Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Social Studies Teachers are Jerks

Let my preface this post by saying that in hindsight, it was a terrible, unprofessional thing that we did. Now, onto that thing.

I've spent the past four years as a high school social studies teacher, but will be moving on this fall to pursue my PhD in history. I know social studies has a reputation as the subject of choice for coaches who are more interested in scheduling football practice than teaching. But I was fortunate to be part of a staff that, by and large, really did love teaching (and learning).

Our department also developed a reputation for possessing an inordinate number of the smart-asses in the building, and occasionally we probably pushed the boundaries a little bit too far. There was one time, for example, that a social studies teacher decided to put leftover foul-smelling durian fruit in the ceiling tiles of a fellow teacher's classroom, leaving it to rot over the weekend.  

Needless to say, the smell greeting the unsuspecting teacher on Monday was quite pungent. In retaliation the victimized teacher snatched, out of a student's hand, a toaster oven that doubled as the other teacher's bathroom pass and smashed it to pieces against a wall. That story leaves open many more questions than it answers (why is a toaster a bathroom pass? why was durian fruit in the school at all?), but hopefully it paints a picture of the playful boundary-crossing by some members of the social studies staff.

Some time later, a new opportunity for shenanigans arrived in the form of the annual department registration campaign. Every spring, students register for the classes they will take the following year. Each department (English, Science, Social Studies, Business, etc.) has a vested interest in getting as many students as possible to sign up for their classes. Larger enrollments are not only a source of pride, but can also be the deciding factor in whether or not a new teacher is hired in the department, or how many classrooms the department will get to claim for the year. 

This particular spring, the business department decided to launch a media blitz, which took the only form a media blitz can take in the halls of a high school: the walls were littered with posters. Each poster featured a former student from the school, with the person's mugshot, their current occupation, and the caption, "Another Business Success Story." The implicit promise, as far as we could tell, was that students who enrolled in business classes would achieve their dreams of having a steady job as a bank teller after college.

Naturally, some members of the social studies department looked at this campaign feeling both bemused and slightly threatened. What if a cavalcade of students spurned social studies in favor of business? Thus, an idea that first started as a humorous hypothetical quickly began to take shape. Wouldn't it be funny to create sarcastic attack ads that mimicked the form of the business "Success Story" campaign, but utilized notorious business criminals instead of former students? And wouldn't the perfect slogan for our ads be "Another Failed Business Story"? The answer to those questions was, of course, "Yes."

British historian Diarmaid MacCulloch once wrote, "There is no surer basis for fanaticism than bad history, which is invariably history oversimplified." Perhaps we were fanatics, because we definitely were oversimplifying (and outright lying) about history. But we couldn't stop laughing at the hastily-done results (see below for yourself).

Unfortunately, we took things a step too far. Instead of keeping the posters within the boundaries of the teaching staff, we made the rash decision to post them on the walls right next to the legitimate business posters. Within thirty minutes, all of our negative ads had been torn down, the business department was justly infuriated, and the administration had a few choice words with the social studies department head. All of this was deserved. But still...when I think about those insensitive posters, I can't help but realize that I'll miss being around those social studies smart-asses next year.