Saving the School Psychologist

When I was teaching high school social studies in Pacific Grove, California,  I got in trouble with the School Board. They decided not to renew the contract for the school psychologist and use the money freed up to hire an additional staff person for the grounds department. I went to the board meeting and spoke up for keeping the school psychologist and letting the grass grow over the roof of the school.  I felt that the mental health of the kids was more important than the aesthetics of the school grounds. They disagreed with me and terminated the position of school psychologist.

Well, not too long after that was another “Parent’s Night.” My social studies students did some demographic research and we prepared a large poster on ‘butcher paper’ about six ft. tall and about 30 inches wide. It was directly opposite the entrance of the room and VERY visible. On it, we wrote “PG High School has 750 students (as I recall) and of these, during their life: (then line by line we wrote) 150 will end up in a mental hospital classified as psychotic, 420 will be divorced, 35 will commit suicide, 225 will spend time in jail, they will have 300 illegitimate children, etc, etc. We had a footnote by each figure and on the bottom of the poster indicated how we calculated the figure. I don’t recall all the social ills we listed nor the actual numbers but they were impressive. Next to the large poster with the demographic characteristics, we had another poster saying: “Exam for Parents = which is your child? NOTE: the school board just removed the position of the school psychologist so they could hire a gardener. Do you think this is a wise choice? What are you going to do about it?”

Every school board member visited my room that night. One of them said to me in a low voice “You bastard!.” At the next meeting of the school board, they reinstated the position of the school psychologist and fired the school nurse. I was next.

The Principal called me into his office for an “evaluation” session. He told me that he was disturbed that students who were expelled from school by the vice-principal were found ‘hiding’ in my classroom. [the vice principal came into my room one day and found three kids that he had expelled earlier in the day sitting in the back of my room. “They are not supposed to be on the campus.” He exclaimed. “They will disrupt your class.” “No,” I explained, “this is their home. They will not give me any trouble and later when school is out, we will talk about their problems. Leave them alone.”] After a bit of discussion with the Principal of the problems that I was causing him with the community and the school board he suggested that it might be best for my own professional career to seek employment somewhere else. He indicated that he was not going to fire me, yet, but that such was imminent if I did not shut up and behave. So I went job hunting.  Eventually, I got a job with the United States Information Agency and ended up in Colombia, South America as Director of one of the USIA Cultural Centers.