To Those Who Wrongfully Defend Natalie Munroe

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

In case you have not heard about her, Natalie Munroe was a teacher. She taught in a High School in Pennsylvania. She authored what she believed to be an anonymous blog in which she railed at her students. She variously labeled them “rat-like”, “frightfully dim”, “lazy whiners”, and suggested that their future employment was with the local trash company. She stood by her writings on National Television, so there is no question of authorship. Her High School has dismissed her for the time being.

Her story has created an apparent explosion of responses across America. Many of the responses, like my own, call her what she is – a failure as a teacher and human being. But other responses seem to hail her as some sort of truth-telling hero. One reads a lot of “she told it like it is”, and “she should not be punished for saying the truth”.

To those of you who support Ms. Munroe’s rant, and please let’s call it what it was, here is a response:

Let us begin by describing the job of a teacher, or what the job should be. It is a teacher’s job to keep our children safe while they are at school and away from home. It is a teacher’s job to make certain that this is so, as if our children were their children while they are in the teacher’s care.

It is a teacher’s job to support and strengthen her student’s abilities and understandings of the world. It is a teacher’s job to empower the student, so that he or she can confront a world which will often be unmoving and hostile in the face of their interests and desires and as adults, a wall of ice they must push through. The survival of our civilization, by the way, will be determined by our success as parents and teachers in this assignment.

It is the teacher’s job to provide the environment wherein a student can experience and grasp information, develop ideas and ambitions, experiment, try, fail, try again and finally succeed. We will need our young people’s ideas and ambitions if we are to progress in any direction as a culture and a people. A teacher who berates a student for failure, who makes an issue of it, is a teacher helping to build human beings who will refuse to try, refuse to reach, will not experiment, try again or ever succeed. The price for trying and failing will be seen as simply too draconian and painful, the lesson students actually learn from teachers who cannot control their critical instincts.

It is a teacher’s job to find any and every way to open up the world and its possibilities to a child. And when that child smiles and reaches for a particular idea, it becomes the teacher’s job to fan that flame of interest into a bonfire with additional experiences and ideas along the same line. This is how a teacher helps to build the next great artists, athletes, business and political leaders.

It is a teacher’s job to help build responsible and even moral adults who can assume the burden of leadership and life in the world. Such people do not develop being fed a diet of degradation and abuse.

Teaching should be a calling for the best and brightest among us, those who believe in people and in our future as a species.

It is NOT a teacher’s job to label her students. Teachers do not need to decide that their students are “rat-like”, “lazy”, “stupid”, “incapable”, or any such thing. Such labeling does nothing to aid the student. And that is exactly what the teacher is paid to do – assist the student. Such epithets applied to students in no way improve their lives or their chances. This critical, demeaning (for the student and the teacher) and hateful approach also does not improve the student’s education.

In fact, such thoughts on the part of a teacher prove only one thing – that the teacher is incompetent. Clearly, the teacher has utterly failed to engage her students. She has not educated them. The students remain uneducated or undereducated. The failure in such cases belongs to the teacher and not the student. It is the teacher who gets paid (whether the student is successfully educated or not), and by the way, paid very well. The student has come to school to receive an education, and gone home with homework they do not understand and report cards that will get them into a world of trouble with parents who are also being subtly accused of having “failed”. But such schools and teachers have cashed their checks and made their lazy and unaccomplished way home to their televisions. (Obviously, not all schools and teachers fit this description. But far, far too many fit it all too well.)

It is not a teacher’s job to degrade her student publicly, even when it is assumed that the degradation is being done anonymously. It is never a teacher’s job to hate her students, or to spread her hatred in such a manner as to have it arrive in the student’s ear, or on parent’s computer screens. It is not the teacher’s job to degrade a student at any time or in any way. That is simply not a part of the job description. Life and its hard refusal of the student’s youthful interests will punish the student all too frequently and well.

In short, Ms. Munroe did not do her job as a teacher, and if no other reason existed, she would need to be dismissed for that reason. The fact that she is certain that she is right and that her students are the lowly things she described proves that she has no intention of changing or improving her approach to education. She should be fired for this failing, as well. At best, she is incompetent, and there is cause for dismissal.

Let’s go beyond Ms. Munroe’s clear failure as a teacher, to her erroneous assumptions about children. Children aren’t rats. They’re human beings, and children. Nor are they like rats in any way. They are not “rug rats”, or “rats in a cage”, or “rats in the walls”, or any kind of rats. To those of you who defend her, I know that you were children, once. Were you “rats” of any kind when you were a child? Do you feel that your own children are “rats”. If you do believe this, you should not have children in your care.

A student is lazy only when uninterested. We all of us become “active” when our interest is engaged. If a student is lazy, what you have before you is a failed teacher, school or educational system. You may also have a student who needs to better understand his own responsibilities to himself and others. That job falls upon the student, parents and others who offer the student personal life guidance. But to simply label such a student as if one has now done one’s job is to ensure failure all the way around.

