Week in Education

by Jamie Packs & Sebastian Clark

published March 13, 2015

Easy as ABC

Substitute teachers have an almost mythic allure. They alone offer high school students the prospect of a brief hiatus from the grueling task of learning. And with what happened in Columbus, Ohio this last week, the folklore surrounding the substitute is sure to continue. Substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was convicted on four counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles for screening a movie called The ABCs of Death in an East High School Spanish class.

One reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes calls The ABCs of Death “two hours of brutality, excrement, and viscera.” Another calls it a “repulsive and excessive excuse of blood-soaked entertainment.” The film, which is composed of 26 gory and sometimes sexual vignettes, apparently doesn’t suit the Spanish language curriculum of East High School, despite the fact that three whole vignettes are, in fact, in Spanish. At least the kids probably learned the meaning of the word muerte.

In court, Kearns pleaded negligence, stating that her back was turned away from the screen and she was thus unaware of the film’s excessive depictions of sex and violence (segments like “M is for miscarriage” or “O is for orgasm” sound particularly troubling in this regard). The judge for the case, Charles A. Schneider, called her claim “unconscionable,” and said he sees the incident as a symptom of an ailing public school system in Columbus: “They put a permanent substitute in a high-school Spanish class who can’t speak Spanish at all. Here we are, with the Columbus public schools telling us what wonderful things [they] are doing.” Schneider clearly fails to see the educational potential of gore—surely a film whose trailer proudly advertises itself as “appalling” has something to teach today’s youth.

Kearns was sentenced to 90 days in prison in addition to a three-year probation, and has had her substitute teaching license permanently revoked. The conviction is operating under the presumption that Kearns distributed the material with “knowledge of the content,” as Ohio state law outlines. “I am sorry. I should have watched the movie,” Kearns apologized during her hearing, although apparently not convincingly enough. For Kearns, the outcome of the case is rather grim, especially considering the almost comical level of thoughtlessness that she professed (not to mention her poor taste in movies). But if anyone came out on top in this situation, it was undoubtedly the makers of The ABCs of Death, a film that was thoroughly panned by critics upon its release and lost money in the box office. There is almost no better advertisement for a horror movie than the fact that its screening literally sent someone to jail.

Plus I’ve heard there’s a sequel.–JP   


N is for “Nuisance Flooding”

According to climatologists, Florida is the most susceptible state to rising sea levels, threatening 30 percent of its beaches over the next 85 years. Yet it emerged this week that its governor banned thousands of employees at its Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from uttering the three terms with which you would expect it be most concerned: ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ and ‘sustainability.’

A report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) describes the rule as “unwritten,” tying it to the 2011 election of Republican governor Rick Scott and his subsequent appointment of a new department director, Herschel Vinyard Jr. Pressure to abide was regularly asserted by both agency supervisors and lawyers external to the agency.  Insider accounts say the interdict affected every aspect of the department’s operations, influencing its educational material as well as the allocation of its $1.4 billion budget.

For the department’s many highly educated environmentalists, this new inconvenient truth was hard to swallow. “We were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” Kristina Trotta, a former DEP employee in Miami, said. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding.’ ”

It should come as no surprise, then, that in 2014, just before his reelection, Gov. Scott admitted “I’m not a scientist.” –SC