Transparency and Accountability


I think it’s a good thing that there are bloggers out there watching very closely and holding people accountable. Everyone in the news should be able to hold up to that kind of scrutiny. I’m for as much transparency in the news gathering process as possible.

–Anderson Cooper

I teach humanities classes: English, philosophy and religion in a state school. Yes, we teach religion classes at a state school. Hard to believe, but true.

And it makes for some interesting discussions when we talk about the problem of evil, or discrimination in the name of Jesus. Passions run hot sometimes when discussing things about which people are, in Tillich’s terms, ultimately concerned.

And so, at the beginning of the semester, I lay out some basic ground rules. They start with a simple one that most of us learned as small children.

Treat each other the way you want to be treated.

It’s easily understandable, and it’s manageable.  Plus it keeps the arguments that erupt in a classroom, on occasion, in check.

But I also give them a single exception to the golden rule. I tell my students that I will absolutely treat them with respect, but when it comes to me and how they treat my ideas, the golden rule doesn’t apply.

I tell them, if you think my ideas are full of poop, I expect you to tell me so.

Full of . . .
Full of . . .

(Yeah it’s college. Funny thing about language: “Poop” is actually more shocking to my students than the s-word ever could be. And in that regard, even though I’ve used it with both of my kids since their first one, it’s actually the vulgar of the two terms for my students.)

My students are free and encouraged to tell me that I’m full of poop. All I ask is that they tell me why they believe me so. And they are free to use any descriptive adjective or adverb that they wish. (In fact, for the English classes, the more descriptive, the better.)

This is the only way that I learn. And it’s the only way I know how to teach.

Occasionally, they take me up on the offer. And when they do, education happens.

Irritation is a beautiful thing. One of the few times we’re really paying attention is when we’re irritated, and we can’t learn without paying attention.

And so, I irritate my students and I encourage them to irritate me.

And I’m willing to accept the consequences when I do. Including being told that I’m full of poop, evil, liberal, conservative (yes, it has happened, but I’m not entirely sure that the person saying it knew what it meant), socialist, communist, fascist (again, I’m fairly certain there was a basic misunderstanding of the term, but maybe not) evil, mean, racist (against both those of my own race and those who are of another), whiny, and a loser who needs his butt kicked. (Although in fairness, I’ve never been told that in class, only in the Huntsville Times, who, to their credit, deleted the comment.)

As I tell my students regularly, I get paid to irritate you, and I really love my job!

And occasionally their response of why I’m full of poop turns out to be correct. (Like anytime I try to do math in my head! As I tell them, that’s why I teach English.)

And so for sixteen weeks my students and I have a relationship based on irritation, conflict, and, when we’re lucky, open and honest discussion. You know, kinda like every great marriage between friends.

Well, not exactly.

So what’s my point here? (Rambling is, after all, part of my charm.)

It’s simple. I need you, my readers, to tell me when I’m full of poop.

I never set out to become a public figure. Honestly, this all started with Dr. Moore and the board (the same one we have now, by the way) complaining about confrontational parents. I was astonished at the sense of entitlement that I saw from people who had fired 400 teachers/aides/staff to cover their own mismanagement.

But in expressing my astonishment, I have become something of a public figure. I’ll ask you to believe that this introvert doesn’t really enjoy it. Take a look at my hands before or after I speak at a board meeting if you need evidence.

For the record: I just want the board and superintendent to put students first. I don’t want to be a board member. I don’t want to be the superintendent. I want to be a dad. I want to be a husband. I want to be a teacher. And that is all.

But, as this week’s news article shows, because of my public stands, I’m something of a public figure. And so I need your help.

I don’t care at all that “SAWB” thinks I was asking for the school system to raise my child. I had a great laugh at “teraplane” for working so hard to come up with a witty play on my last name by calling me a “loser.” It must have taken hours for him/her to come up with that one. (As I’ve been hearing it since elementary school, perhaps “teraplane” should consult a first grader before posting next time.) That “BAMA1964RB” believes I “shall reap what [I] have sown! Ever heard of that old axiom??????,” does not matter (or make any sense) to me.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not often full of poop.

That’s where you, constant reader, come into the circle.

Please understand, I’m not trying to simply hit you up for praise. I’m being as genuine here as I know how.

I am a blind man from Indostan thinking myself insightful when I cannot see. Without help, my understanding will always be incomplete.

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That’s why I need your help. In fact, that’s why we need each other. I cannot understand the motivations and inner workings of the Huntsville City Schools without your help. On my own, I’m every bit the “loser” that the brave, anonymous posters on al.com said I was. I don’t understand anything.

So, when I’m full of poop, tell me. When I am blind to the truth in front of me, open my eyes by sharing with me what you see. If I begin thinking I am wise, remind me, rudely, just how stupid I am.

As Socrates said, the beginning of wisdom is understanding that you know nothing at all.

I will do everything I can to make my approach, motivation, goals and plans as transparent as possible so that you can help me see what I cannot. I will not develop plans in secrecy.

Without honest feedback, and without accountability, I’m lost. To Anderson Cooper’s quote above, I would add this: this blogger will attempt to always be transparent, and I should also be held accountable for what I say and do.

This isn’t about me. And it isn’t even about my boy or daughter. It’s about ensuring that all of our children are a priority to our schools system.

For this to have any hope of bringing about change, we’ve got to work together.

So, if I start running off following my own private plans, remind me that I’m as full of poop as everyone else.

By making our students and classrooms a priority, together, we will make this the greatest school system, the greatest city, in our nation.

Then, and only then, will we be nationally competitive.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Great post. I want to be in your class. Now whose butt do I need to go kick? Yeah, I read those comments. SICK SICK people over there. You just keep doing what you need to be doing and don’t you dare worry about the rest. You are doing the right thing and I admire you!

    1. Thanks Carol! Come sit in anytime.

      And don’t worry about the butt kicking, I really thought the comments calling me Russell “loser” where just the height of wit! 🙂

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