Once-Passionate ‘Seminal’-Driven College Professor Fails College

Listen to this article

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

“Are you still in your office?” Moment’s later, I heard a knock on the door. Contrary to college policy, I like to keep the door closed.

She stands there puffing, holding a dozen Duncan Donuts. The elevator, as it usually is, is broken. She ran up three flights of stairs.

She hands me a card, the donuts, and I thank her.

She was the one that I thought hated me, but she tells me that it was the guy next to her, the one on parole, the one terrified and traumatized by the no-knock warrant, and the one that writes well but is plagued by Anti-Personality Disorder that says “horrible things about” me, the professor. I took her semester-long face, the frowning, to be an ever-present warning, “Professor, you are a perverted idiot.”

One complaint, and I would surely be fired. The complaints never came from the students.

I thought she hated me. After all, they read my book about a guy’s attraction to young girls. A literary truth that pushes against nearly 40 years of well-intentioned, panic-driven, harm that has nothing to do with safety or prevention. It’s pure vengeance. Vengeance is never a vaccine for good health. As I write in “Reflections from the Brig: Kids are Not Meant to be Puzzles,” to be safe is to put others in danger. In the armed services, the goal is to be secure, not safe.

I opened her card, and I recall these words, “Don’t ever give up teaching what you do.”

These words make my heart ache often because the College always wanted me to stop, to fail, to leave. But who would take a “unique” college professor? Read up on Ernest Becker to get the answer.

Should We Teach Five Suicide Attempts?

A semester later, her almond eyes started to tear up. She sat in front of my Introduction to Literature class. “Professor, have you ever considered changing the cover of your book? I say that because … it’s a good book. It can appeal to young people. You know, it’s a good book because … I [starts crying] was abused.”

The nearly 44 other eyeballs behind her widened. I say to her, “Thank you for your courage in being brave. I certainly will consider changing the cover. You know that, like you, I am a survivor of abuse. You are not alone.”

We talk after class. She volunteers at a homeless shelter. She was molested at 10 and tried to kill herself 5 times since then. She is 22. She is smart, and she is beautiful. She asks me, “It doesn’t go away, does it?” I say, “No, but as author Brian Castner says about his therapist in The Long Walk, “Just because you have a shadow, doesn’t mean you always have to look at it.”

So, I show kids in bikinis in my class, some rear views when I can because truth is not about safety. Truth is in being secure in an insecure world. Courage does not censor or look away. Knowing the self is truly seeing all the self, so much so that one becomes the literary artist of their own story. They are empowered to make meaning for themselves, secured while accepting ever-present danger.

So, the Picasso story goes something like this. He is at a café. He draws on a napkin, gets up and heads to the trash. A woman noticing him says, “Can I have that napkin you were drawing on?” He turns to her, “That will be one million dollars.” She said, “but you drew that in two minutes.” Picasso says, “Madame, it took me all my life to draw this.”

It took me 40 years to write what I do. Artists don’t make art for audiences.

A Provocative Picture Is Worth A Life

After the presentation on representations of girlhood in my composition class, a theme I often use, another female student approaches me. “You know that little girl in the modified school girl outfit you showed us? Well, it had me thinking. When I went to work, I dressed in the required uniform. My boss looked at me and said to four other guys, “Hey, doesn’t she look like a girl in Maxim?”

I said to her, “Do you think that was sexual harassment?” She says, “I do, but I worry about destroying his career, you know.”

“When will you stop worrying about him and start thinking of yourself?” I said. She retorts she is thinking of her because that profession only has one facility in the state. She has to work there. I lent her my support, my ear.

A few years later, I am sitting in a forensic social work office. It occurs to me that I am the only man among seven women. The state-wide director, a person of color enters the room. We begin to look at a capital case. I grab my marker and notebook. She approaches me, puts her hands on my shoulders and massages them. She says to everyone, “See this is how you be a good student.”

I feel violated.

I didn’t report her because I did not want her to lose her career. She is a good person. How difficult it must be for a woman of color to be in such a hostile environment. Besides men like me can only be offenders and jerks. There is no such thing as a male sex abuse survivor in our culture. By default, my whiteness and penis carry 400 years of racial oppression and rape culture. I am the offender of millions even hundreds of years before I was born.

In our culture, only two things matter, skin color and sex type.

I understand my student’s plight.

We Are All Uniquely Perverted

Several years ago, I put up a picture of a girl lying down with her feet up in a bikini. I ask the students in the workshop, “Why do men look at young girls?” This is an important question, even in considering the rise in child pornography cases, something the police will continue to fail at preventing. A woman blurts out, “Because all men are perverts!” Everyone laughed, but the men. Can I call you ladies perverts and still keep my job? I was told to stop teaching sexualization because I am a man. Somehow that is not sexist? Maybe a well-thought out male perspective is important?

