Guest Post: A Letter from American Teacher 

As previously stated, the opinions of this guest poster are their own, and do not reflect in any way, shape or form the opinions of Ted Rall or anyone else who posts here. This is here to provoke discussion.

Dear Students,

Ha! Ha! Ha!  You were played.

You didn’t have a walkout.  You had a seventeen-minute recess.  The walkout was yours in name only.  You should feel a bit silly.  It was embarrassing to watch your Abby Hoffman moment.

Superintendents, administrators and police chiefs shaped and framed the walkouts.  Principals directed them. The school board sent letters to  your parents, keeping them informed.

On March 14, when the curtain went up on your little walkout, school grounds had already been cordoned off.  “Cordoned off,” my little darlings, means no one gets in and no one gets out.  When an area has been cordoned off, political possibilities as well as any publicity you are seeking are cut off as well.

Three unmarked police cars were in the parking lot and two regular police cars were parked at the entrance to the school.  Uniformed officers were at the building’s entrances.

You were led out under a heavy police presence.  The town’s entire police force must have been there.  You might just as well as have been walking out in chains.  My good humor was quickly being restored.

You little dumplings were led out without fanfare by your principals.  Thank goodness no one saw you for it would have been clear that it was not a walkout.  No press, no news media whatsoever, no civic groups, not even parents.  I was laughing from a window on the third floor.

The school’s administration indulged you and it was hilarious that those of you who walked out failed to realize that.  Assistant principals ensured a smooth flow of traffic as you followed your principal wherever he led you.  You didn’t resist.  You demonstrated no power, no rebellion against authority.  Your leaders didn’t even get to lead you.  Then you milled around in little bands on the pavement, taking selfies.  It looked uncomfortably cold out there.  Finally, you were herded safely back in the school.  Adults commanded and you obeyed.

You probably don’t even know what a walkout really is.

For the past several weeks, we have been expected to take an intelligent interest in this event.  Everyone has been oddly reluctant to denounce you.  Everyone wants to be seen as supportive.  Celebrities want to pat your heads.  When will this adulation end?

I am not in adulation of you.  A walkout has no place in a high school.  It is a taboo that ought never be broken.  Many of you have no idea why you walked out.  You were on your phones most of the time.  You weren’t taking action.  You were just getting out of class.

Many of you kids are absolutely brutal to each other.  You are merciless in your teasing.  I have probably reamed some of you for what you have said to your classmates.  You probably play a role in creating these school shooters, tipping them over the edge.

You could have used those seventeen minutes to begin to address some of the social inequities in your school. You could have tutored someone who was struggling.  You could have shared a snack with someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends.  You could have read a book…oops, you are the first generation not to read and as Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools and founder of Students First, has noted, “the first generation of American students to be less educated than the previous one.”

You could have done a lot more than trot outside.  But bless you, you had your walkout.

Cheers to school districts who refused to accommodate you and gave you a cut.

Cheers to students who challenged the walkout and stayed in class.


American Teacher

This entry was posted in Blog on by .

About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at, editor-in-chief of, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

23 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Letter from American Teacher 

  1. As someone who was a high school bookworm(this was the 1980s) and took many English and history classes where clear writing was the goal, I also have concerns about the literacy of today’s youth. However, haven’t there always been students who are more interested in science/technology and endured having to read Shakespeare? I agree, with so many competing distractions multiplying how do we get people to sit down and concentrate? And how does this affect our democracy? The rise of DJT’s reality TV candidacy and now presidency reflects this crisis in democracy.

  2. Contempt for students and pupils oozes from this, the latest emanation from our so-called «American Teacher». Having taught at both the secondary and tertiary level, I can only say that a person who feels disdain for her/his charges (but who loves firearms !) is in no way a teacher – save by negative example….



  3. Said Martin Heidegger: “Most thought-provoking in our thought-proving time is that we are still not thinking”

    From my perspective, a teacher worthy of the appellation is one who through his encounter with his students leads them to thinking, even if it provokes kicking and screaming by the newly disenchanted as they wade into the process.

    Dear American Teacher, you are forcing some unused lazy mental muscles into activities that will leave many with aching heads.

    Do you teach your students that the US Supreme Court has decided that police have no responsibility to protect them, that by the lawful enforcement of “safe zones” they force your students into reliance upon faith in humanity, or the “grace of God”, as their sole recourse in the face of deadly force?

