The Unnecessary Humbling of a Genius

The callers were, for the most part, gleefully vicious. Egged on by a radio talk show host with a tendency to overplay the part of incredulous citizen, the callers ripped into the girl and her parents, citing everything from the moral decay of the world to irresponsible parents who raise children with no discipline and no sense of accountability.

The girl in question was a West Virginia high school student with a 4.5 grade point average. The issue was that the girl’s parents were suing her school over an “F” grade their child received for being one day late with a biology assignment.

On its face, it does seem like a rather frivolous suit. The girl was late with an assignment, received a poor grade, and should take responsibility for failing to complete the assignment on time. That was, at least, the general consensus of the callers who failed to hear or who didn’t want to hear the rest of the story.

The girl was on an academic field trip the day the assignment was due. Written school policy allowed that students on field trips could hand in any assignments that were due while they were gone upon their return.

However, when the girl received the “F” and the teacher would not bend, and the girl argued this point to the school, she was told that the policy was meant to apply to athletes – not to high school honor students engaged in off-campus study.

The teacher did not have to let the “F” stand. She might have used some common sense and realized that punishing one of the brightest students in school, for the “crime” of being on an academic field trip hardly constitutes an educational lesson.

Then again maybe education was not teacher Jane Schultz’s only goal. The leaf project for biology class did not go unlearned – the student did, after all, show proof of her work when she handed the project in. Schultz might have chosen to judge the girl’s work on its merits, but instead she chose to obliterate the girl’s work in total, determining not that it was below average or poorly done, but that being one day late constituted a total academic failure.

While society tends to put teachers on a pedestal, and rightly so in most instances, teachers are not infallible. They carry the same seeds of imperfection as the rest of us, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that teachers, too, can be jealous, spiteful, and unreasonable.

It is not improbable that some teachers and officials in the school system may misuse their power and authority in order to dress-down and humble a student they perceive as over-gifted or over-privileged.

As the callers to this radio show and others of its ilk so often illustrate, there is a tendency among some people to resent those who are more blessed than average, especially when they make waves, or fail to accept some responsibility others believe they should have, or who prove by their mistakes that they are, indeed human.

Was resentment and the desire to humble and humiliate a young genius at the root of the school’s decision? I am not certain, but there’s a lack of logic in the teacher’s action and the school’s reflexive support of the teacher that seems antithetical to the higher principles of education.

Those who claim that the lawsuit is frivolous have, I think, missed a crucial point. The lawsuit isn’t merely about one girl’s hurt feelings or diminished GPA, but about the school’s failure to extend its own written policy on school-supported absences to non-athletes. According to the principal, football players attending an away game should be allowed to be late with assignments, but students on academic field trips should not. That some have a knee-jerk reaction to a headline like “Girl Sues Over Failing Grade,” or fail to see the irony of a school supporting sports over education, does not invalidate the lawsuit’s merits.

I don’t know where the case stands today; the issue has disappeared from the news, but I am sure of one thing — the girl will find this experience repeated throughout her lifetime in one way or another. The same world that reveres talent often mocks and resents it, attempting to “bring it down a size” or “teach it a lesson.” That lesson is rarely educational, and not meant to be. Hopefully, the girl is as emotionally smart as she is academically, and will learn to filter out the undue resentments and the cruel and unnecessary lessons in humility.

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  1. Jane,

    My son is in the Gifted and Talented Program at his school and has been since third grade (he is now a Freshman). My daughter is in all honors classes at her miiddle school. They are both also musically talented and are involved in band and orchestra requiring them to miiss several days of school during the year. Their teachers have always been very supportive and accommodating, but I always worry. I related to this piece at a very deep level.

