A former teacher of the year in South Florida is hoping to keep her teaching license after she was fired last week for giving her freshman high-school students a creative quiz hinting of sexuality and obscene language.
Kim Littrell’s “Keep Your Mind Clean” assignment asked ninth-graders in her English class at Fort Pierce Westwood High School to write down answers to ten questions, with no “bad words” allowed.
One question read: “What is a four-letter word that ends in K and means the same as intercourse?” Hint: You do it all the time, especially when you shouldn’t, except when your parents ask what you did in school.” The answer, according to Littrell, is “talk.”
Other questions and answers included:
- What is it that a cow has four of and a woman (or man) has only two of? Hint: It’s what makes them outstanding in their field. Answer: legs;
- What four-letter word begins with F and ends with K and if you can’t get one, you use your hands? Hint: Think Medieval Times. Answer: fork;
- What does a dog do that you step into every morning? Hint: There was a time a female was restricted from this. Answer: pants;
- Name five words, in alphabetical order, that each contain four letters, and end in u-n-t. Hint: One is the name for a female relative. Answer: aunt, bunt, hunt, punt, runt;
- What is it that all men have one of; it’s longer on some men than on others; the pope doesn’t use his; and a man gives it to his wife after they’re married? Answer: last name.
“I like to have fun with my kids,” Littrell told WorldNetDaily, maintaining it was an exercise in critical thinking designed to prompt students to think of clean, rather than dirty responses.
But after a year-long battle, officials reviewing the case came to another conclusion.
“Sexual content and vulgarity-centered assignments, even if intended to promote ‘creative thinking,’ are not acceptable,” wrote J.D. Parrish, the administrative law judge who recommended to the St. Lucie County School Board that Littrell be fired.
Though use of inappropriate words in Littrell’s class was not permitted, students did in fact utter words considered obscene by many, including the F-word and the S-word.
The teacher explained to her class the origins of the “objectionable” terms, believing “that setting the record straight on the origin of the word would take the amusement value out of using the word such that usage would be deterred,” according to Parrish’s report.
Littrell addressed that point in an online opinion addressed to “all of the rest of the judges out there.”
I did teach what the acronym means (f-word and s-word, as well as what the meaning of flipping someone off or shooting a bird). You should all look it up on about.com under word etymologies. I also fed kids for 16 years that came to school hungry, baked for my students, bought them clothes, cared for them and listened to them when their parents didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Maybe some of you should just go in a high school and sub. Why do you think there is a teacher/substitute shortage? Because all the children use the very best manners they were raised with? I am amazed at all the critics out there that have never met me and judge me.
Littrell, who was nominated in “Who’s Who Among American Teachers” four times, says most of the students in her class “were non-readers – quite a few were felons,” contending the whole issue was sparked by one disgruntled student.
“She had a straight-F [grade-point average],” Littrell said. “She was a problem kid.”
As far as public reaction, Littrell is receiving both scorn and praise on the Internet:
- “How many other teachers have done this and not been caught in this county? Now I am beginning to think I should homeschool my three children to protect them from the ones that are supposed to be teaching them. Do they do this in sex ed as well?” (Cindy Parker)
- “I don’t want this kind of person teaching children. … Glad to see that the school district is not tolerating this kind of ‘instruction.’” (Kim)
- “I know her intentions were to get them to think ‘outside the box,’ but you can do that without inference to foul language. And it is still considered ‘foul’ language in this country, like it or not. I do not think that our high school students are ‘little lambs’ that would be naive, but I do think that those things do not belong in the classroom and some standard of decency needs to be manintained.” (Holly)
- “You’ve got to be kidding me, a good teacher, fired for this? You think this is obscene. Boy, would your head spin if you knew how teenagers actually talked to each other! So her question was written in bad taste. Big deal. Find something useful to get all riled up about. If we could refocus all this energy spent policing speech and thought, we could no doubt solve all the world’s problems.” (Dave G.)
- “I wish all of you could see the kids she was teaching at Westwood. When I say bottom of the barrel, I really mean it. These kids were basically on a court order to attend school. She truly is one of the only teachers who even tried to modify the teaching methods to somehow reach these kids. Ms. Littrell is a great teacher, it’s extremely disturbing that this dismissal has occurred.” (Christie)
- The point of her class is to get the kids to think, something a lot of them never bother to do. It’s a creative writing class, people, it’s not kindergarten and Winnie the Pooh. I feel sorry for the teacher and how everyone is treating her. I wish I had a teacher in every one of my kids classes who actually wanted the kids to learn instead of just getting through the day and passing them on to get them out of the school. After seeing the questions and answers (some answers I got before reading them) I don’t see anything wrong. (Donna)
- “When you see this test you see your own ‘gutter’ minded answers. Instead you should apply what the teacher wanted and that was to leave preconceived notions and come up with the correct answer. You that judge the test sunk to lowest denominator in your own minds thus making it ‘wrong.’” (Will D.)
- “Those allegedly controversial ‘sexual and obscene’ items from her quiz were around when I was a kid forty years ago! They were considered humorous riddles back then, and in fact, I can still recall a few she didn’t ask. The point of the quiz was to have fun with language and show kids that they are too eager to curse or ‘think dirty’ and not eager enough to use their minds in a positive way. It’s a sad commentary on how polarized we’ve become as a country that a 40-year-old attempt at humor gets a good teacher fired.” (Donna Halper, teacher of media literacy at Emerson College in Boston)
The loss of Littrell’s teaching position was just the beginning of bad news for her. She says once word spread locally about her case, she was also fired from her other job assisting hurricane victims with Project HOPE in St. Lucie County.