    Or do you teach that police are privileged by law to support the security of the state over the security of natural persons, even the security of precious youth (these very same youth with whom the state always populates the front lines in their unlawful wars of aggression)?

    • “You could have used those seventeen minutes to begin to address some of the social inequities in your school. You could have tutored someone who was struggling. You could have shared a snack with someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends.”

      Neither teachers nor students can be completely freed from the roles they are forced into compliance with without jeopardizing their own status with the state and finance.

      School performance is a significant component of property values. Prospective home buyers are prefer to buy into a school district that will give their children a competitive advantage in getting into a college of their choice.

      Chicago lyrics Dialog, part I:

      Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
      No, I never ever think of it at all

      Don’t you ever worry
      When you see what’s going down?

      No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all

      When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
      Will your Bachelor of Arts help you get by?

      I hope to study further, a few more years or so
      I also hope to keep a steady high

      Will you try to change things
      Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?

      What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?
      I always thought that everything was fine

      Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
      No, the campus here is very, very free

      Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
      Well, I hope the President knows what he’s into, I don’t know

      Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
      All the needless hunger all the needless pain?

      I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
      But my neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time

      Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
      I was troubled by the shapes of things to come

      Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
      You’d always think that everything was fine

      • Thanks, Glenn – I love ‘Chicago.’

        One of the best protest songs of the era was released on National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner album in 1972. It perfectly captured the cluelessness exhibited by much of “The Left.” (note that the hippies of that day are the establishment of today)

        [ !! NON-PC TRIGGER WARNING !! ]
        [ !! SPOILER ALERT !! ]

        “Pull the triggers, niggers,
        We’re with you all the way

        Just across the bay.”

        If anyone can find a lyric sheet, I’d be most grateful.

        I couldn’t catch all the words on the original LP and I most assuredly can’t make them out 45 years later. What’s that you say, sonny? SPEAK UP DAMMIT!!

  4. You need to relax, too, lburanen

    Michelle Rhee and a whole host of teachers and employers are also contemptuous of this generation. I am grateful that Mr. Rall gives me a voice so that another perspective may be heard. You may also want to access an October, 2007 column in the San Francisco Chroncicle by Mark Morford, “American Kids, Dumber than Dirt.”

    Someone who understands their students and can polish off some of the rough edges should never retire.

    Yes, I can read. I should have been more clear. It is sometimes difficult to do that in the comments section.

    Another day in the headlines does not accomplish anything.

    Yes, researchers like you find the bright spots in Twitter, instagram and Facebook; nevertheless kids cannot read and write about the works in what was once a glorious English bookroom. They do not have the attention spans. They do not have the historical reference points. But keep churning out that “research”, lburanen.

    Just because someone is a “self-interested promoter”, does not mean that she is not right.

    We invest enough money in education. It is a billion dollar industry; that is why the Koch brothers want to get their hands on it. Also, I make a very comfortable living. You don’t need to pay me more. Further training will not fix this debacle.

    Your analogy comparing teachers to parents is clever, but does not fly. All learning begins in the home. The few kids left who enjoy reading had parents who read to them and taught them to read.

    I hope that I have addressed all your concerns and have done so clearly. I am writing this message on my phone.

  5. I tend to believe activists shouldn’t take advice on how to properly stage a protest from people who are opposed to their cause. The only thing I know about you is that you’re an American teacher who believes it’d be better to lock up mentally ill children who have commited no crimes than it would be to curb public access to Diet M16s, so I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you’re opposed to these students’ cause.

    I also tend to believe that young people shouldn’t take advice from older people who are dismissive of their entire generation. When some aging editorialist is scoffing about “selfies” and insisting that a post-smartphone generation is somehow illiterate, you can generally stop paying attention. I’m not sure who you’re planning on provoking with this piece if the subjects of your criticism don’t read.

    So, you’ve already got two strikes against you by my reckoning, but I’ll bite. I’m sure your criticism of the toothless, authority-sponsored nature of the protests found a sympathetic ear in your host Rall, who tends to believe that any protest that doesn’t bring out the riot gear is a waste of time. It seems to me that the walkouts bought another few days of mass media coverage to an issue that the media was ready to leave behind until the next mass shooting. Whether these noisy kids are successfully shifting the Overton window on gun control in a way that will change policy in the future remains to be seen.

