I wanted to be upset over this story. I mean, the headline made it sound like it was a really outrageous abuse of power by the teacher – requiring a student to write that which she did not believe. That isn’t what happened, though.
Abigail Cornejo is a Sophomore at Palatine High School in a small town in Illinois who merely wanted to write a paper on the controversial topic of abortion. But her English teacher had something else in mind and told Conejo she couldn’t write on the topic — and if she did, she would have to write from the pro-abortion perspective.
“My English class is doing a controversial issue research paper,” Abigail told LifeNews. “My English teacher, Mr. David Valentino originally told the class we may not do abortion, euthanasia, or legalization of marijuana. I asked why we couldn’t do infanticide, abortion and he replied with, ‘I’ve read too many papers on it. I don’t care anymore.’”
There it is – the teacher excluded the topic of abortion. I might not agree with that decision or the reason for it, but it is perfectly acceptable for a teacher to put some parameters and limitations on an assignment.
But that wasn’t good enough for the student.
She continued: “The next day, for my controversial topic I wrote down abortion and he refused to approve my topic. I asked, ‘Why not? You don’t even have a good reason.” He replied in his I’m higher than you and you have to listen to me voice, ‘It’s an ethical debate. I don’t have to have a reason you aren’t doing abortion.’ We quickly argued about it being an ethical debate and then I told him I’m still going to do abortion and his reply was, “‘If you write a paper on abortion I will not read it and you will get an F. This is an essential writing assignment and if you get an F you will fail this class and have to retake it in the summer or next year. It’s your choice I hope you make the right decision.’”
At this point, Abigail was being a brat. She knew what the parameters of the assignment were, she knew that the topic she wanted to write on was excluded from the permissible topic, and she continued to press the issue. Personally, I would been calling the parents right then, explaining that the student was out of line. Good parents would have backed the teacher on the issue of his authority to set the parameters of the assignment.
Ultimately, the exasperated teacher told the student that she could write on the topic of abortion if – and only if – she wrote from the perspective she opposed. I can’t say I would have done that – but I can’t say that it is an inappropriate pedagogical tool, since it would require the student to look at a controversial issue from a point of view that she does not ordinarily give much weight to. The goal, I think, was to get the student to drop her demand to do a topic that was expressly not permitted under the terms of the assignment – which, in the end, she did. Not that this stopped the student’s bratty behavior, as is evident by her words in the article. She’s clearly still a brat who thinks she is in charge of the class rather than the teacher – and her parents apparently have seen fit to coddle and encourage her bratty behavior.
Mind you, I would not have excluded the topic of abortion from the acceptable topics. Indeed, I gave such an assignment during my days teaching English – and the student who earned the highest grade was one who wrote a superb paper from a pro-choice perspective which earned the highest grade in the class despite taking a position that I found morally reprehensible. But as both an English and Social Studies teacher (on both the high school and college levels) I have imposed limits on topic or rejected proposed topics submitted by students. That is my prerogative as a teacher, and is equally the prerogative David Valentino. That any adult would think differently is shocking.