and what position they hold. Since the names and salaries of all public employees in New Jersey are a matter of public record, and there's also this thing called the Internet, it shouldn't be too hard for anyone who wants to email someone a death threat to track them down. At the very least, you run the risk of turning entire public sentiment against a school full of mostly good and honest, non-abusive teachers and staff who are working their asses off every day to try and teach your god damn kids how to read and write.

And one more thing. In this case, the evidence was clear and the sentiment was as least justified. But what if the next angry parent with a bone to pick on YouTube is not? When I worked at that school I was kicked, punched, stabbed with pencils, and hit with thrown chairs on a daily basis by a different student with whom I worked. Some days I seriously considered bashing my head on a piece of furniture so that I could go to the hospital instead of to work. For my trouble, when we had to use state approved restraint techniques to keep the student from hurting others in one of his tantrums, his parents called for investigations of abuse from both the state and from Dyphus. Thanks to the due process of both of these entities, they found that the accusations were baseless, and nothing came of it. But maybe if the parents had thought that a viral video would have been a more effective means to deal with the imagined situation and had decided to fire up the webcam and publicly call me a child-beating monster until there was such a media firestorm that there was no choice for the school but to fire me, my good name would be fucked forever. Or hell, maybe they could have just sent the kid to class with a wire on every day until they had enough audio they could take out of context to doctor up and be able to "prove" whatever they wanted. By the time anyone figured it out, the damage would have been done and no one would have cared anymore, because that's how viral videos work.

Like I said, the woman who was responsible for saying these things was wrong, and deserved to lose her job several times over. The motive behind making this video is just, even though I strongly disagree with the method. We, as an information age society, need to be very cautious as to what we give credence. Many of the parents in that school district already have a staggering success rate at suing the district for, quite frankly, bullshit reasons. Some people are just out to rightfully protect their kids. Other people are looking for any excuse to lawyer up and prey on an already overburdened public school special education system and the underpaid employees who can't afford legal counsel. While advanced education programs and regular classroom aides are being cut due to the budget, special education classes are fully stocked with a personal aide for each child, and there's still not enough resources to train everyone sufficiently. If making viral videos becomes an effective way for vindictive parents to get people fired, there won't be one god damn teacher left in that school.

So, if you want to make an online video instead of going through the proper legal channels, you'd better have a good fucking reason, because you only have to destroy a person's career once. As for me, I left all that behind. Now, I no longer worry about being sued, investigated, or apparently wiretapped. Some people might say that its a shame, because I was good at that job, but in the end I just couldn't deal with the parents' bullshit.

Oh well, their loss.

Friday, April 13, 2012

You Might Be A Racist If...

There have been a lot of racially charged stories in the news lately, and with them comes the type of indignant comments made by people who are really upset that it is becoming less and less socially acceptable to be a fucking racist. More or less, I always hear shit like this (Please use your most indignant, butt-hurt, exaggeratory voice when reading the italicized words):

"Oh well if a white person said/did that, everyone would be all mad, but because a black/Mexican person did, we're not allowed to say anything."

I'm sure you hear garbage like this all the time. Maybe you even say it. Hell, maybe you even believe it. This statement is the kind of pushback you get when you back a racist into a corner, a kind of emotionally vomitous expellant inanely spewed by people who honestly believe that they, and I'm talking about white males age 18-35 here, are themselves discriminated against in our society. That somehow their ability to criticize things that are legitimately unjust is so beset on all sides by a hypersensitive, over reactive populace that they are powerless to point out the myriad evils to which the rest of us compulsively turn a blind eye. Well, frankly, that's bullshit, and to prove it, I don't have to go back more than 48 hours into the news cycle.

You see, at one time, the object of the news networks may well have been to report the news. I can't really confirm or deny this, as it certainly hasn't been the case for as long as I have personally been able to understand what the fake-looking people on the TV have been saying. With increasing gall, the uniform goal, the all-encompassing singularity to which all news network now aspire is none other than complete dominance of the ratings. The programs are engineered to whip the viewer into a frenzy, to incite rather than to inform. "Everyone look! Ridiculous sideshow presidential candidate #1 is about to say something! Now he is saying it! He just said it! Now let's bring a panel of 27 commentators to endlessly rehash and reinterpret the fairly simple and straightforward message that the average sixth grader should be able to understand." I myself am a victim of this, drawn into stories that I know with all my heart that I should not give one fuck about. But it's got everything: the anticipation of something important about to happen, the good guys (left or right), the bad guys (left or right), the legitimization of even the most insane cabin-in-the-woods apocalypse fearing fringe group's agenda, birthers, death panels, war on women, war on religion (while the effects of the real war are hidden), election races that last years, all attempting to elicit as much raw emotion as possible from as many people as possible. I used to think it demonstrated some kind of culture or intelligence to be informed as to what was going on in the country, but now I think it may be driving us to collective madness. The reason is that less than half of what we think is happening is actually happening, and we're not even seeing half of the real stuff. Now, there's no laws being debated, there's only threats to our way of life, or wars on whatever group of people. The President is somehow a dictator, a fascist, a socialist, a communist, a Muslim, and an illegal immigrant all at the same time. The media legitimizes every ridiculous claim simply by covering them, while real abuses of power go undiscussed or fade quickly from the public conversation. And the media fuels it all in the name of ratings.

The point of this tangent being, then, that one would have to have a very particular and predisposed worldview to possibly conceive the fact that the media and society in general specifically target only controversial remarks made by white men. To the contrary, they dredge up and pull to the forefront any sensational comments regardless of the source as long as they can be offered up to the golden idol of ratings. After all, when there's blood in the water, its always the same color. The example I alluded to earlier to counter this absurdity happened earlier this week, when the manager of the Marlins, a Venezuelan, was suspended for five games for saying on the record that he admires Fidel Castro. His comments, which in my opinion are hardly worth a controversy considering that Che Guevarra shirts are a popular fad in this country and that political opinions should have no bearing on a game of baseball, have garnered national attention and have infuriated baseball fans, Cuban immigrants, and residents of Florida. Now the point here is that the Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen, is decidedly not white, yet people are calling for him to be fired over these remarks that in all honesty don't even reach the "Hitler had some good ideas" level of political incorrectness. They want him to lose his career for saying he admires Castro, a comment so tame it wouldn't even get you a detention in high school. Believe me, I know.

So when these people say that only white people get in trouble for making racist/controversial remarks, where the fuck are they getting their news? Oh that's right, nowhere. Forget about the fact that the Reverend Wright (black guy) thing was a huge media frenzy that caused a giant controversy. Forget about the fact that Herman Cain (black guy) got in a shitload of trouble for harassing women. Forget about the fact that Ozzie Guillen (Venezuelan) can't manage a baseball team because he likes Castro. They forget about all these facts, and just rehash the same phobic cliches with other racists about how white people aren't allowed to criticize a minority anymore, and other dipshit statements like, "Pretty soon we won't even be allowed to speak English!" That's another gem. Half the fucking countries in the world speak English, how paranoid are you?

White males are the statistically most financially successful demographic in the country, so stop bitching. If the culture is a little more diverse, or understanding, or politically correct than it was in your idealized pre-Civil rights (or Civil War for that matter) American fantasy-land, deal with it. It doesn't even mean you're not free to be a racist anymore, it just means that a larger percentage of people these days will think you're an asshole.

And they're right.