Friday, September 04, 2009

The News from the real "Lake Wobegon"

Humorist and author Garrison Keillor, hosts the popular radio show "A Prairie Home Companion". During which he tells stories of his fictional hometown Lake Wobegon Minnesota.

Keillor bases these monologues, (known as "the news from Lake Wobegon") on his memories of growing up in the very real town of Anoka, MN. A small town north of the Twin Cities. He traditionally ends the segment by saying; "that's the News from Lake Wobegon Minnesota. Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average."

Yet I give Garrison Keillor a lot of credit. He doesn't sugar coat "his town". The foibles and failings of the people, the fears, prejudices and often petty nature of life in Lake Wobegon is just as visible as the Norman Rockwell-esqe Americana of the place. So this past week I have found myself wondering what Keillor thinks of recent events at his hometown High School:

(From The Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

The Anoka-Hennepin School District has agreed to pay a $25,000 settlement to the family of a high school junior after two teachers harassed the boy and subjected him to classroom jokes, comments and innuendos concerning his perceived sexual orientation

The boy's "fence swings both ways," teacher Diane Cleveland commented during a class in the 2007-2008 school year, according to an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

When the boy wrote a report on Ben Franklin, Cleveland allegedly said before the entire class that the boy had a "thing for older men." Another teacher, Walter Filson, said in front of other students that the boy "enjoys wearing women's clothes." When the boy decided to report on Abraham Lincoln, Filson allegedly said, "Since you like your men older ..." the Human Rights report said.

The school district, which has denied it violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, agreed last month to pay the boy's family $25,000.

The student, Alex Merritt, and his mother, Jodi, filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in May 2008 on his behalf. He was a student at the district's Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP).

His "fence swings both ways," teacher Diane Cleveland said during a class, according to the investigation by the Human Rights department. Another teacher, Walter Filson, said that Merritt "enjoys wearing women's clothes."

Merritt said he had Cleveland's class before lunch, and Filson's class afterwards. If Cleveland made fun of him for something, he said, she told Filson about it at lunch. Merritt would be teased for the same thing in a new class after lunch.

"I told Ms. Cleveland that I wanted to do a report on Ben Franklin, and she said, 'Why? Do you have a thing for older men?' " he said. "Then I sat in Mr. Filson's class, and he called me 'Mr. Ben Franklin,' and said, 'What do you have for these older men that Ms. Cleveland told me about?' "

"I'd come home from school and clam up," he said. "I got death threats from random kids, saying things like 'Shut up, you queer, and, I'm going to kill you, you queer.'"

According to the investigation, Cleveland also covered the screen during a bathing suit scene in a movie the class was watching, and said "It's OK if [Alex] watches this because he isn't into that sort of thing anyway ... maybe if it was a guy."

The Anoka-Hennepin district disciplined Cleveland, 39, a social studies teacher, after Merritt complained. She was briefly reassigned, and placed on two-day unpaid suspension. Her reassignment included working on a "social studies curriculum development and reflecting on equality and diversity in the classroom," according to the investigation. But she completed only one day of the assignment and called in sick for the rest of the week.
The strange part about his experiences, Alex pointed out, is that he is straight.

He said he is speaking publicly now because "I'm not the first kid this has happened to. I feel bad for the kid who was homosexual in that class, seeing that I was belittled. ... If kids feel like this is what they're going through, at work, at school, at the house, you've got to tell somebody."

So unlike in most High Schools were it's other students who usually are the ones who harass a peer who is perceived as "different", in Anoka Minnesota it's the teachers who tag team making a student's life miserable.

That's the news from Anoka, Minnesota - the real Lake Wobegon, were the Women Social Studies Teachers are bitter insensitive cows, the Men Law Enforcement Teachers are emotionally retarded closet cases, and all the Children just want to graduate and get the hell out.

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