  2. jane i was hoping to have an ending here, by now, but knowing the court system. it will be many more months before something so trivial in their eyes will be heard.if at all. and it was strange that the girl’s name was not given, just her initials, like they sometimes do suspects in crimes. and ppl who call in to the programs, most have no knowledge, of what really happened. going with you and qv through all of these articles, thinking about them and trying to help if help is needed, i have learned so much, and i have taken what ever i am learning inside my self, and i do see a better person emerging. i am a good jurist when i am sitting on a jury, and i also learned many things there. but the one big thing i have learned from going with you on your journeys, is that i have to always in my mind be sitting in that jury box. To be fair and really hear what is being said by everyone, i come in contact with. the good thing is i do not have to make a judgemet call when i do this. that is not my place. you are a wonder Jane. and i would miss you ,if you went away. i think all these writings of yours should go into a short story book . they are all interesting and human love ya

  3. Vivian, I added it above, but thanks again for digging up the links on this story. It’s appreciated. The girl’s name shortened to initials because she’s a minor. I agree with you about listening to a story before rushing to a conclusion, and think that issues are much more clear when informed by logic rather than knee-jerk reactions.

    AP, my academic experiences are something I’ll probably write about one day here, but my daughter was also in the gifted program and after we moved to Minnesota, she really blossomed. Minnesota’s educational system was the reason I moved here, and I’m so glad I did. The support of teachers and the educational system is so important, whether a student is gifted, challenged, or in-between.

  4. i forgot to mention the beautiful Golden GATE bridge. although i don’t go over that bridge when i go to san francisco, it looms in the background so beautiful and cool looking when it is so hot in sacramento,i go over the Oakland Bay Bridge, from sacramento. and it is kinda a scary bridge, but the weather is much cooler and it is worth i but the G. G. Bridge, takes you out of the city on 101, and that is a beautiful drive. as beautiful as the Bridge. thank you for the picture.

  5. Jane,

    Since you talked about teachers here, I just want to tell you about some of the teachers in my rural community when my kids were in school. I’m not talking about every single teacher, because there are some really good ones, but there were also far too many that should not have been be teaching kids at all.

    In my one son’s high school class, a teacher made fun of another student’s name. He said it sounded like a dog’s name. This teacher also would tell some of the students they would never be anything when they graduated, that they would probably end up working at McDonald’s, (I’m not critizing McDonald’s here or anyone who works there). This teacher was constantly putting his students down. My kids hated him as well as some other teachers. Two of my kids were on the honor roll every single time and one was in the National Honor Society.

    Unfortunately this wasn’t the only teacher with this kind of mindset. So many of them thought they were so superior to everyone else in the community. They thought they were the only ones that had a college education.

    Once when they decided to go on strike, there was a big uprising between the teachers and the rest of the community, because of the way the teachers were. They were so arrogant. They were really a bunch of smart a$$es. It was just unbelievable!

    Alot of them had major drinking problems also. Some were alcoholics. There was a group that would meet at a local bar every Saturday morning to start their drinking. My husband and I were at a football game one night, when our kids were still in high school, and there were a couple of teachers sitting behind us and they were talking about after the game they were all going to start at a local bar and continue hitting every bar into the next couple counties. I’m not saying they should refrain from taking a drink, but the way they went about it, as well as discussing it in front of everyone, was not setting a good example to our kids.

    In elementary school, my kids had a teacher that would describe his visits to the dentist and exagerated them greatly and by the time he was finished, my kids were afraid to go to the dentist anymore. They had never been afraid to go before this. This particular teacher should never have been teaching little kids. He was more suited in dealing with high school kids. He was always telling them “whoppers”. Some teachers would tell the kids things that went against what the parents were trying to instill in their kids, but because they were teachers, the kids thought the teachers were right and the parents were wrong. Little kids are so impressionable.

    Some parents tried to have something done with some of these teachers, but nothing was ever done. It seemed they were immune to getting fired or even reprimanded.

    There was a female high school teacher, who was pretty rough, and she told her class that she just got her “period” so they had all better behave because she was in a bad mood. This wasn’t something I wanted a teacher saying to my sons, even in high school. I could go on forever here, but you get the point.

    As I said, there are some really great teachers out there (they are to be commended) and this isn’t about them, but there are far too many that should not be near kids.