As to any student’s future, none of us are that clairvoyant. The student will decide upon his own future, and will either take the steps necessary to secure it, or will not. Fortunately for all concerned, no teacher, certainly not one of Ms. Munroe’s low caliber and limited experience, can dictate where a student will end up – collecting trash or leading the free world.

I had a lovely second grade teacher. She knew that I had been illiterate until first grade. (I had teachers who did not speak English, before first grade!) Having just learned to read, I felt a real fire to write. She encouraged me with a single sentence; “When you write your first book, dedicate it to me”. And I did dedicate my first real writings to my teachers. I also won an Emmy Award as a writer at age 17. My earliest teachers would have (and did) described me as “illiterate” and “hopeless”.

Teacher – you do not know the future. But you do help shape it, for good or ill.

We thank Ms. Munroe for opening up a much-needed dialogue about children and education. We will thank her again for retiring from teaching and vanishing from the public scene forever.

But folks, what are you defending? An incompetent teacher who has failed and who hates her students? She has not spoken any kind of truth, regardless of the protests of adults who are frustrated with children, their own or others. I’ve taught now for nearly four decades. I’ve worked with literally thousands of students, preschool-university level. They were each of them curiously un-ratlike. They were none of them lazy, once provided something of genuine interest to them to study or do. They were, each of them, the future of their family, their city, their nation and our race. And they deserve far better than Natalie Munroe and a failed educational system.

Consider exerting your energies in more productive and loving areas, ladies and gentlemen. They are needed elsewhere.

As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

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14 comments on “To Those Who Wrongfully Defend Natalie Munroe”

  1. Moreover, whatever happened to the basic, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Would this teacher want her students blogging about her in the same hateful way? It is mind-boggling that anyone would defend this woman. She should certainly be fired.

  2. Hi Anne,

    And so far as I know, she was dismissed, and rightfully so. I couldn’t agree with you more, obviously. Yes…the golden rule. Imagine if it was applied to education. What a different and improved world we would live in. And as to those who defend – and even lionize such a “teacher”…one can only wonder how they treat their own children.

  3. Excellent article. Any teacher who says that her kids are rats and claims that they have no future has clearly abandoned any willingness to help them reach their full potential. She deserves no defense.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree.

  5. Those kids get enough bullying/cyber-bullying as it is. She’s not helping the authority of good teachers by being such a terrible one. I’m glad that she was dismissed. I hope they don’t let her come back.

    My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher labeled her a “flower child” when I met with her at conferences. She said my daughter was “in her own little world” and “danced to her own beat in her head.” Um, what? Then she said she wouldn’t have known that my daughter knew all that she knew if she hadn’t assessed her for conferences. This was three months into the school year.

    We pulled her out at the semester mark.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. I’m going to read a little more about this teacher. I’m glad we homeschool. And every time I read something like this, it strengthens my resolve.

  6. Steven,

    1st let me say that I love what you are doing. I thank you for your tireless efforts, and everything I say, both praise and constructive criticism, is offered with complete respect and in an effort to maintain excellence.

    I am a homeschooler of 2 young children. I briefly tried a number of “alternative education” systems and never considered placing my children into the public system for which I hold in utter and complete contempt.

    I think you and I are of like mind in that we think not only that homeschooling is good, but public education is bad. I could rail against the lunacy of public education for days. My standard statement is basically that public education is a complete failure in the 5 most overarching components of its functioning. The curriculum, the pedagogy, the safety, the governance, and the the economic model all get an F (to use the moronic grading methodology of the system I am decrying). I would not believe this is the system in place in the 21st century if I was not living through it. But I digress.

    In short I am one of the least likely people on earth to defend this “teacher”. Having said that, here are some things that stuck me in reading your commentary.

    1) Humans are prone to categorizing (aka labeling). It serves us very well in many cases. But like most things it is a 2 edged sword. We need to understand the limitations and dangers of labels. You yourself, seem to essentially, label the teacher as “labeler”, and the other commenters seem to jump on the bandwagon crying “fire the labeler, labelers are bad” The fact of the matter is that she probably has been a labeler(in the bad sense), and given her standing by her comments, she will likely continue to be one. If that is the case it is correct and useful to label her as a labeler. But we must never forget that she can change. It is more accurate to say someone “Has been________” (fill in any lable you want), than to say that someone IS ________. Why? Well that leads us to the other thing you accused her of and which you may committed as well …

    2) She does not know the future, so it it bad of her to decide what the future holds for the kids. Well, neither you, nor I know the future. When we label someone we are claiming that is what they will continue to be. Now I am not saying that doing so is always wrong. There are some “Lost causes” who will always be what we are calling them. But we should be careful about “writing someone off”, not only for there sake but ours. Once you define someone’s future, you close the door for them to grow and learn and change.

