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I think you made a good presentation. I don't follow South Park but I doubt south Park is likely to engender a positive response among the conservative Christians you described. If I understood correctly, the teacher took 150 student to the museum alone. No wonder some of them did not remain under her direct supervision! (There may be an opportunity in this fact to help others visualize one person trying to supervise 150 children in a humorous way.) Perhaps the approach would to be to explore the idea that in the future the parents should be invited by the school (not specifically by one teacher) to participate in such events. This suggestion might help some of the parents buy into the perspective that the teacher is not "guilty," and that their non participation might have indirectly contributed to some of the children seeing art that was not on the intended tour. It might help address the concern of the one student in the Harvard class Monday 11/27/06 who spoke spoke powerfully from the perspective a concerned parent. The "strategic empathy" is perhaps the invitation to participate in future school activities with an unspoken suggestion that if some of the religious parents had been present this would not have happened. What parent could be deaf to the idea that one person cannot monitor the behavior of so large a number of students on a field trip?

Also, along the lines of what Professor Nesson said in class regarding having empathy for judges, perhaps there is an opportunity to have empathy with the school principal, who is in a bind and probably has the power to prevent the teacher from being dismissed. He or she may just be trying to deflect heat away from the Principal.

This whole issue of empathy seems a bit like the issue of "face" in some Eastern cultures.


Interesting presentation, Josh. For those who would like to read what the local people in Texas are saying, there is an interesting discussion from back in September here: Some of the comments are from people involved in the field trip, including a parent chaperone (Comment 31) and a student (Comment 14). The more recent discussions about the matter from this same Texas Education site are here: Perhaps the parents and locals in Texas are less apathetic than we might think.

Dave (At-large participant)

Hey, thanks a lot for the input guys. I definitely didn't have the chance to say all I wanted to in class, and I fear I did not take the time to really make out the parents' arguments for them. I was a little too busy making sure people knew my personal stance on the issue, and didn't give a full explanation of just what these parents are feeling, which was my fault in terms of managing time and the discussion. I can only say that a Montana high school education has given me a great deal of experience with religiously motivated parents and children, and while I don't agree with them, I do have a lot more respect for them than I think I showed in class.

One thing about the facts: I have purposely stylized them for this project. At this point, the waters seem so muddy, and what with the school claiming that it won't breach confidentiality, and Sydney McGee practically daring them to, it's hard to know exactly what happened. I went with the New York Times figure on the number of children (89) though again, where they get their facts from is probably no better than where anyone else gets theirs from. I think there were like 14 parents and 4 other teachers on the trip, as well. And the permission slip issue is a bit foggy. And the school is claiming McGee had other professional problems, and so forth. So what I did was, instead of trying to resolve a factual dispute that I am in no position to clarify, I picked out the most compelling facts, the ones that the court of public opinion has fixated on, and used those to make the story. I definitely don't claim that this project will represent the solemn truth of the matter. Instead, I'm kind of using these stylized facts to give shape to a dispute in which empathy can play a great role. Again, for instance, the parents' reactions in the real world won't have much impact on whether or not the school reinstates Ms. McGee, no matter how grand a PTA meeting is called. In the script, however, I wanted to be able to speak to the parents, because I think that's where I can really generate some empathy. So I made up a situation where the principal essentially holds the power to hire and fire teachers and where she is willing to do whatever the parents want. I'm sure that's not the real decisionmaking structure of the Frisco school system, but it suits my purposes a bit better.

That said, I completely agree that I'm going to have to really express empathy for the school administrators and principal. By Thursday, I anticipate having a rough draft of the actual script up, and I'd love feedback on whether what I'm saying on their behalf makes sense, or is incomplete, or just doesn't sound sincere or defensible. And again, by all means, feel free to play with the script (and the wiki here) and add, subtract, contribute, or continue to comment. Much appreciated, guys.