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.