Is Jeff Bliss a Rotten Apple or a Gold Star?

On Monday, an incident occurred between a student and teacher in a social studies class at Duncanville High School in Dallas, Texas.  The incident was caught on video, posted on YouTube, and quickly went viral with 3 million views:

(Update: The original clip has since been removed, so in place of that, here is coverage of the rant by The Young Turks)

Now that you’ve seen the clip, you’ll notice why I described the above video as an “incident.”  It’s because words such as “argument” and “fight” don’t really accurately reflect what happened.  There wasn’t an argument, and no one got into anything that remotely resembled a fight.  In fact, it was a pretty one-side affair.

Was it a rant?  Sure it was.  Was it appropriate?  That’s the question that has people talking.  I’ll start by saying that Jeff Bliss was out of line in calling out his teacher like that in the open.  He also had an attitude of frustration in his words (surprise – he’s a teenager) that made the incident very confrontational.  Many people write Jeff off because of these aspects of the story, but one only has to look at the basic transcript in the exchange between Jeff Bliss, the student in the video, and his teacher to get a sense of how this went down:

Student:

  • “If you would just get up and teach ’em instead of handing them a freakin’ packet, yo!  There’s kids in here who don’t learn like that…”
  • “They need to learn face to face.  You’re just getting mad because I’m pointing out the obvious.”
  • “You want kids to come into your class?  You want them to get excited for this?  You gotta come in here and make them excited.  You want a kid to change and start doing better?  You gotta touch his freakin’ heart.  Can’t expect a kid to change if all you do is just tell ’em.”
  • “You gotta take this job serious. This is the future of this nation. And when you come in here like you did last time and make a statement about ‘oh this is my paycheck’, indeed it is…but this is my country’s future and my education.”

Teacher:

  • “No.”
  • “Bye.”
  • “Get out.”
  • “You’re wasting my time.”

Jeff Bliss

It would be so much easier to write this off as a misbehaved student that interrupted the class with obscenities and cursed up a storm.  But that’s not what happened.  The greatest appeal of this video to me is the level of articulation in Jeff’s words.  It only becomes a “rant” when the other party doesn’t participate.  I don’t condone getting into arguments that have no basis or constructive goal to them, especially not in a classroom setting.  But Jeff Bliss knows something isn’t quite right, and it’s almost a shame that the teacher doesn’t engage.  Teaching is a two-way street, after all.

Instead, the default solution appears to be, “get out of the room.”  That’s not helping anyone, and when the other students are clearly not paying attention (some of them ranged from being half to fully asleep) at their desks, keeping quiet and allowing the norm to continue doesn’t look like such a good alternative.

It’s also important to take into account Jeff Bliss’ personal background leading up to that moment.  In short, he’s an 18-year-old sophomore who had quit school for a year due to failing grades and returned to school to continue his education.  What kills me is that that very concept is one of the hardest things to accomplish in education reform.  The very idea of getting a kid to come back to school after they’ve dropped out is huge, and it’s also what makes this video so jarring and embarrassing – not for a particular teacher or student or class, but embarrassing for education in general.

TED Talks Education

TED Talks Education speaker cast

Credit: TED Blog

Coincidentally on Tuesday, a day after the incident took place, TED Talks Education premiered nationally on PBS.  It was the first ever televised program for TED and it specifically dealt with the issue of the high school dropout epidemic in America.  (Perhaps the timing is less “coincidental”, and more “as expected.”)  The program, hosted by John Legend, included talks from: Bill Gates, Sir Ken Robinson, Rita Pierson, and Geoffrey Canada.

The Battle for Middle Ground

As is typical with viral YouTube stars, the interviews and media attention came quickly for Jeff Bliss.  I’d hope that Jeff’s teacher can give her “side” of the story or at least provide some insight as to what happened from her point of view.  (As far as I was able to figure out, the teacher was given administrative leave with pay until further notice.) Again, teaching is a two-way street, and so it’s also my hope that this incident and its follow ups to come won’t regress into “he said, she said” finger-pointing exercises and instead provide some kind of base for improvement.

There’s a lot being done, a lot not being done, and a battle that rages on for a suitable middle ground in education.  But I think there’s something we can all agree on: no more freakin’ packets, yo.

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One Response to Is Jeff Bliss a Rotten Apple or a Gold Star?

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