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The Book Trap Awaiting Teachers

Teachers are being urged to do a better job engaging their students. So what happens if teachers use books not on the approved list and then charge their students for the cost of purchasing the books ("Teacher thrown out of school for ordering kids books," New York Post, May 16)?  The answer is predictable.

Todd Friedman, a 29-year public school veteran who was the winner of the Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Award in New York State, was placed on administrative leave at Midwood High School in the New York City system while he awaits possible termination.  What was his crime?  He personally ordered 102 paperback copies of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for his Advanced Placement students, paid about $220 (with shipping) out of his own pocket, and then sold them to his students for $2.00 apiece to recoup most of the expenses.

There are two separate but related issues here.  Is Friedman in trouble because he merely used a book not on the approved list for Advanced Placement students in his school?  Or is he in hot water because he charged students for their own copies?  Both are possible, but I believe it's primarily the latter.  Principals have wide discretion in deciding which rules and regulations to enforce.  At Midwood High School, it's quite obvious that Michael McDonnell, the principal, decided to - ahem - go by the book. 

What I don't understand is why McDonnell didn't call Friedman into his office upon hearing about the matter and inform him that he immediately needed to refund the money he had collected to each student?  After all, Friedman's intent was only to enhance the quality of his instruction for the most able students. He was wrong to charge students for the paperbacks, but does the punishment fit the crime? 

Whenever I hear about such incidents, there is usually more than initially meets the eye. Was Friedman being punished as retaliation for speaking out about a prior event?  It's little wonder that the best and brightest college graduates are reluctant to make public school teaching a career when they hear about how teachers are treated.  Friedman did not molest a student, and did not insult a student.  Yet he was immediately removed from the classroom, despite his exemplary career.  I'd like to know where the teachers' union is on this case.  

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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