    And in your article, yes that teacher could have and should have given that student a break and accepted the paper. If the late date applies to atheletes, it should also apply to other students on field trips. In my opinion, it was an abuse of power.

    Jane, I’m sorry I took up so much space.

  6. Jane,

    My daughter shares your passion and gift for writing so I would love to read about your academic experiences.

  7. we have to face the fact of why some become teachers. i heard young girls talking about what to do wish their life, what kind of job or career. 2 of these girls have parents that teach and they have urged her to do the same. WHY? because the pay and the benefits are good for the time you have to work. you get summers off , every holiday and weekends. that is the reasoning from these parents. Where the heck is the dedication to teaching these minds that are so like sponges, ready to soak up every word a good teacher has to say. we have too many like the ones above. we need dedication

  8. I admire that young lady for standing up for not only herself, but the students who will come after her. I had a similar experience in school, I was always much more proficient in English, Literature, and any and all things writing than all other subjects. My 8th grade English teacher was a lovely Southern bell who seemed to like me alot. She consistently pointed out I had the highest grade in the class, she enrolled me in our school Literature Bee, she had me participate in out inter-school Spelling Bee and would have pushed me to states and Nationals had I not protested (I’m not one who enjoys being physically in the spotlight).

    When it came time to pick our schedules for our first year of High School (9th grade) she emphasized that the choices we made with our parents and teachers would shape the rest of our High School career so we should choose carefully and step-up to the challenges. My Science and History teachers signed me up for Honors and refused to let me back out when I voiced my fear about being able to handle big, scary, honors, High School courses.

    I talked with my mother and the respective teachers and they assured me that I would be able to more than handle it, so long as I stayed on top of my assignments. My English teacher was also my homeroom teacher, so her class choices were handled last and turned in to her the same day. I approached her and told her of the other teachers recommendations and asked her if she’d sign me up for Honors English, much to my confusion she said no. She told me that she didn’t believe I was able to handle such a level and was doing me a favor by keeping me where I was, but she promised she’d recommend the best teacher they had for placement. I liked and respected her so I thought if she said it, it must be true. I told my mother and she was understandably was upset, but in my trusting youth I thought it was alot of hoopla about nothing, I mean the woman had consistently pushed and support me during the school year right? Why would she deliberately block me from success?

    My best friend at the time was dyslexsic (undiagnosed) and suffered from ADD (also undiagnosed until later) and she struggled to maintain a “C” average in the very same English class, in fact, there were many occassions I’d allow her to copy from my work or complete assignments for her to save her the frustration and the trouble. Our teachers all knew she had issues learning and performing academically and did they’re best to help her along with extra time for assignments. I found out later that she was placed in Honors English by the very same teacher. I couldn’t understand why she had made it and I hadn’t and she was at a loss herself as it to how it could have happened.

    Fast forward six months past orientation, my mother fighting the High School instead of the Middle School for my placement, and the end of our first semester in the Honors class. My best friend had been transfered out of the class to a lower level English with a note from the teacher saying it was abundantly clear she was improperly placed, and I had earned an “A” along with two others out of the class of 24.

    I went on to enroll in the Dual Enrollment program at my school that allowed us to take college level courses and earn college credit during our Junior and Senior year, out of the 15 of us in the classes I was one of four who did not classify as a part of the gifted program. My Senior year I took an Introduction to Shakespeare class and I was the only one to earn an “A”. Because of those series of classes I entered college having finished the majority of my freshman year and was much more prepared than other incoming freshmen. Really the majority of my college stint was made much easier because of the classes I took in High School and the wonderful teachers I was exposed to in those very Honors classes my eighth grade teacher insisted I was not capable of passing.

    It didn’t strike me until much later how much different my life and choices would have been had my mother not usurped that teachers authority and fought for me. I also wondered about the other children from my class she may have tried to stunt, as well as the children in the other schools she moved on to. How many more students, far more brilliant than I, did she successfully block? What happened to the ones with the potential to be world shakers and shapers but lacked the in home support to fight for them? How many Hemingways, Dickinsons, Platts, Dumas’, Steinbecks, Faulkners, etc. did she thwart? It saddens and in a way angers me that of all the WONDERFUL teachers I had she sticks in my mind, but then I recognize that her decision could have altered the fabric of who I became.