    I was in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. My generation didn’t do jack shit when media cretins turned the public discussion into a debate about whether Doom 2 or Marilyn Manson were to blame for the shootings. I respect this generation of young people for not allowing people like you to do the same thing to them. I don’t doubt that plenty of them are protesting to get out of a day of school – these are groups of teenagers, after all – but many of them, especially their leaders, are admirable.

    • I’m not opposed to any cause. Debate is healthy in a free society. I’m opposed to illiteracy. Reading your Instagram account does not count as literacy. Neither does reading my little letter.

      I believe that the criminally insane, whether the middle-aged Steve Paddock or the young Adam Lanza, should be committed.

      The Newtown school district had warned Nancy Lanza about her son. Instead of getting him treated in a mental facility where he belonged, she pulled him out of school and tried to care for him on her own. That was a tremendous mistake.

      Mr. Rall may have a point. After all, what good is a peaceful protest? Please explain to me what was accomplished.

      • Steve B: Right on. (Crazy H, too.) I agree with all you had to say. I would add that someone who dismisses an entire generation, and perhaps worse (or just as bad), talks to and about students in the snide, mean-spirited tone of schadenfreude that oozes from the piece here has no business teaching high school. Or anything.

        American Teacher asked Steve B. what this protest accomplished: Steve B. made the point that it accomplished one of the aims of any protest, which is to keep the issue on the front page rather than waiting till the next disaster happens. (Can you not read?)

        On the topic of literacy, the notion that this generation is “illiterate” is patently false. Those who measure literacy by test scores, stilted English-class essays, and/or their own frustrations as teachers (gosh, I wonder why American Teacher’s students might not be eager to perform well in his classes) do not understand what the term literacy encompasses. The fact is that email, social media, and other digital platforms have *increased* the general level of literacy, not decreased it. I speak not only as something of an expert myself with a PhD in linguistics and over 30 years of literacy teaching, but many highly respected linguists and other educators (Andrea Lunsford, David Crystal, and James Paul Gee, to name but three) also see the effects of electronic media as positive ones, and not as the downfall of Western Civilization As We Know It — which, now I think of it, maybe wouldn’t be a bad thing….

        I’m not intimately familiar with Michelle Rhee’s pronouncements, but my impression is that she’s a self-promoting climber interested more in feathering her own nest than she is in helping students, teachers, and schools. Someone who also dismisses an entire generation as illiterate and favors school vouchers is not a “reformer” but a crusader whose primary interests are her own interests. Also, if educators are blaming students for not reading or learning… well, that’s like parents blaming their children for being spoiled. Doesn’t part of the blame rest on their shoulders? I realize that teachers and schools have to “compete” with the rest of the culture, including poverty, but most teachers are devoted professionals who do the best job they know how in the conditions they have to contend with. Once again, however, that takes me back to my perpetual argument that we need to spend money on education, including better training and reasonable compensation for teachers. And instead of letting legislators, self-appointed reformers, and textbook companies make educational policy, how about asking those who actually know something about it have a voice?

        Whether or not Ted agrees with American Teacher’s views, I can’t say, though if I were Ted, I wouldn’t give this guy a platform and the tacit approval that that could be said to imply.

        Teachers like AT are the reason I dropped out of high school.

      • « I would add that someone who dismisses an entire generation, and perhaps worse (or just as bad), talks to and about students in the snide, mean-spirited tone of schadenfreude that oozes from the piece here has no business teaching high school. Or anything.» Indeed. The poster calling her/himself «American Teacher» is a fraud. Let us hope that s/he is not typical of those teaching children and young people in the United States – or anywhere else, for that matter !…


      • @Dr. lburanen

        From a recent article, I gather that Ted straddles the same fence I do on guns.

        I was raised in rural country where pretty much everyone had at least a shotgun. I have no objection to guns, I own a couple myself. I do not, however, carry them, worship them, show them off on Facebook, or cry myself to sleep each night worrying about whether the big, bad, gubbmint is going to take them away from me.

        So, I agree that guns aren’t the problem – gun NUTS are huge part of the problem. Another part is the NRA and the GOP

        obsess about them

      • @Dr. lburanen (cont.)

