Stop Standing on the Sidelines


DSC00005I’ve spent all of my educational career teaching a subject that stresses actions have consequences. That you should always consider the costs and the benefits before making decisions in your life. The incident at school reminded me that we don’t always act rationally. One of my college professors gave me a piece of advice that I will always remember. It went something like… you should never get in a fight with a pig because everyone comes out covered in mud. Many students are learning that lesson. Their reputations have been muddied, many look foolish, and now they are left trying to wipe the mud off their faces.

I’ve heard many say “I didn’t do anything” or “Don’t blame me for the actions of a FEW others.” True, it may not be your fault, but you still look foolish. You associated with a group that now is ashamed. Paris Hilton and Snookie prove that many people will act foolishly when a camera is pointed at them. And the more people watch that show, the more people keep watching and recording and laughing at the incredibly irresponsible actions of others, the more encouragement we give them.

This weekend I and many other teachers, students, and parents will be asked why we choose to attend and work at this school. It’s because I believe in something much more powerful than ignorance or an unruly group of protestors. I believe that learning is the best ticket out of a life of anger and loathing. If my students really want to make their own rules, to be their own boss, they first need to learn skills that make them a valuable employee. If they gain that knowledge, then they can decide to quit their job if their boss is overbearing, and they will easily find a new one. That’s why I teach, to give students that knowledge and power in their lives. To get to that place in life, however, all of us need to acknowledge that we always have more to learn, and in the meantime there are a lot of rules we must follow.

DSC00048I take great pride in making my subject, economics, relevant. Of making sure my students walk out of every class with knowledge that will give them an edge in a global market for skilled labor. It was extremely insulting to hear students scream disapproval of an entire city that has worked so hard, spent countless hours, and spent millions of dollars to support THEIR education. THAT is the scar that we all must work to heal in the coming days.

It isn’t hard to predict that teenagers will forget to think long-term, and that they will act and react emotionally and irrationally. Certainly we all have actions that we regret. I certainly don’t take this protest personally. Because I am confident in the work I do every day for the benefit of every student who I have in my class, and say hi to in the hall.

So what should the majority of other students do now? How can you get up and wipe off this ugliness? How can you show that you are one of the MAJORITY who does not wish to be associated with the now shamed few? Stop standing on the sidelines watching when other students make you look bad. Care when someone drops garbage in your school, stop flooding this school with the foul language that makes people sound angry and ignorant, and call out your fellow students (and support others who call them out) when they act in a way that doesn’t represent the values that are truly WEST BEND. Maybe more importantly, use this weekend to tell the community, your teachers, and your parents that you truly appreciate their efforts to give you some of the greatest opportunities to live a happy and successful life in the world.

In short, be a positive, active majority, and you will succeed in life.

Matthew Hoffmann
East social studies teacher

The Current welcomes submissions from all students, faculty, administration, and community members, but reserves the right to edit for length or content.  Any column, editorial, or letter to the editor expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the entire staff.

(Image: Matthew Hoffmann in the classroom in April 2014.  Photo by Trina La Susa, Current Staff.)


Filed under Community, School News and Features, Viewpoint

5 responses to “Stop Standing on the Sidelines

  1. Madame Fischer

    Well said Matt! I am so proud of the countless students who feel sad and embarrassed about the protest. It shows that they are people of great character who will have tremendous success in life. They have listened to the lessons we have taught.. We have our work cut out for us with those who thought their actions Thursday were all right but I am hopeful that they too can turn things around. I am so proud to be a teacher at wbhs. I work with AMAZING kids every day. Thank you to all the students who showed maturity and compassion this week. Let’s heed Mr Hoffman’s call and work together to take back our school!

  2. Katie

    Very well said! All of the students there should be required to read this article.

  3. Michael Faragher

    Mr. Hoffmann,

    You come at this as if this was a personal affront to you. Have you considered your students may feel the same way?

    Allow me to address this using your field, you are looking at the situation in the traditional model under which chemicals were procured for manufacturing until several years ago. Company A makes the chemicals, Company B buys it and make the product. Simple, traditional, and non-optimal.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the “shared savings” model, in which companies no longer pay their suppliers by the quantity of precursor, but by the amount of end product produced. This leads both companies to find better, more efficient ways to produce the end product. This has increased profitability for suppliers and manufacturers by a wide margin. Both have a part in the system, and both benefit when it runs smoothly. You are denying your students this sort of relationship with their education.

    You continue to address the students as if they should be ashamed for voicing their opinions. Certainly we can agree destruction of property isn’t a path forward, but the actions of the school have shown how little regard they actually have for the students opinions. If you continue to tut-tut them instead of investigating the validity of their concerns and admitting the school’s response might have been incorrect, then the effective value of your education drops as their falling respect for those who disregard their opinions acts as a sort of barrier to entry, as the educator has to overcome the stigma placed upon then by the administration’s actions. Similarly, you have been muddied by the actions of those who made the poor decisions regarding how to handle this situation.

    As an economist you should know all too well the difference between an analyst, who wishes to be correct, and a policymaker, who wishes to appear consistent.

  4. David

    Funny how the teachers go to our state capital and protest and destroy the tundra. Then the children that look to you as mentors and examples do what you teacher’s do and you say such things about them. Unbelievable!

  5. Alias

    The students created the field, drew the sidelines, suited up for the game, and the fans were in their seats.

    Then the referee refused to give up the ball to the players.

    Growing impatient, the fans rushed the field.

    So the unruly fans were removed, but the referee continues to hold on to the ball……….

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