Friday, February 4, 2011

The Death Threat Club: Beware Of Thinking People And Intelligent Teachers; They Can Be Dangerous.

The Death Threat Club: Beware Of Thinking People And Intelligent Teachers; They Can Be Dangerous.

The Death Threat Club
03 February 2011 -

(Yes, Teachers get Death Threats; I’ve had more than my share, but then I have a different disposition than Elizabeth, and you all know what I mean.  I’m one of those 60s folks from Kent State University; do I need to say more?
In Elizabeth’s case I am most displeased with PSEA. Many of labored to create a true union for teachers, but in ensuing years many state affiliates have gone back to the Mr. Peepers, Our Miss Brooks and Casper Milk Toast versions of teachers.

 I am glad I have retired from the classroom because if I were still there I would be a full time client of the ACLU. Just think about it; a History, Government, Political Science Teacher telling the truth in his/her classroom today; The phones of board of Education members would be ringing day and night; it’s not a matter of the public not being able to handle the truth it’s matter of the public not wanting to deal with the truth and they sure as hell don’t want their kids thinking for themselves! Ed.)

You don’t really want to be a member of this club, but we’ll have you (not that we want anyone else to suffer). We like company, of course—the more people in our group, the less self-pity we sometimes feel--but we’d only hesitantly and regretfully take you in, clasping your hand in a sympathetic way, leading you to sit down in a hard plastic chair (it’s all we have, sorry), telling you kindly, “Please take a seat and relax.”

Those nasty death threats you received will all be forgotten….well, quickly forgotten by others and the police, sure, but by you? Ehh, maybe never.
Some of us have dealt with more numerous, serious and ominous death threats than others. Of course, any death threat is--like a holiday fruitcake--an unasked for gift you’d rather not have received. It just makes you worry about how you’ll get it out of your life before it makes you really sick.

So why are we quibbling about who got it worse? Quantity, quality—none of it matters anymore when it comes down to death threats. There’s no place for one-up-manship in The Death Threat Club.

What is a death threat, anyway? Some people like to debate this. Some people will argue, for example, that, “I’ll kill you, bitch!” is actually a vague death threat, even though it seems like a pretty forceful statement, and that, “I hope you fucking die, you fucking bitch!” as terrible as it is, is really a wish for your death rather than an actual death threat.

Meanwhile, “I’m coming for you with my—insert name of fancy but scary gun—and I’m gonna splatter your brains all over your kitchen,” is a statement some will still argue might really be a threat of bodily harm rather than an indisputable death threat.

Splattered brains may not always—although they do in most cases—lead to death. Therein lies the controversy about whether or not this is actually a death threat. Stupid, yes. Overly persnickety, to be certain.

What about, “You will die?” Is that a death threat, or just a statement of fact? Does tone of voice and body language add to the threat? What about face-to-face delivery of said threat? Does that up the ante?

A whispered “You will die” over the phone is creepy, sure, but what about a shouted-in-your-face statement, complete with flying spit and pointed fingers?

If “You will die,” is supplemented with something like, “You and your children will die a slow, painful and humiliating death, and I will be sitting there laughing,” I would personally call that a threat of death.

Would you? Some wouldn’t. But why are we arguing about what does or does not constitute a death threat? I can’t really understand it.

What it comes down to, I think, is this question: Would you be happy if someone said this to you, these words, in this way? If you wouldn’t, then it’s—no matter how else you might describe it—a Very Bad Thing to Say. 

Death Threats definitely fall under the category of Very Bad Things to Say. Upon this, I think we can all agree.

Any threatening statement that includes the words “I want you to...” or “You will...” along with the words “death” or “die” is, to my mind, a death threat.

What do you think? And why does it make people feel better, in some cases, to dismiss the complaints and/or fears of those who have received threats of death?

Perhaps we don't want to think that decent people's lives are threatened all the time, for incredibly petty reasons. If we admit that, after all, we have to admit that everything is really fucked up. And we could be the next person in line for some horror.

Should people who have received death threats just get over it, as many people tend to say, and ‘move on’ with their lives? Should they speak up and/or fight back? The teacher in me must add to this the questions: Why or why not?

How do you feel, for example, about Frances Fox Piven, a professor and activist from the 1960s who worked to advocate for the plight of the poor? Should Piven “get over” the fact that Glenn Beck rants, almost nightly, that because of what she wrote 40-plus years ago, she is a destructive threat to the USA’s economic system? Piven has received countless death threats as a result of Beck’s near-constant—and totally weird—references to her writings.

Piven has endured months of threats, courtesy of Glenn Beck's fan base, but recently called in the FBI and law enforcement to investigate. It took her a while; Piven must have been trying to be calm and thoughtful (but why suffer like that?), and now she’s had enough.

In the meantime, if Piven tragically dies at the hands of another, who will we agree is to blame? The man who essentially called for her head, or the person who might kill her? Is part of it her own fault for simply being a liberal activist and publishing some “radical” ideas nearly 50 years ago?

What if Piven has a heart attack from the stress of the attacks on her character and all the threats of death? Whose fault would that be? The people behind the attacks on her character? Her own fault? Her ancestors’ fault—for passing on bad genes or a propensity toward high cholesterol?

