Michele Somerville is the mother of three former NYC DOE public school students, as well as a writer and an educator.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Community College Presentation and The Histrionic Bureaucrat Troll Under The Bridge: Part One, Dateline, Brookline

My son, a young man with Asperger’s, a disorder on the autism spectrum, attends a school/residential program which is designed to support students in  areas of social skills, executive function, employment readiness, and to post-secondary academic study. His progress has been good, but the program, which is extremely expensive, has not been great. With a recent change in leadership came some upheaval which increased anxiety among students. My son attends a local community college beyond the program and his support both at the college and at his program has been very weak. I had been feeling hopeful, about improvement in the residential program, about finding a way to induce the Office of Disabilities at the community college to do its job, and about sending my son back to his program with the expectation that he might have one more good year there before moving along. 

Today, 72 hours, I am not so hopeful as I was. I am discouraged. I never want to hear another pseudo educator say "I've been doing this job for 20 years. Trust me. I've seen it all." I am questioning the commitment both my son's college and residential program have to opposing discrimination. It became clear, via a presentation given by the staff person in charge of the Office for Persons with Disabilities at the college that while there is a baseline of CYA ("cover your ass") compliance with the letter of the law as it pertains to the protections of college students with disability, there is insufficient concern (in her office and perhaps in the college at large) for the spirit of those laws. 

I travelled two hundred miles to attend meeting a meeting with my son's “his team” this past Thursday afternoon.  20 hours later, I found myself demoralized, disgusted and departing the first of four afternoon presentations before it was over, in haste.

The reasons were several. One had to do with the misogynist outburst of a deranged parent. The other was that I realized that the person "presenting" was a functionary in place to ensure compliance who wasn't really saying anything.

But we tried. We listened to the several refrains of "I've been doing this for 20 years and I have seen it all, trust me."  We listened as she unfurled the on list of technologies that would be offered to students (at additional cost, in the absence of screening to determine efficacy and without instruction in how they work). And glorious terminology Accuplacers and Dragon readers.

When the call for questions came, my son's father's hand went up. The presenter called on him. He husband spoke, in strident terms about our son and about the lack of support many or most of the students from the residential program had been receiving. Other hands went up, one of them, mine. Just as the presenter, having scanned the room, appeared poised to call on me, a man sitting a few rows back began to flail and yell. He pointed at me. “No! Not you! YOU’ve already spoken!” he shouted.

I had not uttered a word.

It's worth noting that the presentation was happening, at least in some small part, in response to my concerns and professional input. I'm an educator, and the director of the school had been consulting me on the issues at hand. My question pertained more to policy than to my own son's case.  

I suppose everyone saw, immediately, that the little old man crouching a few rows back, was unbalanced. Still it rattled me.

Without exception, every parent I have ever encountered at this program has been lovely. I had become accustomed to feeling safe in that space (whites literally a deconsecrated church sanctuary). The last thing in the world I might have expected was that a man taking part in an assembly focused unprotecting the oft discriminated against from discrimination might unleash a misogynist mansplaining torrent of flaming histrionics in my direction.

I waited for my turn. and when it came, though rattled and disgusted, I managed to say something: “I realize my husband has already spoken, but I also have a voice---"I am told—I was so shocked and distraught that I barely recall---that some clapped.

That little old venom spewer siphoned every bit of safety out of the room.  He defiled the sacred space. He compromised everyone. And no one in charge thought to stop him. 

The presenter maundered, ducked the question, seemed to know her best bet was to run out the clock.  I realized she wouldn't answer my question. There was no point in being there. Nothing was being said.

Appalled and shaken, I departed abruptly before the charade had come to a close. 

I could not, in good faith, take part in any conversation about discrimination with an acting-out misogynist lurking three rows away. Had I been in a leadership position, had that outburst taken place in a classroom of mine, I would have insisted the mansplaining miscreant be held accountable---or bounced.

During a break, my spouse tried to hold the small man accountable. This, is for me, is the creepiest part. “You were out of line,” he said, “You insulted me wife. You owe her an apology.” Graciousness that led my spouse to speak up. He did so with an expectation that the old man would want to make things right. Everyone makes mistakes.

Instead the bantam grump threw another Trumplike nutty, flailing his arms, twisting around. “I’m not apologizing to her!” he shouted. “I reject that!”

I sat in a cafe writing during the following presentations, but returned to the “parents-only” meeting took place because my spouse was presenting. I figured the poor guy might be too ashamed to attend. But he was there. 

The parents-only meeting was not exceedingly fruitful. I dared not speak. Parents shared. The  misanthrope didn’t yell at anyone at that meeting, but he did his best to monopolize the meeting, and sat with bad posture a few rows back subvocalizing and declining to raise his hand.  Everyone else raised their hands for a chance to share but the little old Caucasian manchild just called out whenever he wished.  “A life-long bureaucrat,” (thus he described himself) he was above the civility ever other human benign the sanctuary exhibited.

He harped a bit on the need for governance ("moderation") on the parents’ listserve. This idea was hard for me to get my head around. Then came little old Ron who shared that "we have moderators" to keep folks in line on the listserve "in my town." 

Where did little bald Ron the mantled troll live, I wondered?

Read Dateline, Brookline: The Community College Presentation and The Brookline Bureaucrat Troll Under The Bridge in its entirety on Bored_o_Ed.

Where did the histrionic spewing troll live, I wondered?

I nosed around later and learned that the Trumpesque grump resides in a pretty nice town, Brookline, Mass. I won't say his name because we all know one.

And the bureaucracy? Retired EPA. And the entitlement? Maybe he got it from being a short white and finessing a stint at Penn.

Worst part of all---he had daughters. 

In the car on the way home, the son whose spring break had just begun, sat in the back seat with the dog heard his parents talking about this creep. “Why’d the guy yell at you, Mom?” he asked.

I tried to make a joke. “Oh he was just jealous. He’s old and miserable and your dad is good looking. And still has hair.”  

I later he is a widower. The wife was the accomplished one.

Which is very hard for small, bald, mean menchildren to take. 

I thought about writing to him, but decided against it. He'd already blown an opportunity to act like a man.

Men who hate women can not hear what we write or say. Their blaring enmity and self-hatred drown it out.  

But here’s what I might have written:

Dear RL: 

I know it is not easy to have an adult child with special needs.

I know it is not easy to have a life with loss in it.  

If you wish that your daughters' voices will be honored as they move through this world, if you wish that people, like your daughter, who have disabilities, might be honored and supported,  you will take note of your own misogyny. 

You will endeavor to change, Ronnie. 

You had no right to humiliate all the other women in that room by intimating that husbands---in any circumstances ever---can be thought of as legitimately speaking for their wives. You had no right to attack me today.

How sad your decision to forgo the opportunity to apologize.

Your refusal to apologize to every woman in that room and to me in particular in the wake of your tiny tantrum shames both your  daughters and the memory of your wife.

I feel sorry for you.

Michele Somerville
March 11. 2017

Michele Somerville is writing an educational memoir, Bored-O-Ed, of which this may be part.

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