Walls Speaks Out

Walls Speaks Out

Bob Walls came to education by accident. After serving in Vietnam, Bob joined the police department in Youngstown where he spent six years. He went into business working as a troubleshooter. A freak accident put Bob on disability and out of work. Persuaded by his wife to pursue a life-long ambition to teach, he returned to school, Youngstown State University, and did the five-year program in two years to receive his teaching certificate. However, it wasn't easy getting a teaching job, because of his age and because he had four years military. His age hindered his ability to coach which seemed a necessity in Ohio and the four years military raised his base salary by four years making him unaffordable when competing with other rookie teacher candidates. The best he could do was to work as a substitute. After four years in a Youngstown high school, Bob was requested to teach at Lakeview High School by the retiring supervisor, who had been his mentor during his student teaching days. He joined the school in 1996 as a sociology and psychology teacher.

Bob came to teaching with a businesslike quality. School should be run as a business. With this in mind he was well prepared to teach his new classes. He had his syllabi for his two courses complete. He had a book list, handouts, guest lecturers scheduled, and field trips planned. He presented his work to his supervisors prior to the beginning of school. Schoolgirls by Peggy Orenstein was one of the two books his students would have to buy for the course. After a couple of weeks into the school year a student's parents came and questioned the use of the book because of some obscenity and other objectionable material. Bob tried to assuage the parents by offering alternative methods like blacking out the objectionable parts. This seemed to appease the parents for the meantime. The principal assured Bob that everything was fine and that he, the principal, would handle everything from now on.

More time passed and Bob was called to see the superintendent. The superintendent told Bob of the good reports he had heard of the class. He asked further about his textbook, which Bob said was rather archaic and the superintendent asked if he had suggestions for a better one. Of course, Bob did and gave the suggestions to the superintendent. The superintendent approves his purchase of the new textbooks for his class. One more thing needs to be discussed and that is "SchoolGirls". "Try 'to faze that out' is the suggestion to Bob.

The problem is that no one has read the book. The parents haven't read it. The principal hasn't read it. The superintendent hasn't read it. The Board members haven't read it. Bob asks to meet with the Board. Reluctantly the Board agrees to meet to discuss "the book written by a hard bitter woman ticked off at men." The Board suggests that Bob plan on buying back the books from the students. He has six weeks to prepare for the meeting.

Walls gathers his forces. He seeks help from his school's English Department, which backs him 100%. He gets support from Youngstown State University, his alma mater. The author Peggy Orenstein offers her aid. Unaware of Banned Books and other organizations, Walls prepares for a battle many have suggested he shouldn't fight because he is not tenured and because it will bring unneeded publicity. This is the key, Walls does not want publicity which will embarrass the Board. The argument is that the language in the book is in context and Peggy Orenstein is going to provide reviews to this effect. But above all, Walls does not want publicity. Peggy Orenstien is very upset with the proceedings and sends letters which Walls has to tone down. As he explains it, "We are somewhere between the Bible Belt and Liberal." Walls is ready for the executive meeting with video, letters, and people. The Executive Board forbids his entourage and only allows the teachers from his school and those from Youngstown State University.

Finally all the players are in the same room together for the first time. The executive board members had asked the superintendent to get rid of the book, which he hadn't. So they were surprised book was still being used. None of the members had read the book. They thought the book was the text for the Sociology class. At this point Walls had to explain that the book was used as a secondary source only in the Psychology class. He had new texts given to him by this Executive Board. He further explained that he brought in speakers, went on field trips, and used many more materials inthe class than just this one book. And the Board further assumed that their were no gender issues in their schools similar to those raised in the book. Walls had student papers to show that there were gensder issues. After all the misconceptions were straightened out in the students' favor, the Board decided in addition to allowing the book to be used to form a committee made up of parents, students, teachers, and administrators to oversee and review books for use in their schools.

Bob Walls visited New York City and I had the opportunity to meet with him and then he visited my class and spoke to my students who had written their opinions based on the op-ed piece by Peggy Orenstein. Walls also gave me two papers written by a female student and by a male student. Bob Walls job at Lakeview High School is being renegotiated in March. We wish him the best.

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