Sometimes everything sucks. Life doesn’t seem just hopeless, but malevolent. You can’t find a job. Your girlfriend is mad at you. You physically feel lousy.
A couple years ago I decided to become a teacher. Because I’m Catholic, I thought the process would be fairly easy. The Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington, where I live, do not require certification; that is, they prefer a teacher to be certified, but they will also accept you if you are in the process of becoming certified. You need to, as the phrase they use puts it, “show a good faith effort.” So all had to do was show some effort, which meant taking some education classes at a local community college. After getting into the Catholic schools, I could get experience and get certified,
Another advantage: I was, and am, a man. Every since I expressed interest in teaching, those who already are teachers have greeted the news like Joel Osteen hearing that Christopher Hitchens had been born again. I heard the same refrain over and over: the schools are desperate for male teachers. You’ll be able to pick what school you want to go to. Rejoice!
It hasn’t worked that way. Last summer, very few teachers left their jobs. The economy is so bad that they were not about to take that risk, or give up that second source of income if their spouse was also working. There was another problem: I had written many articles, and even a book, condemning the liberalism that had penetrated the Catholic schools in from the 1960s on. It highlighted my high school Jesuit education: the bad catechism, the drugs, the strippers, and the homosexuality. The Catholic ghetto in D.C. was small. Was I being blackballed?
Who knew. As the weeks without being offered a job—aside from the occasional call to come in as a substitute teacher—turned into months, my frustration curdled into resentment. If only I had not left the workforce a few years ago to write books, I wouldn’t be in this position. I had been working at a small conservative magazine, and I could have moved my up through the ranks. I could have been a less goofy Bill O’Reilly. At the very least, having a job would make it easier to pay for the classes I was taking for certification; I had put them on my credit card. I could always freelance, but that wasn’t paying much these days. Besides, I’m a pro-environment, pro-immigrant, pro-life and pro-rock-and-roll Catholic conservative. I was too weird for both the Washington Post and National Review. Meanwhile, the bills were piling up.
And most of all, I was sick, and with an intensity I can only compare to those nights last year when I was hurling my toenails up after chemotherapy (yeah, I had had cancer too), with enervating totalitarianism of educational political correctness that I was getting in the classes I was taking for certification. I was tired of hearing about America’s crappy treatment of blacks and Native Americans. I didn’t want to hear any more about the “different ways of learning”—hey kids, feelings are just as important as memorization! I was weary of being hammered with the message that kids with learning disabilities—or “exceptional students”—were not only equal to other students, but actually superior.
That last one especially bothered me. It’s one thing, and a good thing, to treat kids with autism, ADHD, mental retardation and other ailments as full human beings with inherent dignity. It’s another to ignore the tragic aspect of such people (and indeed of all human limitations) and valorize them as shamanistic demigods who have been put on earth to teach us mortals the holy art of appreciating them. Case in point: Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is required reading in my “Introduction to Special Education” class. It tells the story of Christopher Boone, a boy living in England, is autistic. He groans, rolls on the floor, and is easily overwhelmed if his carefully controlled environment is disturbed. He is also a mathematical genius. He can solve problems that might stump Stephen Hawking, and does difficult puzzles in his head to calm himself down. The drawings, puzzles, equations and charts that Haddon uses to reveal Christopher’s mind effective convey the reality that autistic people are not retarded, and in fact may be brilliant (Christopher in fact is an idiot savant, if such a term is still valid).