        (I have no idea how I hit the ‘post button’)

        So, I agree that guns aren’t the problem – gun NUTS are huge part of the problem. Another part is the NRA and the GOP spreading fear and distrust. *Perhaps* video games and movies which stress guns as generic solutions to all life’s problems are part of the problem: the jury’s still out on that one. BUT the prevailing attitude in the real world that guns are generic solutions IS a very large contributor to the problem.

        There is no need for “stand your ground” laws. There isn’t a single state in the union which prevents the use of deadly force when confronted by a deadly threat. “Stand your ground” is a gun nut code phrase for “I can kill anyone I want with impunity.” i.e. George Zimmerman.

        Since being let off the hook for stalking and murdering a teenager Zimmerman already threatened his girlfriend with a gun. I’d definitely classify him as “criminally insane.” But the funny thing is that a whole bunch of gun nuts sent money to his defense fund. At the same time, they were telling us that we should keep guns out of criminal’s hands (out the other end of their alimentary canal.)

        I wouldn’t even object to ‘castle’ laws – you break into my house in the middle of the night you might just get shot (Although you’re more likely to get poked with a wakizashi)

        BUT again – the problem is not the law, but rather aholes like Zimmerman who are just *itching* for an excuse to shoot themselves a brown person. Ergo – I am against castle laws in real life. Too many NRA members would take advantage of it – although we might wind up with fewer NRA members, so it’s a mixed bag. >:-D

  6. Relax, Crazy H.

    Students should sit down, shut up, and learn. Did you not read what Michelle Rhee said about this generation? Because they have not read and have not written and have done whatever they have damn well pleased for the last twelve years, they are not prepared for a participatory democracy at all.

    Our march was not about Smith and Wesson or any guns whatsoever. Announcements and letters CEARLY said it was not about the second amendment. (A lot of people here pack heat.)

    The march was simply about commemorating those who lost their lives.

    The adults weren’t so ‘nominal.’ They did a great job running the event so that no one got hurt. Cheers to them.

    I NEVER suggested someone’s second amendment right’s be curtailed. I called for institutionalizing the criminally insane.

    This piece was not about guns at all. (Maybe you would like to take a class with me?) The piece was about adults pacifying kids who wanted a little rebellion and were not able to realize that they weren’t rebellious at all.

    • > I NEVER suggested someone’s second amendment right’s be curtailed

      I just naturally assumed that when you were busy locking up innocent teenagers that they wouldn’t be allowed to take their guns with them. I stand corrected.

      > This piece was not about guns at all

      Uh, yeah, sure, right … like I said, “transparent.”

      We clued into gun nuts’ code words long ago, and we also noticed how frantically you try to change the subject into anything but guns whenever the opportunity arises. Oh! Look! Students! They’re young and stupid and so there’s no need to talk about what they were actually protesting.

      You know who else shouldn’t own guns? Those who use some petty authority to push around relatively powerless people. Most especially when they are scornful and dismissive of those people.

  7. High School students should shut up, sit down, and do as they’re told. That’s how you prepare them to participate in a democracy! After twelve years of being forbidden to think for themselves, they will magically gain the ability to make informed decisions on their eighteenth birthday.

    You can rest assured that condescending to your students will inspire them to greatness later in their lives. Besides, allowing them to express themselves might possibly cut into Smith & Wesson’s profit margin – oh the humanity!

    Okay, so in your first column you were all worried about student safety. The schools provided safety, and so now you’re insulting the *students* for the safety precautions taken by the nominal *adults.* Even if you don’t see the irony, you can bet your students do.

    However, you’re pretty transparent – it’s not about the students, it’s about your fear of the big, bad, government coming and taking your toys away. A few more dead students is a small price to pay for your right to own military-grade weaponry.

    In your last column, you suggested that certain people not be allowed guns. I hear this argument over & over again from gun lovers, especially after a shooting. But the funny thing is, every time sane people try to pass a law to that affect the NRA storms the barricades and nothing gets done. (Vocabulary word for the day: “Hypocrisy”)

    I’ve got a very simple criterion – if you obsess about people taking your guns away, you should not be allowed to own them. (and if you value your guns more than your students’ lives, you should not be teaching in the first place.)

Leave a Reply