It was a pretty big deal, and it had happened in the blogosphere – that was why they’d called us. Spang and I were tough-as-nails blog detectives, heartless and uncaring in our relentless pursuit of the truth. We didn’t care who we had to hurt as long as we cracked the case, and no one understood us but our women. And they were all like, whatever, dorks.
So when Pennsylvania teacher Natalie Munroe was suspended from her position for her blog posts about “whiny” students, we started drinking whiskey and shooting pool right away. Then we took cabs, went to our respective homes and woke up our wives at one-thirty in the morning by noisily making hand-cut French Fries in our kitchens. We hadn’t even called each other or mentioned French Fries at all the whole night – isn’t that crazy?
I caught fire to my kitchen, but Steve’s kitchen was fine, and 66% of my daughters are Red Cross Certified Babysitters, so I guess they must have put it out. Then we forgot about it for a day although we did exchange unrelated texts. Then I’m afraid we hit the bottle again, and woke up the following afternoon on a boxcar to Philly with that Golden Voice guy, except he wasn’t singing anything because Spang had broken his jaw with a length of two-by-four, in one of those Kirk Vs. Picard arguments.
And so anyway, we figured, hell, while we’re here, why don’t we look into that Class Three Blog Crime we read about?
And it turned out we didn’t need to go to Pennsylvania to do that. Some of the story is at this link – Teacher Natalie Munroe Defends Blog Comments About ‘Whiny’ Students and if you’d prefer not to have CNN give you the gist of it, you can go to Natalie Monroe herself at Bloggate Day 1: The Scandal Begins.
For our part, we got into a high stakes card game and ended up eleven hundred dollars in the hole, and Spang almost lost a toe and there was a trip to the Western Union and a lot of people yelling over telephones, and then finally we got back to our investigation. Using the Internet, which is really where most Blog Detective Work takes place anyway.
Spang said, “I like how she got fired for blogging and the first thing she did is go home and blog about it.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed. “And her blog is called Where Are We Going And Why Are We In This Handbasket. I’m pretty much ready to call this one in her favor right now.”
I looked at the camera. “Hey you stupid parents of whiny kids – don’t read her blog if you don’t like her blog. And furthermore, please reflect on the irony of whining about your kids being called ‘whiny.’ Gee, I wonder if they’re really whiny and where on Earth they might have picked up that trait?”
But Steve cleared his throat and moved around a little in his hammock. I forgot to tell you he has a hammock set up in our office, and he likes to get up in there wearing one of those fuzzy zip-up one piece pajama things that you usually see on toddlers.
Hey I don’t tell you how to work so don’t get all over Spang for whatever he needs to do to get in his groove. In this case, I knew he was right. He said, “That would not be a very thorough analysis, though, Tom.”
Sigh. “All right. I guess we can walk through it. What exactly are we arguing about here? Did she mention these kids by name or what?”
Spang consulted his laptop and said, “No. She did not. She doesn’t even call herself by her name, just by the not-very-clever Natalie M.”
“Yeah, that’s not very anonymous. But it’s not like it’s called Ms. Munroe’s Dipshit Student Round-Up or anything.”
“Before she made the national news, you had to go looking for her and then surmise that she was who you were thinking of, and then she also didn’t say anyone’s name. So it wasn’t like she was saying, ‘Tom’s daughter is whiny.'”
“Well, right. But the thing is, every single one of my daughters is whiny, sometimes. You might even say, depending on what part of their lives we’re talking about, that they are whiny often or frequently.”
“If you say so,” Spang said. “That is certainly right in line with my limited experiences with children. I know that when I was a child, and I wanted something I didn’t have, I would frequently try whining about it.”
“You stick with what works.”
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
I had my feet up on my desk, eating a turkey leg in my bathrobe, while Spang creaked back and forth above me, popping Pez in his mouth from a Mr. T Pez dispenser. We chewed and looked at the ceiling and thought and chewed some more.
Finally I said, “Are these parents suggesting that their children are never whiny? Or is it that teachers are supposed to pretend like they’re not whiny, on their blogs?”
“I’m sure I have no idea.”
“Hold on a second. Computer!”
Everything was quiet for a few seconds and then Spang said, “We’ve never had a computer like that, TC. One named Computer, that you could talk to. I don’t know why you keep doing that and it’s freaking me out a little bit.”
So I had to use my mouse to click back to the article and see if CNN bothered telling me what the specific problem was with saying something so obviously true on your blog. “Holy shit, it doesn’t tell us what’s wrong with it. It just says that she said a lot of her students were lazy and whiny and out of control-”
Spang squinted, considering the words. “All of those terms seem like they would very likely fit the average high school student. That seems like a good description of me or you as a teenager. That seems true of a lot of modern teenagers I’ve met in my – again, somewhat limited – experiences with them.”
“-and then we’re left to simply assume that teachers are not allowed to say such things on their blogs.”
“That would be troubling,” Spang said. “If being a teacher meant that you forfeited your freedom of speech and self-expression.”
“Troubling indeed. Why would we want to limit the minds of the people forming our young minds?”
“I mean, if she was calling them that in class, or by name, that’d be one thing. And I guess you could argue that since she was identifiable – I mean, obviously, right? – she might have actually been talking to some specific students. She took the relevant posts down-”
“And I don’t blame her,” I said.
