I've talked in the past about my experiences with good vs. bad teachers, but today, I want to share the worst and most ridiculous thing to happen to me at school. This is the story of Kevin and his calculator.
Once upon a time, during my first semester at BYU-Idaho, I had a religion teacher whom I did not like. I didn't hate him either; I just found him to be a little too black-and-white in his thinking and a bit self-righteous. But, as usual, I did all my schoolwork and kept under the radar and got good grades.
Every week, on our own time, we took an online, open-book quiz. As a disabled person, I had a number of accommodations granted to me through the Disability Office. One was that I used a Kindle for many of my textbooks, in order to minimize the amount of weight I had to carry. My scriptures were one of these.
Then, on the second to last week of classes, the religion teacher called me into his office.
"You've been getting better grades than anyone on the quizzes," he said, "and you finish them quickly."
I nodded, unsure where was this was going.
"Have you been cheating?" he asked.
Naturally, I was stunned. "I'm sorry?"
"Have you been using your Kindle to take the quizzes?"
I stared at him. "Yes. They're open book, aren't they?"
"Yes, but that means a physical copy of the book."
I shook my head, confused. "But I have a disability accommodation. I told you that at the beginning of the semester. I use my Kindle for my scriptures. I haven't used anything else on the quizzes, just the scriptures."
"The rules clearly state 'no electronics.'"
"So I'm giving you a chance to correct this without going to the Honor Code Office. What do you think your grades would be if you hadn't used electronic scriptures?"
After some argument, which didn't go very well--I was too shocked to really defend myself and he, in his usual black-and-white manner, had no intention of recognizing the exceptional nature of my situation--he finally decided to give me an 80% on all the quizzes, instead of the 100% I'd had. It didn't have an enormous impact on my overall grade, but as I left the room, I started crying. To spring this on me right at the end of the semester, without even recognizing the existence of the accommodation, was unfair.
So later, I sent an email to the Disability Office, to the professor, and to my mom, trying to explain more clearly why this was an unfair response that violated my accommodation. My mom agreed with me, but in response, the professor began sending me berating emails. He repeatedly threatened me with the Honor Code Office, referred to me as a cheater and a liar, and said things like, "the guilty taketh the truth to be hard" and "you and God and I know the truth." I could hardly believe it. To hear a grown man speaking this way to one of his students! I stayed calm, though, and repeatedly tried to explain myself to him, to no avail.
Then, on the second to last day of classes, the professor decided to spend the class period on an unexpected case study, which he projected up on the board. It read something like this:
"In a math class, calculators are not allowed while taking quizzes. Kevin has been using a calculator on his quizzes. The teacher tells him that, instead of taking the issue to a higher authority, possibly leading to failure or even expulsion, he will simply lower Kevin's grades on the quizzes. Kevin insists that he has not cheated and calls on his parents to defend him. Though the teacher has treated him with fairness, Kevin refuses to admit that he has done something wrong."
Then the professor had the entire class discuss "Kevin" and his cheating ways.
I thought I was stunned before, but sitting in class, listening to everyone talk about how "Kevin" has no honor for refusing to admit his wrongs in using a "calculator," I honestly had no words. I'd seen adults act cruel and childish before, but never like this. To set aside one of the last class period to target me, using my peers, and again without acknowledging that teeny tiny detail of my disability accommodation, was ridiculous. I was torn between tears and laughter: tears, because it was such a hurtful thing to do, and laughter, because it was so immature.
We reached the end of the semester, and the Disability Office said that the situation was between me and the professor, since they could not be sure that I had properly informed him of the accommodation. I considered taking the issue higher up, but it was vacation by then, and I honestly didn't want to waste more on a man who, I now saw, was incapable of seeing shades of grey. No matter what I tried, he wasn't going to acknowledge my point. I knew the truth, and that would have to be enough.
Me and God, but apparently, not him.
To me, this story has an extra layer of strangeness because, during that same semester, I was undergoing treatment for my OCD. Thanks to that treatment and to my own independent reading of various religious books, I was learning a truth that has ever since been important to me: that rules on their own have no meaning. To follow rules, without question, is to ignore the fact that each rule should stem from an underlying principle. The principle is what has meaning. Too often, we ignore the principle and let ourselves be controlled by the rule instead, even when it becomes arbitrary and even hurtful. That's very much what OCD is, and it's exactly what this man was doing, too.
When you look at the rules, you see black and white. When you look at the principles, you begin to understand in true color, and then you are enabled to follow the rules with greater purpose. You become a better, more educated person. You learn how to balance justice and mercy.
What's your worst school experience? Let me know in the comments, and I'll be back again Wednesday!
Images via huffingtonpost.com and mcgqs.com.
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