North High has gotten a lot of bad publicity because it’s run by a despot on a power trip, who is basically bought and paid for by the Circlejerk hippie prize patrol. But one of it’s shining stars is the JROTC program, which has been led for 20 years by Major Stephen Godin. The award winning group instills discipline in students who otherwise might be inclined to get in trouble. That’s why it came as a shock when we were emailed information last night that Mr. Godin has been on paid administrative leave for the last few months.
His suspension revolved around a former North High student named Sam Castro, who was shot and killed in May. Here is what he told us in the letter:
At about 0700 on Thursday a senior cadet came into the JROTC office with a basket upon which a sign was affixed soliciting donations for the deceased student’s family. She asked if I cared to contribute and I replied that “I’m sorry, but he was a punk and that’s why he’s dead, and I can’t support that.” The JROTC program is also known as the “Citizenship Development Program” and encouraging cadets to make good choices is an important part of what I do. The gangmember had been a student of mine in the JROTC program, missed a lot of school, and when he was in school didn’t do much work and pretty much disrupted classes. In a T&G article on gang violence his mother noted that he was going to enroll at Quinsig and earn his GED, so it doesn’t look like he even graduated from North. My intent was to have this bright, talented young lady, who had communicated her intentions of going into the Air Force (she had transferred from Burncoat in her senior year, which leads one to wonder why a talented young lady would leave all of her friends behind for her senior year in high school) after graduation, to think about the consequences of gang involvement.
The cadet must have discussed my comment with other cadets because somewhere around noontime another senior came into my office and asked to speak to me. He said “with all due respect sir, I don’t think the deceased was a punk” and went on to describe their relationship. I responded that his impression may be true, but mine as an adult and major in the Marine Corps saw things differently, and that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and that the deceased had made a pretty poor impression on me. As part of the administration’s investigation into this event the cadet was asked to write a statement describing our conversation, was concerned that it could be used against me, and subsequently added a paragraph describing how I have positively influenced his life. I’ve never been given an opportunity to read his statement.
According to Mr. Godin, a couple of days later he saw the cadet/student he had spoken with previously about Sam Castro
After fifth period, about an hour and a half later, I was going back to the JROTC office to eat lunch and the two girls were still there, had been joined by another young lady, and they were all on their phones. I stopped and said “Girls, you can’t hang out here all day. You’ll have to go to the office and figure this out.” At that time the new girl became belligerent and insubordinate and said words to the effect that she didn’t care what I said, that they were not leaving. At that point I said “OK, I’ll go find and an assistant principal to handle this” and walked down to the cafeteria where lunch was in progress. I related the issue to Mrs. Lupafya and we walked back to the auditorium lobby.
When we came around the corner by the main office, the disrespectful young woman was going into the office so I pointed her out to Mrs. Lupafya and said that “she was one of the girls and she was the one that was disrespectful.” As that point the student exploded saying “how can you talk about being disrespectful when you said Sam was a punk and deserved to die.”
Soon afterwards Mr. Godin was brought into Lisa Dyer’s office by assistant principal John Creamer. According to Mr. Godin the conversation centered around his own safety, since he had essentially called a deceased man, who he believes to have gang affiliations, a “punk.” Then, according to him, the following interaction occurred:
Eventually, Mrs. Dyer said “Didn’t anyone ever teach you to respect the dead?” In an effort to help her understand that I’m not superstitious and afraid of ghosts I said to her “Mrs. Dyer, I’m not religious, I don’t believe in the sanctity of life, and as far as I’m concerned, lethal injection would be the solution to a lot of society’s problems.” This initiated a heated discussion that touched on, amongst other things, the utility of alternative educational programs and the education of criminals; at the conclusion of which the meeting ended and I went back and completed the school day.”
Shortly after this Mr. Godin was put on administrative leave, and according to the writeup from Lisa Dyer he was misquoted as telling a student “all punks should get lethal injection.” According to Mr. Godin it reminds him of the way Janice Harvey was treated back during Color-blind-gate. Since then he’s basically been getting the run around about meetings in which he would be able to fight this, which have never happened. Now he’s pissed off and he’s talking about it.
There’s a whole page to the email I’m not going to include because I can summarize it pretty simply. Mr. Godin is old school. He believes in discipline, and he’s of the belief that the lawlessness and criminality we’ve seen in Worcester this summer can largely be traced to the fact that we don’t come down hard on kids such as the girl who sassed him in the cafeteria. His basic premise is that he said these things to the cadet under his care, because it’s the truth and he wasn’t gonna sugarcoat it.
So there’s his take, now here’s Turtleboy’s.
