I’ve paid close attention to the Steubenville rape case from the moment I heard about it. I was drawn to it because I was threatened with gang-rape as a young woman . . . in the Midwest . . . and a sports team was involved.
I was 25 and in my first year as a teacher at a very large high school outside of Detroit. I loved my job, my cohorts, and I was prepared for rascals. I had been teaching for 4 years and had had excellent training by a team of old-school English teachers with over 100 years of experience. But now I was in a different school and the new kid in the department.
In early May or so of 1973 . . . maybe 6 or 7 weeks before the end of school, I came down, once again, with behavioral boundaries on a student who had been a pill the whole semester. Uncooperative, disruptive, I’d been able to subdue him and have most of the class engaged most of the time, but this was a warm, sunny spring day and he was feeling his oats. I came down sternly. I can’t remember what I said but I do remember what he said: “If you’re not careful I’ll get a group of my friends together and we’ll find your house and rape you.”
I said, “Get out. Go to the office.” Mercifully, he left, and it was only about 15 minutes before lunch. When the bell rang went immediately to the office and, of course, he had not shown up. The school was big enough that there were 4 vice-principals in addition to the main principal.
Before I go on, you need to know that I was not a wimp when it came to dealing with challenging students. On my first job, at a different, very large high school outside of Detroit I’d had a student who was out on bail after having one of his eyes shot out by a policeman during a car chase, there was a fist fight in my huge study hall that landed one of the students in juvenile hall and another of my study hall charges (whom I really liked) stuffed his Social Studies teacher into a student locker.
I sought out the principal in charge of discipline and told him what had happened and that the student, Mr. X appeared to be on drugs, intractable and I did not want him in my classroom any more. Period.
Mr. Vice-Principal told me that this wouldn’t do. Mr. X was the prize short-stop/second baseman/pitcher or some such important player on the winning baseball team and he needed to be in English class in order to be eligible to play . . . and he HAD TO PLAY.
I said something to the effect that I’m sorry about that but he’s not allowed back into my classroom. He’s been a pill all semester, I’ll be happy to send his work down to you and he can sit in your office and do it. I’ll check his work and he can get a grade but he can’t come back into my room.
Mr. Vice-Principal said, “That won’t work. He needs to be in your class.”
I sez, “If he comes back into my classroom, I quit.”
He sez, “You’re under contract.”
I sez, “Watch me.”
The young man never came back into my classroom. The full principal liked me and valued my work. I sent work down and he was able to keep playing. I really loved that job and wanted to keep it but if they weren’t willing to back me on this I wasn’t willing to stay . . .
but let this sink in. One of your valued teachers is threatened with gang-rape and the first words out of your mouth are, “But he needs to be in this class to continue to play baseball.”
We need a tidal shift in our values . . . so we keep on keeping on . . . but it still astonishes me.