    I’ll willingly admit that much of who I was to others for a long time was wrapped up in my intelligence. The way other girls grow up being the “pretty one” and the “popular one”, I was always “the smart one”. I wonder if she knew or cared what it did to me, even temporarily, to lose the one thing I felt I had that made me more than ordinary? As shy as I was, and still am to a certain extent though on a much, much smaller scale, being the one people came to for homework and answers was my social badge. I never wanted to be in the “in crowd”, because I loved my tiny circle of friends, but it felt good to know that those people knew me because I was so smart.

    I feel for the other kids who take immense pride in their work and mental ability, not just for any vain or social reason, but for personal worth who come across teachers like that. On the other hand, I guess I have to thank that teacher for the lesson she taught me. I learned a big lesson about people from her, because of her I learned to WATCH people, not just listen to their words. I learned to fight for what I wanted and never allow anyone to gauge my potential, only I know that and only I have permission to do that. It was also the start of my realization that I was more than the sum total of my GPA, that took a while yet but I credit her with jump starting the process.

    I hope that young woman in the article fights this not only for her self, but for those who will come after her. There’s nothing wrong with sports, but equal support and guideline for the kids who may go on to spark change in a nation, or influence the generation who will is a necessity. The people who can and will cure Cancer, AIDS, Paralysis, Diabetes, and all other physical afflictions are sitting the classrooms all over the world. We need teachers who can see past their own wants, jealousies, and perceptions towards that in the classroom. In fact, on the whole, in labs, and courtrooms, offices, and all other plains and walks of life the same ideal should be in effect. Jealousy is a normal emotion, but it takes grace and strength to get past it and realize that it’s more important to give the target their due. It could change or put in motion things that at the least benefit you, at best revolutionize the world.


  9. Jane,

    That’s a wonderful idea you have about having an impartial panel outside the school where students can appeal a school decision without the courts. Maybe someday hopefully?

  10. I was a gifted student too, but it was in the 60′s when smart girls weren’t encouraged at all. And after high school, despite my record of straight A’s, there were no offers of scholarships. I took the only job offered to me, a bookkeeping, and became a CPA in the 80′s. I can only wonder how my life might have been different had I been born later in life.

    Good article Jane. Thank you.

  11. Dear Jane:
    Another great article. Thanks
    I agree with you in this article, teachers think they can play God at times and have no concern how they may affect the student. I also respect Joni for her stand. We have had two very bad incidents in our family with teachers.
    One, when I was in fifth grade, I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had to meet with the school counselor that day because I had been off sick for one month. On the day I returned to school we were having a Greek Olympics field day. I could not participate for health reasons, so I was made a judge of the events. I was to leave at 1:00 pm to see the counselor, but a teacher stopped me as I begin to walk toward the office and ask where I going. I said “to the office,” she said “no you are not get back here.” So I stayed at the event and missed my counselor appointment.
    When I got back to the classroom that afternoon after the field day event was over. My teacher asks “why I don’t go to the counselor appointment,” so I told her what the other teacher said. My teacher was so mad at me for not going to the appointment that she made me stand up in front of the whole class and ask them what they thought my punishment should be. It was one of the most humiliating things in my life. I was doing what another teacher told me to do. And Jane you know what my Mom said when I got home.

    The second event was with my grandson in sixth grade. He was at sixth grade camp. He got up one night to go to the bathroom and when he turned the bathroom light on there was his Science teacher and another student in the dark. The next day my grandson told the counselor at camp what happened. The Science teacher was called in and asked what he was doing in the bathroom with a student in the dark.
    After my grandson got back to school, his teacher confronted him about telling on him. My grandson is an “A” student in science, he failed science that year. My daughter went to everyone in the school and even the school board, but he still failed. The next year my daughter made sure he didn’t have the same science teacher and my grandson made “A” in science.

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