Matthew Lickona 2:29 p.m., May 24
Something in the (Sweet)water?
Scandals Continue to Rock School District; Book-Fencing Honors English Teacher Provides Latest Aftershock.
The New "Dirty South"?
HIGH ON A SOAPBOX, CHULA VISTA. Is there nothing the gang down in Sweetwater won't do? First the grade corrections. Then the meals at Hooters. Then the smoothie scandal. And now, SD on the QT can report that 12th-grade Otay Ranch High School Honors English teacher Jim Grady has been selling district-provided books on eBay and instead teaching his course using what one student calls "photocopied short stories from old issues of Esquire, Playboy, and The New Yorker."
"I'm not going to waste anybody's time denying the facts of the matter," said Grady in an exclusive interview with SD on the QT. "The Reader's team has got me dead to rights -- hats off to them. But I will offer a word of explanation. When La Mesa Used Books closed a decade or so back, they held a fire sale on this massive collection of old magazines. A friend let me know about it, and I scooped up as much as I could cram in the back of my Geo Storm. It was amazing -- I even found an original of Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
"It got to be sort of a tradition for me to read one or two stories every night before going to sleep, just to get the taste of The Catcher in the Rye student essays out of my mouth, you know? And after a while, I found I was thinking a lot more about those stories than I was about the same dozen books I'd been teaching for 15 years. There was so much fire in them, so much tangible history, so much willingness to experiment. These were stories in their rawest form -- uncollected, and as yet unhallowed. These were stories I could teach, even to the most jaded of Internet-addicted teenagers. The decision to quietly shift my curriculum was one of the easiest I ever made."
The only thing Grady regrets, he says, was his subsequent decision to begin selling all those copies of Catcher in the Rye (along with the rest of his district-specified texts) on eBay. "Bonehead, I know," he admits. "But the stuff was just piling up, and it made for Friday beer money. I was doing fine -- one copy of each book at a time, no bulk sales, everything in a nice, unnoticeable trickle. But then [best friend and Otay Ranch science teacher Bud McKinnon] took that job in San Francisco, and I wanted to throw him a proper going away party. I got stupid and tried to unload 400 copies of Conrad's Heart of Darkness in one lot. That's when the Reader got the scent. So busted."
Now, Grady's only hope lies in the fact that "the administration here in Sweetwater is so gloriously, stinkingly corrupt. With all the collusion, embezzlement, and general mendacity going on up at the top, they just might not have the time to deal with a low-level crook like me."