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Daily Journal
April 18, 2023
#86-108 KDJ

Now, we're banning teachers

By Ron Jackson

Of all the debates on what is the best course of action for public education, has the day come when a teacher can be dismissed for merely challenging students? Apparently so. A Florida high school teacher gave his first period 11th- and 12th-grade students a writing assignment on personal reflection.

By the seventh period, he was fired.

Earlier this month, a psychology teacher assigned his class of 35 students to write their own obituary. The teacher even prefaced the task by telling the 16-,17-,18-year-old students, it was not intended to upset them. It did.

Somehow, word of the undertaking made its way to the administration. Students were being interviewed by the second period. The assignment was deemed inappropriate, families were notified that a teacher had given an inappropriate assignment, and by the end of the day, Jeffrey Keene, a 63-year-old newly-hired, probationary teacher had been fired.

Keene gave the reflective writing assignment the day before the school was to participate in an active shooter drill. What more appropriate opportunity outside of a real, life-threatening event could there be? The only comparable scenario I can think of would be the Federal Aviation Administration requiring preflight instructions in the event of a crash landing but forbidding passengers from practicing a final text.

If the trauma of having to practice how to stay alive is acceptable for students, how can the keyboarding the reflection of their own legacy be unacceptable? Let’s have children practice dying but not practice saying goodbye. The teacher clarified his intent saying, “It wasn’t to scare them or make them feel like they were going to die, but just to help them understand what’s important in their lives and how they want to move forward with their lives and how they want to pursue things in their journey.”

He summed up his firing with, “If you can’t talk real to them, then what’s happening in this environment? In my mind, I’ve done nothing wrong.”

I totally understand his frustration. The education environment is constantly evolving. Academic standards seem to be less and less challenging. Now, young adults are being overly protected from a little emotional provocation, too. How novel an idea to want to help young people understand what’s important and to contemplate their future. Students are not oblivious to death and especially not to the possibility of death at school. It is their norm.

Worldwide, the top selling genre of video games are shooter games in every age group up to age 45 and above, where it ranks second. As the Florida teacher said, “I honestly didn’t think a 16-,17-,18-year-old would be offended or upset by talking about something we’re already talking about.”

Granted, the idea of writing your own sendoff can be a little daunting. But, so can the first day of school. Or the first active shooter drill. Or the first real school shooting. After a little practice it can be fun and psychologically therapeutic to write your own version of, “My Way” or to write something that rivals the best fishing stories. Who knows you better than you do? Not anyone else. Not Google. Not the media. And the longer you live, you get to keep updating it.

We ban words. We ban books. We ban new information. Now, we’re banning teachers. It seems the only things we aren’t banning from schools are bullying and gun violence.

The teacher hopes to secure another teaching job and will keep doing it his way. I wish him and any of his future students well. It would be such a waste of talent, skills and compassion if he isn’t hired somewhere.

Ron Jackson can be contacted through the Daily Journal at editors@daily-journal.com

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