Sunday, September 07, 2014

Coming Out is Hard To Do

Kudos to Mark Olmsted for telling his story in the Huffington Post.and in his blog, The Trash Whisperer. Olmsted, who earned a Master's degree so he could become a teacher, is prohibited from teaching in most school districts because of drug-related felony convictions. A recovering meth addict, he shares his story in support of "ban the box" statutes that soften the impact of previous felony convictions in employment. Olmsted appreciates such laws, but argues that they don't go far enough because he could still be banned from teaching.

While I get the reasons for not giving felons access to young, sensitive, impressionable minds, I agree with Olmstead that someone with his life experience has a lot to offer. As an HIV positive man watching friends die all around during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he lived his life on a "two year plan," figuring there was not much point in planning for the future. I think a lot of addicts live on that plan, and so do a lot of at-risk kids. A teacher who understands that mindset could be a wonderful asset, and could probably even save a life or two. Experience doesn't have to be yours to be educational.

These days, even conservatives are willing to concede that throwing people in prison isn't always the answer; this despite the increasing privatization of the American prison industrial complex. Maybe we're seeing the beginning of a paradigm shift. As people like Olmsted "come out" and tell their stories, maybe we'll see the law follow changing cultural mores. I'm encouraged, for example, by the growing public support for the legalization of marijuana. Someday maybe we'll find the idea of arresting drug users quaintly old-fashioned and counterproductive, like Prohibition.

And after all, who would I rather have teaching my kid: a thin-lipped prune who's lived the straight and narrow all his life but hates children? Or somebody with "life experience" who thrives in the classroom? Yes, I know, that's a false dichotomy. But there are enough shitty teachers out there to make the point relevant. Give me somebody who loves teaching. Even if he's a recovering meth addict with a criminal record.

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