Look, Turtleboy is an old school, tough love kind of guy. We do like that about this guy and in general we think kids need to stop giving kids hugs and start giving them demerits. But even this is too much for TB. The bottom line is that when you work with kids you can’t tell them that you don’t believe in the “sanctity of life.” You can’t say that “lethal injection would be the solution to a lot of society’s problems.” Can’t do it. You’re certainly entitled to free speech, but it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a job at North High School.
I do understand the point he was trying to prove, but there were a million different ways he could’ve communicated that better than by calling a dead kid a “punk” and saying that he doesn’t believe in the “sanctity of life.” And there’s certainly no need to say that we should start euthanizing everyone who breaks the law. I don’t wanna live in a country where the death penalty is arbitrarily given to anyone who gets arrested or dabbles in gang activity. This isn’t Goddamn Russia.
Here’s what he could’ve said when the cadet asked him to contribute to Sam Castro’s fund:
“Hey Sally, I understand you’re going through a tough time right now, and death sucks. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of it in my lifetime, I know the feeling. But by giving to this fund, I don’t know where the money is going to end up, and I am afraid I would be contributing to the vicious cycle that ends up in 18 year olds getting shot. How about we start a scholarship in his name instead?”
See that? It communicates the same message and you still come out of it looking like you have an ounce of compassion in your body. Look, I didn’t know Sam Castro, and I don’t know if he was in a gang or whatever. It’s besides the point.
We’re talking about how adults communicate to kids about life and death situations INSIDE of a public high school. I understand that Mr. Godin is probably a great marine, and has done a great job instilling discipline in east side kids over the years. But part of working with kids is that you have to be able to communicate with them effectively. And clearly this was not effective in any way, shape, or form.
The most troubling thing about this is that Mr. Godin admits that he said he doesn’t value the “sanctity of life.” He’s more than entitled not to, but if you don’t value every single life then why are you working in a high school? It’s your job as an educator to see the value in every student. How can you possibly say that you care about the 1,350 kids in that school if you don’t value every single one of their lives from the moment they walk through the door? That’s not some sort of “agree to disagree” situation. It’s a deciding factor in whether or not you can be employed in a public high school.
I understand that this guy has done some amazing things for JROTC kids over the years, and that once incident should not diminish all of that. I think this could’ve been handled differently by administration as well. Here’s what a normal principal not named Lisa Dyer would’ve done. She or he would’ve brought both students and Mr. Godin into his office. She or he would’ve explained that Mr. Godin had been at the school for 20 years and had shaped the lives of many students since before they were born. She or he also would’ve explained that he didn’t mean to be disrespectful, and that Mr. Godin wanted to apologize. Then all of this would’ve been over with.
But we’re dealing with two people who quite frankly, both seem to be unable to admit that they are capable of making a mistake. Dyer is an insane hippie who doesn’t think it was a mistake to accuse one of her teacher’s of being a racist because she said that she’s “color blind.” Godin doesn’t think he made a mistake either.
Look at the situation with the girl at the table. One was in JROTC and the other wasn’t. He describes the cadet as “bright and talented” but he describes the other girl as “disrespectful and insubordinate.” Was the other girl disrespectful? Sounds like it. But at the same time, she could’ve been Sam Castro’s sister or cousin for all he knew. And by calling Sam Castro a “punk,” he disrespected her too. And respect is a two way street. The bottom line is that he saw that both students were breaking school rules, but he he clearly gave the impression that he viewed one of them as salvageable, while the other was hopeless. This quote from Mr. Godin’s explains it best:
“Can a private comment I made in a one-on-one conversation with a cadet that responded as I intended result in this? The cadet was just fine with our conversation until provoked by the hot head six days later. How can I be held responsible for what comes out at the end of the “telephone” game?”
See that? He’s justifying it. It’s not his fault she’s upset that he called Sam Castro a punk, it’s her friend’s fault for manipulating her to be compassionate. Sorry Major, this isn’t what came out of the end of the “telephone game” it’s the actual words that came out of your mouth and how they were perceived.
Look, I’m all for suspending and expelling them when they act like savages, but at the same time I think you need to have a serious conversation with every kid that does get disciplined. Because the goal isn’t to spit in these kid’s faces, it’s to punish them while at the same time teaching them about right vs. wrong and leading them down the right path.
Lastly, you can’t compare this to the Janice Harvey situation. Completely different. In Janice Harvey’s case she was talking about how she valued every student who walked through her door and explained that she did NOT judge any of them – she was color-blind. But Mr. Godin is clearly making the distinction that he values students from JROTC, but doesn’t seem to care so much about students who aren’t.
The bottom line is, you can be an old school disciplinarian, but there’s obvious lines you’re not supposed to cross. And Mr. Godin clearly crossed them. It doesn’t mean he should lose his job, but it doesn’t make what he did right either.