“-but that being the case, we can’t really read them and find out if she was being petulant on her blog. You know like how you can be a petulant little bitch with your blog, Tommy C?”
“Like when sometimes you sound like a thirteen year-old girl who didn’t make the cheerleading squad, you know what I mean?”
“I do. Thank you.”
“I mean I know you got a lot of girls over there but do you even wear boy’s underwear anymore or what? Half the time you sound like Jan Brady when Marsha’s getting too much attention.”
“All right, Spang. Let’s move on.”
“Well, I think it’s possible that she could have been pulling a Tommy C. on her post, and that’s what drew attention to her blog.”
“See, I just – I’m going to need you to quit calling it that.”
“Yes, that’s possible. But we can’t assume that. All we can go by is what she says now.”
So we went on back and read her most recent post, in which she says no she wasn’t doing that, but again, of course she’d say that. “Well, someone must have figured out who she was talking about, or we wouldn’t be reading about it in the news.”
“Let’s assume she did,” I said. “That’s the safest thing to do. Let’s assume she got a little too specific in that last post – that’d be the worst case scenario, right”
“Well I think a name would be-”
“But if she’d said a name, they’d be saying SHE SAID A NAME! They’re not. So at worst, she implied it, which means she isn’t a very experienced blogger, but I’m not sure it means she’s a bad teacher, and I’m not sure it means she needs fired.”
Spang snapped at me and pointed and kept doing that until I saw the Pez on the desk and tossed him a new clip. He said, “You show me a high school teacher who doesn’t think a good chunk of high school students are lazy, rude, or whatever else she said, and I’ll show you a high school teacher who’s abusing some kind of prescription medication.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Why can’t she vent? Anyone else want to spend a freaking week in her shoes and then watch your mouth every day when you get off work?”
“Well, anyway, it does appear that she detailed some stuff about ‘canned comments’ on report cards, which maybe she shouldn’t have gone into,” Spang said.
“That’s correct. She’s talking I imagine about how tedious it is to come up with comments, and how they are encouraged to use the general ones that you find all the time. The same ones you remember from when you were a kid.”
Spang snapped his fingers. “Ah. Like ‘works well with others.’ or ‘a pleasure to have in class.'”
“Yes. Apparently it outraged parents to hear that these were canned comments, and not personal messages for their own special snowflakes.”
“I am losing patience with parents and their special little snowflakes. You guys all know, nobody’s going to teach school at all if the rule is you have t 24/7 shut your word hole and pretend everybody’s kid is special little snowflake.”
“Agreed. And you know what else, writing is – blogging is – separate from life. For example, have you ever noticed how much I appear to be hammered on my blog? But I think it’s obvious that as a father of three, that’s all an act. It’s tongue-in-cheek.”
“You think that’s obvious, do you?”
“I think we’ve arrived at the bottom of this case, Spang. It’s like this – did she call your specific kid whiny?”
“If not don’t worry about it.”
“Right. And if she implied your kid was whiny, then axe yourself – Is my kid whiny? Ever?”
“And if you’re saying no, then blast your head against the wall as hard as you can, because you’re a filthy liar.”
“Correct. And if you’re saying yes, then again – don’t worry about it, except to the extent that your whiny kid reflects poorly on you. Get to work butching your kid up a little bit, so he or she doesn’t start getting regular beatings. Also – is this woman a good teacher?”
“That does seem to be a relevant question, and not surprisingly, it does not appear to be addressed in CNN’s crappy tabloid paint job. You know, I’m starting to hate those guys?”
“Yes. I know. I am, too, Spang. The fact is that if they had a single shred of evidence that Natalie Munroe was a bad teacher, off of her blog that is, and in the actual classroom, then it would be on the front page of CNN with that one loud-mouthed hairdresser girl who always sounds like she’s in a bar stool next to you at Rooster’s circa 1am, bitching at the television -”
“-Nancy Grace, yes. Nancy Grace would be plastering a Natalie Munroe parking ticket on the screen right now if she could squeeze one out of her. And if there’s no evidence that Munroe’s a bad teacher, I mean not a single shred-”
“Then maybe leave her the hell alone. We’re short on teachers, yes, especially good ones?”
“Yes,” I tell him firmly, and it’s true. “And you know what else? Remember that teacher in Ohio who burned a freaking cross into a kid’s arm and got fired for it? Well, he sued them and won – got $800,000. So I have to imagine Natalie will do the same, and so is that going to be a big victory, Parents of Whiny Kids? You’re going to pay her for not teaching the next twenty years?”
“So then everybody just stay off her blog if you don’t like her blog. I’m pretty sure she’s going to extra super watch herself from now on.”
“Another case cracked, Spang. That was a tough one.”
“Not really, TC. A lot of your fellow parents are simply morons with staggering entitlement issues and delusional attitudes about their whiny-ass kids. I wonder if these parents realize for even a second how fortunate they are to have been born in a country where they have teachers at all, even if they are the kind who accurately diagnose whininess sometimes.”
“Aw, that’s mean. You’re mean, Spang.”
“But I’m allowed to be.”
“Thank God,” I tell him. “That’s what freedom of speech is all about, right?”