    3) I have gone on too long. I had a few other things (like labeling with the intent of helping some one break out of the label vs with the intent of pigeon-holing them), but I guess will cut myself short and say that my bottom line is that let us keep in mind that you are PROBABLY 100% right about this person (a pretty worthless POS). But saying she is a failure as a human may be too quick and too harsh a judgment, and more importantly, I don’t think the best idea is to fire her. The best idea may be to try to “turn” her (not by calling her names and accusing her) – get her to see the error of her ways. Why? Cuz, as with religion, “converts” tend to be support the cause more than anyone else.

    Thanks again for all you have done.

  7. Hi Tim,

    Yes, we certainly do agree. Your final point is well taken, of course – if such a person could be seen to be remedial. No, we do not know what Ms. Munroe will become in the future, and perhaps it is wrong to give up on her as she gave up on her students. That said – she MUST be removed from a position where she can harm children, as any parent will tell you. Firing her was absolutely necessary. She can get herself rehabilitated on her own time and dime, away from any students. Your view is more or less hate the sin and love the sinner, I respect it. But I would take the ax murderer’s ax away and leave him in a padded and chained room to not only protect others, but to protect him from the consequences of his own actions, until I was pretty damned sure he was rehabilitated – and then, as you say, we can’t really know what a person is or will become. Where children and such people as Ms. Munroe are concerned, we should error on the side of children and their well being. Thanks for writing, and for a thoughtful response.

  8. Steven,

    Well reasoned. I agree 100%.

    Assuming she was pigeon-holing these kids not categrozing them to more effectively guide them (as a psychologist must 1st call someone bipolar in order to effectuate treatment), which I think is a pretty reasonable assumption, she MUST be taken out and rehabilitation MUST happen on her own time – I stand corrected, and somewhat embarrassed at such a massive oversight on my part, but I do genuinely love being shown my oversights – helps me to feel alive, engaged, and growing.

    Thanks again.

  9. This brings back memories of a very unpleasant summer session I spent taking Russian 1 at UCLA. My instructor was a graduate student who was probably not very interested in actually teaching, but he did teach this class. I have a bad ear for sounds I’m not used to. I hate language labs where I need to listen and repeat or respond in the foreign language. I was not forced to take this class, but I did need it.

    I hated language lab because I simply couldn’t distinguish the difference between two Russian sounds not found in English. The teach publicly berated me for this and I, normally a B student, got a D in this course. The instructor did not teach me — simply berated me for what I could not hear.

    The next session I got different instructor for Russian 2. He was a patient man who treated his students well. I got a C. (I confess Russian was very difficult for me — especially a year of it in 12 weeks.)

    A teacher’s attitude can make a world of difference to a student’s ability to learn. Anything I learned in Russian 1 was in spite of the teaching — not because of it. A teacher who does nothing to help a student learn has no right to call a student stupid. The school was right to fire this teacher.

  10. The Atomic Mom says:

    As a former public high school teacher, I see both sides of this. I fully understand her frustration. However, she should not have blogged it. She should have taken it up with the parents, principal etc. But, honestly, if you choose to be a teacher and don’t know that you’re willingly stepping into the trenches you will have some major pain in your life.

  11. Well, I think there are bigger problems with Ms. Munroe than her unawareness that she’s “stepped into the trenches”. I’m sorry – you can’t successfully teach people that you hate. It isn’t possible. She clearly hates students. And you mentioned she should not have blogged it. She also should not have THOUGHT it. What makes anyone believe that a student does not know when his/her teacher dislikes the student? Who CARES if she was “frustrated”? We all get frustrated with our work from time to time, but doing what this horrid teacher did in any other job would be immediate grounds for unemployment. She was paid to do a job that should be a calling, and it clearly was not for her. This person should never teach again.

  12. I have been seriously struggling with whether to send my 2nd and 3rd grader to public school and after reading many of your articles I know I need to teach them. I didn’t want to hand my kids over to people like this “teacher”. Thanks so much for helping me see. I have been struggling for a long time. Keep up the good work.

  13. Hi Tammy,

    Well, I appreciate your struggle, and I appreciate your kind words. If the articles here have been of use, then they are worth the doing. For what it’s worth, I think you’re taking the correct and courageous approach. Thanks for reading!

  14. Hi Tammy, I agree whole hardheartedly with your decision to home school. Everyone who is able should follow your example even thought there are many good teachers in Public Education. This has always been the goal of Progressives to take over our education system and now they have done it. With Teachers Unions and Common Core curriculum Progressives have obliterated much of American history & one problem is with the education of the teachers themselves who have not been home schooled and therefore do not know the depth and breadth of historical revision that American students have been enduring since Jimmy Carter established the useless Dept of Education [useless since it has done nothing but brainwash & sink our education from the best to a third world level]. Make sure they know about the good that has been accomplished by America as well as the bad and the Constitution and Founding Fathers needs to be emphasized.

    Also thanks to Steven Horwich for providing this site which seems to be making the difference we need in our Education system today.

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