Speaking of activists getting threats, we recently celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Everyone knows that King was, by the end of his life, the victim of countless threats—ironic (deeply, troublingly ironic), since he was a staunch advocate of non-violence. Lesser men would have been scared into silence and into hiding out for the sake of self-preservation, but King reportedly said, “If someone wants to kill me, there is really nothing I can do about it,” and carried on with his work and his life until he was felled by an assassin’s bullets.

Can we do something about death threats? Most people would say yes, call the police. But what can the police actually do?  A death threat is a felony, but to make the charges stick, they require all sorts of proof. They require many witnesses. Death threats are sadly routine and in many cases, difficult to prove.

Some people have their death threats taken seriously, though. I’m talking politicians. And yet—they get so many death threats, it starts to become just a sad fact of life for them. Public figures have to brush the threats off and put faith in their security teams (should they be able to afford them).

It doesn't take much to earn a death threat, apparently.  Selena Gomez has reportedly been getting death threats since she was photographed hugging and kissing Justin Bieber. If one teenager smooching another on a yacht (paparazzi photos of this scene were published in a number of teen fan mags) can result in death threats, it's pretty clear that our society doesn't have its priorities straight.

Bristol Palin and her siblings have also been said to have received death threats. Now, Sarah Palin, their mother, seems the more likely target—although I will never say that death threats against anyone are justified; all death threats are reprehensible—but it goes to show how even tangential public figures are not exempt from threats.

So why would any sane person threaten the life of another? (We’ll leave the clearly insane out of the equation now, purely for the sake of an unpolluted argument.) I would never do this for a few reasons. First, I think it’s the height of cruelty and incivility to threaten another person’s life, in any way. 

Second, it’s the Golden Rule, baby: I wouldn’t want someone to do this to me (even though some already have). Third, I wouldn’t want to get into trouble. I’m a good girl. As a matter of course, I don’t threaten people’s lives. That just seems savage, in my opinion.

Why don’t more people think this way?

Several people threatened my life on different occasions (I won't get into it) and in blog comments to me (yeah, I know—blog comments. Sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Well, wait until it happens to you and then tell me it doesn’t freak you out nearly as much as a face-to-face comment. I have received both). 

Hiding behind the internet, behind the mail, behind the phone, are all typical ways that bullies muster courage to be incivil, so threats that come in via blogs are thought to be--as some people have told me--a blogger's own damn fault for daring to create a public platform.

Whether it's my own fault or not, I am now, unfortunately, a member of The Death Threat Club. I just hope that my membership will expire after a few years. Maybe the five year mark—as cancer patients anticipate with bated breath and many prayers—will be the turning point. It seems more likely that death threats can never be completely erased from our memories, but at least we will know, eventually, that we have survived.

While I wait for the time to pass and my memory to fade, I am parking my tush in this hard plastic chair and making small talk. There's plenty of room here for you, too, should you care to join us. Just be sure--next week--to bring some coffee. We're polite, gentle souls, and we share in The Death Threat Club, you know.

ELIZABETH COLLINS is a writer and writing/literature teacher, whose blog ( ) attracts an international following to its mix of memoir, personal and political essays, and quirky observations. Collins, a graduate of the University of Iowa's MFA program in English/Writing, won the Columbia University Nonfiction Prize in 2001, as well as other writing awards. Her essays and short stories have been published in a variety of literary magazines, including The Massachusetts Review, Natural Bridge and Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. 

Collins currently writes YA novels--and her latest, also entitled Pretty Freaky, is about a foreign adoptee's quest to help her adopted American boyfriend find his birthmother. She is also at work on a memoir about teaching.

Ex-Teacher Learns The Hard Way: Watch What You Put Online

June 09, 2010|By Dan Hardy, Inquirer Staff Writer

Elizabeth Collins has blogged for more than two years about her personal life and experiences as a teacher.

One Saturday in February, she posted her thoughts about a student's presentation in her English class at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, an all-girls private school in Villanova. She criticized its tone and political outlook.

The student's parents took quick exception to that post, telling the school that even though the blog did not identify their daughter by name, it was aimed at her and was an "attack on a child."

The exchange triggered a chain of events that ended with the academy's dismissing Collins in late April. "You have demonstrated a willingness to engage in inflammatory actions and have made a problematic situation worse," her termination letter said. Collins said she merely used the incident to make a point about teaching methods, but ended up being singled out for her political views.

"I did nothing wrong at any time," she wrote to the school, defending her actions.

The situation illustrates the potential pitfalls of education blogging. When teachers write about their jobs, personal narrative can collide with expectations of student privacy.

It's "an area that we're just beginning to get our arms around," said Stuart Knade, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. "The limits of what should be our business and what is not still are not clear, and probably won't be for years."

Perhaps that's why the Pennsylvania State Education Association says on its website that teachers should not blog about their "job duties, colleagues, supervisors, or students." (Ed. What a crock of shit!)

Mandy L. Fleisher, a PSEA staffer who gives workshops about blogging, said, "We recommend that people be safe rather than sorry."

Others don't go that far, but Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and a blogger, said he liked guidelines set down by a fellow education blogger, which include: "If you wouldn't say it in a faculty meeting or yell it down the hallway during a passing period, perhaps you need to rethink posting it."

In private schools in particular, free expression can also clash with a school's desire to protect its image and to respond to the concerns of the parents who pay the tuition. (Ed. Free expression is free expression everywhere!)

Just where that line should be drawn became an issue when Collins, 39, in her fifth year of teaching high school courses at the academy, posted a piece on her blog on Feb. 20. 
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