Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fast Times At Regnef / Fenger High Update

At While Charlie Sleeps, the site of a sort of neighbor, I ran across an old comment relating to the Regnef High controversy. This refers to the teacher who used a blog, Fast Times At Regnef High, to vent angrily and anonymously about the students and administration at his school, Fenger High on the South Side of Chicago. I had written about it when I first started this blog and an update is in order.

First, two posts at While Charlie Sleeps, from May 1 and May 8, link to some interesting updates. The first is a column by Dawn Turner Trice in the Tribune about a group of Fenger High students taking part in the Circuit Court of Cook County's Mock Trial Competition. Apparently, they were coached by the teacher in question. Ms. Trice, who refers to the teacher as Mr. So-and-so, reports that the students he coached are now more disappointed than angry. "People make mistakes. I forgive him. We just want to know why he said those things," said one student in the competition. Ms. Trice ends with a call for the teacher to shed his anonymity, apologize, and explain the hurtful things he said.

The second is a blog, The Truth About Regnef, perhaps by Mr. So-and-so, perhaps by a relative or close friend. It's frankly unclear. It consists of a single ranting post on May 4. The first half of the post is writen by the blog's owner, "The Truth", castigating Ms. Trice judging Mr. So-and-so without really knowing him and for her ignorance of the myriad problems at Chicago public schools. The second half of the post is an email to the Tribune written by Mr. So-and-so. In it, he plays the part of the martyr a bit and tries to defend himself against charges of racism. He also describes his solution to the problems at Fenger, which boil down to a heavy, pervasive police presence. Whatever merit his points might have is lost in his hysterical logorrhea.

In the May 8 post, While Charlie Sleeps is, to put it mildly, highly critical of Mr. So-and-so, or as he refers to him, Mr. Regnef. He calls him a sociopath and asserts that Mr. Regnef lacked the "grit" required to teach, that many others do all the things Mr. So-and-so claims to have done without their personalities devolving into self-aggrandizing self-pity. Perhaps While Charlie Sleeps is right, but my own experience with teachers from schools like Fenger tells me that all the "grit" in the world won't always be enough to keep going. Many of the problems Mr. So-and-so complained about are real, even if it is also true that "we are fortunate that he no longer has contact with our students."

At Able2Know.com, a forum post includes the content since deleted from the Fast Times At Regnef High blog. Mr. So-and-so sounds just as unhinged in the original blog as he does in his email to the Tribune. Ironically, the comments in the forum contain reactions similar to the ones at the high school and in the blogosphere. One commenter accuses Mr. So-and-so of racism, another is indignant that Mr. So-and-so knows what "fellatio" is (as though everybody with a 9th grade vocabulary doesn't know what the word means). Others sympathized with the blogger, even though they recognized his blog as a breakdown.

Some offered anecdotes about what they experienced as teachers and students, and one stuck out to me, as it suggested even high security wouldn't necessarily be enough to correct a failing school:

I went to a school like this for a year and the rules were enforced. Metal detectors at the entrance, hats and pagers confiscated (no cell phones yet, this was 18 years ago) and charges pressed for weapons and drugs.

All this and it was still a dangerous place. I was threatened almost daily for the mere fact that I was white (one of about twenty in the school) I had classes where the teacher was threatened so often that he wouldn't even teach. We would put our desks together and play cards for the forty minute class. He based our grade on attendance and nobody failed. I can't imagine how bad this school must be without the rules being enforced. I sympathize with this teacher who seems like he just wants to teach in an enviroment that has some modicum of control.

Finally, a May 14 column in the Sun-Times from Alexander Russo of the District 299 CPS Blog, whose title is an apt summary for what many people might think after this whole contorversy: Why is Fenger High still in businsess?

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