Teaching Behind The Eightball, by Mike Gold
I’ve lived in Connecticut for the past 22 years, and I’ll admit I’m hardly the most loyal of Nutmeggers. It’s very pretty up here, once you get out of its typically American cities, but some of the people tend to be a bit self-absorbed and snooty. But before this past week, I could not say I was actually embarrassed to live here. Here’s the story.
29 year-old teacher Nathan Fisher used to run an English class at Guilford High. As we all recall, part of an English teacher’s job is to assign various types of reading assignments. He assigned one of his students – a girl, which I think is significant to the story – a comic book, Daniel Clowes’ Eightball #22. Another student freaked, the parents started a crusade, the board of education got involved, the police were called, the state Department of Children and Families was called in, and the comic book was labeled pornographic. In short order, Mr. Fisher was forced to resign.
He was, according to the Hartford Courant, a well-respected teacher who previously had received praise from his superiors. Loren Sterman, a Guilford parent who coincidentially works as a school counselor in New London, told the Courant’s Rick Green "He is someone who cares deeply about children’s literacy and who looks for ways to hook them into reading. That’s what he did for my daughter."
The police found no cause for hysteria. The Department of Children and Families found no cause for action. This is significant; I’ve worked with the Connecticut DCF on Head Start and related issues, and to my experience it would be difficult to find a prissier or more bureaucratic bunch of ass-coverers. They’ll fine you for hiccupping in a swimming pool, and they found nothing.
Still, a good teacher who clearly cared about his students was tossed to the pitchfork mob, his career severely undermined if not outright destroyed. All over a comic book that wouldn’t be perceived as pornographic by a leaper raised in a nunnery.
Why did this happen? Well, for one thing, we’ve trained the current generation of parents to be ultra-paranoid, to fan the flames of hysteria for the most abused of all canards, “for the sake of the children.” For another, after all the scandals and television exposés, we get a little hinky when it comes to male teachers and their female students. The scariest horror movie I’d ever seen addresses this theme: David Mamet’s Oleanna was produced 13 years ago; today it plays like a documentary.
But I can’t help but think that the concept of comic books – excuse me, graphic novels – for anybody older than eight year-olds gives our hyper-absorbed intelligentsia the heebie-jeebies.
I wish Mr. Fisher well. Hell, I wish Mr. Fisher had been my high school English teacher.
And we wonder why there’s a shortage of teachers.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.com.