UNI: Unexpected Necessary Information

There is an acronym that has remained prevalent in our language for the last few years. The acronym is TMI, it stands for Too Much Information. TMI is one of the oldest members of the “text-speak” family, those abbreviations that save characters in text messages and tweets. Most of us are familiar with at least a few of these acronyms: LOL (laugh out loud), TTYL (talk to you later), YOLO (you only live once), etc.

TMI has the unfortunate lot in life of being used when someone offers up an embarrassing level of detail during a story.

I would like to create another acronym; UNI. UNI stands for Unexpected Necessary Information. The point of UNI is to give another option to describe details that are needed but we were not prepared for.

UNI would be a really good thing for the people of Dietrich, ID. Recently a high school teacher, Tim McDaniel, became the center of controversy locally, then nationally, after the parents of four students complained when he “explained the biology of the human sexual response”, and used the correct biological/scientific terms for parts of the human reproductive system.

The ensuing investigation into the complaints have led to McDaniel being accused of promoting a political candidate because he showed students the movie An Inconvenient Truth based on a climate change slide show created by former Vice President Al Gore.

McDaniel is not just being investigated by the school administration or school board in Dietrich. The Idaho State Professional Standards Commission is also investigating him.

Since the initial complaint McDaniel has also been accused of inappropriately sharing student files with someone other than the students’ parents, having taught forms of birth control, told inappropriate jokes and showed a video clip of a sexually transmitted disease.

All that is missing is a few torches, some pitch forks and a catchy Disney-style musical number.

The other side of the case is that McDaniel, father of five and adoptive father of 20, is teaching human reproduction as a volunteer.

That is correct, his normal teaching duties do not include teaching reproductive biology, but because the teacher that should have the assignment is too uncomfortable with the subject matter to teach the class, McDaniel stepped up and taught the class. A class that is a required portion of the school board approved curricula. This is the same class parents can remove their students from the class if they consider the subject matter to be objectionable.

McDaniel told the Times-News in Twin Falls he showed the class An Inconvenient Truth as a way to spark class discussion on climate change.

McDaniel did not respond to the allegation of disclosing student information or the complaint that he showed a video displaying a sexually transmitted disease.

Let me respond to the complaint about showing the video of a sexually transmitted disease. Fifteen years ago when I was in high school the teacher did not show videos or slides of sexually transmitted diseases; the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare provided special speakers to do it instead.

On a national level a high school teacher in Syracuse, NY, retired from teaching with a bang. In a two page resignation letter Gerald Conti wrote “I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me.”

Conti cites several failures that have led to teachers losing control of their profession. Conti takes special exception with “data driven” approaches to teaching.

“STEM rules the day and ‘data driven’ education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learning. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education,” wrote Conti.

There is a certain way of thinking that dictates that teachers are held to a lower standard and harder to fire when underperforming. That same school of thought also says teachers are not evaluated properly, and a combination of tenure and poor evaluation procedures has created a culture of bad teaching.

This is then laid at the feet of teachers for not readily accepting more quantitative evaluation methods, increased probability of being terminated, lower salaries and lower level benefits. On a national scale New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have both clashed with educators and teachers’ unions on this very matter.

I agree there has to be some change in the current system, especially in the area of benefits. I see what Walker and Christie are saying in that the need to change benefits is not about devaluing the education profession, it is a matter of the money simply does not exist to fund the current system in perpetuity; blood from a turnip time.

Take a moment to look at the other side of the coin. Many who argue that teachers are coddled equate teaching to their own jobs, saying everyone has to meet standards and every job has evaluations. Fair enough, but there is one significant difference between teaching and most every other profession or job. In education EVERY customer comes behind the counter, reviews the books and stuffs the suggestion box.

In his resignation letter Conti describes the handover of education from teachers to disconnected vendors.

“In their pursuit of federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle,” wrote Conti.

I believe the Dietrich School Board is leaving McDaniel to swing in the breeze alone as well. This teacher is taking on an extra duty that needs to be completed, as per state instruction, using a school board approved textbook.

He used a presentation about climate change that has been recognized as the paramount source material for one side of the argument. He is not accused of making a value judgment about the movie. He is not accused presenting the material in that movie as fact. He is accused of campaigning for Al Gore. Gore hasn’t run for so much as dog catcher in over a decade. How far back does this investigation need to go before Arthur Miller writes a play about it?

McDaniel has done nothing but provide UNI. There is a value to learning about our bodies. It is a way for us to assess what is normal for us as individuals. That Unexpected Necessary Information allows us to know which changes are normal progressions and which require medical attention. This is why it is a required topic. The information was just unexpected.

Education has always been a grassroots profession. There is no way to separate the boots on the ground from the end product no matter how hard we try to pull the rug out from under those boots.

No one ever remembers the boring teacher for anything other than being boring. Everyone has a favorite teacher they remember for being innovative.

Here is my UNI for the day: We need teachers that engage students in the learning process in creative ways.

Thanks for reading!

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