by The Albatross
Professional development sessions are yet another reason to avoid teaching. They are baffingly childish, akin to a toddler trying to lead a workshop. They are anything but professional and developmental. This opinion is not a microaggression. It is not micro at all. It is a blunt criticism.
The latest professional development at Hamden High School was one of the worst. Tegan Willis, an administrator at the school, believes that schools and workplaces are consumed with microaggressions. That anyone from “a marginalized group” can show up to learn or work at all is a remarkable feat. Mrs. Willis so believes that teachers commit such high levels of tiny, toxic microaggressions against students, and that that is the reason why so many students are failing, that she held a workshop on the subject on Thursday, February 23.
Mrs. Willis’s session on microaggressions was part silly, part dangerous, perhaps part criminal. Only a thorough investigation by an impartial third party can determine criminality.
According to Mrs. Willis, microaggressions are so plentiful at Hamden High School that students are incapable of concentrating. (The World Food Program estimates that two-thirds of the people in Syria do not have enough to eat. Hunger, it seems to me, is a valid reason why someone may not be able to concentrate and learn.) Unbeknownst to the largely white teaching staff, teachers themselves are the world’s biggest pests, mosquitoes, in fact. Microaggressions are to be rooted out from every interaction.
“We want you to reflect and learn,” said Mrs. Willis.
It is a familiar narrative. Students are failing; it is the teachers’ fault. Perhaps Mrs. Willis does not realize how little students listen to their teachers. “I wasn’t paying attention, I’ll be honest with you, ” is a statement teachers often hear and is something of a microaggression itself.
Microaggressions are defined by Mrs. Willis as “brief, everyday messages that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights directed at marginalized groups in society.”
These groups are people of color, students with disabilities, women, and the LBGTQ+ community. According to Mrs. Willis’s definition, only heterosexual, white men are strangers to microaggressions. Mrs. Willis did not explain why.
Faculty received a handout listing purported microaggressions, which they had to discuss. The microaggressions were:
1. That’s so gay.
2. (To an Asian person) Can you check my math?
3. (A teacher asks a Latina student during class): What would Latinas think of that? 4. (A white person to others): I have plenty of black friends.
5. That’s retarded.
6. (To a woman with a headscarf): What are you hiding in there?
7. (To a larger person): Should you be eating that?
None of these are microaggressions. Depending upon the context, a couple could actually be quite aggressive, not microaggresive, and a couple were just obnoxious. A couple might be harmless. In any event, although teachers don’t talk this way and we reprimand students who do, we spent more than an hour analyzing these statements.
Mrs. Willis does not understand what a microaggression is. Microaggressions are brilliantly subtle, so subtle that one does not know if one has been slighted or not. They are all in the mind. They are minor. One starts to realize that he may be taking something very, very personally, and that they are not worth a discussion. One learns to let them go so they can get on with the important matters in life. The speaker could have meant everything or nothing at all. The lines are blurred. The only thing the speaker may be guilty of is not being a mind reader.
All it would truly take for microaggressions to stop is for people from groups not marginalized not to speak at all. They would be better off remaining silent. For to analyze everything you are about to say is to invite madness and paralyze your brain. One might as well not communicate with anyone except white males, for fear of offending them.
In holding this workshop, Mrs. Willis shows more concern with microaggressions than with academics. The type of person who would hold a workshop on this topic is someone who lives in a fantasy world filled with people who slight her constantly. Passing comments are interpreted as insults and shine with brilliance in the memory. Memory itself becomes a garbage heap of perceived slights. Mrs. Willis would do well to remember the comment of the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges: To live fully is to forget. Perhaps this type of person has been cursed with an inability to forget.
If you are seeking a job at Hamden High School, do not make a joke around a person like this during your interview. If you already work there, keep away, for fear of giving offense. Only a humorless, sour person, only someone very prickly, would be consumed with things that take place at the micro level. Someone like this can’t be much fun to be around.
All of this could have been dismissed as just another obscenely stupid afternoon were it not for a video. It was in the video that Mrs. Willis showed to faculty that she crossed the line. (PUT LINK HERE.) Mrs. Willis showed the faculty a video that dehumanized white people and celebrated violence against them. In the video, a white woman tells a black woman that she is well spoken. (Not necessarily a microaggression. The white woman could say th same thing to another white person. It could just be a compliment. White people have been told that they are well spoken, too.) The white woman is then changed into an ugly, horrifying mosquito. The mosquitoes multiply and get microaggressive with people, all of whom are not white. A black woman is driven into a state of fury by the mosquitoes. (But are they mosquitoes or are they white women in disguise?) The black woman picks up a machine gun and kills all “the mosquitoes.”
Two white men pop up and one comments, “Angry black woman.” That man is promptly changed into a mosquito. Was the white man, now dressed as a mosquito, killed, Mrs. Willis? The video does not tell us.
Finally, a group of people, all of whom are not white, take offense at something “a mosquito” says. They beat “the mosquito” to death. He bleeds out on the ground. Again, “a mosquito” dies. “Mosquitoes ” are to be killed freely.
Clearly, “the mosquitoes” in this video exist only as a metaphor.
That was an incredible level of violence directed against “the mosquitoes,” Mrs. Willis. You must really hate “mosquitoes.”
We do not know if Mrs. Willis sees white people as mosquitoes. We do not know if she believes that the solution to microaggressions is to kill mosquitoes. We do not know if she believes that the solution to perceived slights is genocide of mosquitoes, but I am not confident that Tegan Willis does not espouse the views put forth in this video.
The lessons that followed from the Holocaust Tegan Willis clearly has not learned. In Nazi Germany, Jews were routinely pictured as rats on posters and in comics books to whip up hatred against them. No one is especially heartbroken at seeing rats and mosquitoes killed. Showing a video where a white woman is changed into a mosquito, an ugly, disease-bearing insect, whips up hatred and incites violence. Tegan Willis would never have shown that venomous video if someone who is black or brown was changed into a mosquito. She would be furious at such a video, and rightly so. So too, should “mosquitoes ” seethe with righteous indignation at this video.
Ideas have consequences, Tegan. So do videos. On February 2, in Orange County California, Vanroy Evan Smith, 38, a black man, struck Dr. Michael Mammone, 58, a white man, with his vehicle, got out of his car and stabbed him to death, while shouting, “White privilege. ”
No one knows how many innocent white lives have been claimed by people who preach “white privilege,” but the people who preach this idea should all be charged with this medical doctor’s murder. They are complicit.
Let us hope that no one has been killed or maimed by someone who watched the video that Mrs. Willis showed and became enraged. A criminal investigation needs to be opened to determine if Mrs. Willis broke any laws when showing her microaggression video, particularly laws regarding inciting violence and hate crimes.
Connecticut’s Attorney General Tong should investigate to determine if there were civil rights violations. At the minimum, the video creates a hostile work environment. The Connecticut State Department of Education also needs to investigate what went on at this “workshop.”
And Tegan Willis should be fired.
Do the right thing, Superintendent Highsmith.