Vermont English teacher Bret Chenkin has a way with words.
This Boston Globe article, headlined “Teacher under investigation for alleged liberalism,” brought back unhappy memories of spending stessed-out high school days preparing for the SAT tests. But they also made me look back on that time with a surprisingly fond glow. The test questions my teachers made up may have been boring, but at least they weren’t politically partisan.
Bret Chenkin, on the other hand, is a great deal better than my teachers were at coming up with creative and innovative questions for his students’ English quizzes. He’s certainly not reluctant, however, to let them know exactly where he stands on the political spectrum.
Here’s one question he dreamed up for them; the point of which is to demonstrate the students’ knowledge of vocabulary words “coherent” and “eschewed”:
I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes.
And extra credit if you get this one right (that is: left):
It is frightening the way the extreme right has (balled, arrogated) aspects of the Constitution and warped them for their own agenda.
Chenkin thinks he’s being fair:
“The kids know it’s hyperbolic, so-to-speak,” he said. “They know it’s tongue in cheek. They know where I stand.”
He said he isn’t shy about sharing his liberal views with students, but invites vigorous debate in the classroom.
I don’t know about you; but I, for one, wish Chenkin would have eschewed political statements altogether in his classroom.
One wonders about Chenkin’s judgment. One also wonders about the vocabulary of the Globe editors who come up with that headline. For surely we can safely conclude that this man’s liberalism has passed considerably beyond the “alleged” stage. For that matter, is “liberalism,” alleged or otherwise, actually the offense for which he’s under investigation? Isn’t it rather the act of injecting partisan political views into a venue where they don’t belong, not the particular form those views happen to take?
At least the school superintendent quoted in the article seems to understand the meaning of the words he uses. He calls Chenkin’s test questions “inappropriate” and “irresponsible.” No argument there; they are that indeed, as well as “indoctrinating” and “indefensible.”
Come to think of it, though, perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the Globe for that headline. My guess is that Mr. Chenkin is certainly no classical liberal. So perhaps the Globe’s “alleged” means they’re thinking of how the word “liberal” has become perverted from its original classical meaning.