The reality is that people, all people, have and will abuse other people. Our differences are only used as moral justifications for that abuse. That’s why so many can kill another with a smile, then go home and hug their kids.

That is why our federal government executes people because it can kill, but others below it cannot. The Feds have the leverage and power, so the Feds are abusers and murderers, executing caged human beings in the name of righteousness. I think that is what morality is for, an excuse to harm and kill anyone.

No, men like youth and beauty. They don’t mean to harm, most of them, but when they themselves come from a life of harm, it’s tough not to identify with it. Men look because they are lonely, hurting, and need to cope, not because they are rapists at heart. Sometimes, people like beautiful people. In reality, sexuality is fluid not ridged. Such thinking, though, brings on the sex terror. That we all may be “deviant” after all. I say, don’t worry. You all are deviant but are experts at putting on a contrary suit. Many of our lawmakers are the worst violators with the very best suits.

I Am, Indeed, A ‘Seminal’ Piece Of Work

I meet with a student in my office. She starts to talk about my book, and she absolutely nails it. This is a tough book, a lot of trauma. It’s a complex mosaic. Some would say it is badly written, if they are an English professor, but she says, “Oh, I’d love to meet the author! I have so many questions.”

I am surprised. I always tell students I wrote the book and that they do not have to read it. I guess she did not get the message. So, I sit there and pretend, “Yeah, it would be cool to meet him.” When she left, I felt so embarrassed. I emailed her and said, “I am sorry, but I wrote the book. You caught me off guard. I was embarrassed. Sorry. She wrote back, “Oh, I figured that. I know. ?”

Shortly after, the school discouraged me from teaching it. I argued that many professors teach their work, even at the college. They said that those writers had “seminal” works. In translation, my book is shit, though I am not sure the semen-based work of my colleagues is that feminist after all.

I stopped teaching not only the book but many of the subjects I was skilled at handling.

Now, we can all rest. My classes are safe but have no engagement. Not a single student will remember taking my course two years out. The is just the way a college wants it. All courses should be exactly the same. The problem is that people, bosses, are not the same. Life is not safe. Safety makes us “crazy.”

I showed a clip from the documentary Whore’s Glory. Please take a moment to view this video clip (is age restricted through YouTube).

In it, the girl at the brothel gives the response the world really wants to hear. Then she pauses, more than 5 seconds. The director decides to leave the camera rolling. She then says, “There is something I would like to say …” We then get the truth. What a brave young woman. She is likely 16. Such a video can change lives and careers, but it changes nothing if we are afraid that teens in brothels will “trigger” and “harm” us. We just run away … from ourselves.

I had a freshman composition class on Fridays. I show a clip of the book A Long Way Gone about child soldiers in the Civil War in Sierra Leone. A young man in the front says, “I think that, you know, in Africa, like, they don’t have supermarkets or anything. If you want to eat, you just kill a chicken. Everything is dirty there so people are desensitized to violence.”

Little did this young man know that I had five students in that very class that lived through the Civil War in Sierra Leone. A woman next to him said, very politely, “Sir, I lived through the war in Sierra Leone. There is a big difference in killing a chicken and watching a human being get slaughtered.”

Then the war stories came. As a professor, I made a decision. Do I shut down the conversation so everyone can “stay safe,” or do I stay silent? I chose to let my students speak. I learned what it means to have a soldier ask you if you’d prefer “long sleeves” or “short sleeves.” I learned that pregnant women got the babies cut out of them and thrown in fire. They were forced to smile and sing. There, young children would be put in fire and the parents told to run in and save them, but they better laugh and smile. I learned that the little girl, topless and in underwear bottoms had her grandfather killed in such close range that she was covered in his blood. She was told to go to the river and drink from her bloodied hands.

A week previous, the same woman that engaged that young man told me when we were discussing Brian Castner’s book that “You Americans just want to talk, talk, talk about war trauma. I went through a war, and I am fine.” Clearly, she was not fine.

No one will forget what was learned in class that day. Those sick to their stomachs came back eventually. My role was not to penalize them for it.

And These Are Horrible Men

What I learned is best quoted by my former friend and colleague at Cheyney University, “Earl, just when you think we hit the bottom in terms of horrible human behavior, the bottom drops out, and we find that there are many, many more bottoms to come.”

Yes, we are sometimes horrible creatures, the worst of parasites because we do not kill out of necessity. We kill out of disgust and hate. Viruses are indifferent. Humans are deliberate, calculating, and prejudiced. Even if everything was given to us; we were given heaven, nothing would stop us from making another person’s hell.

Be warned that whenever you treat any human being less than a human being, you become the soldier that throws live kids in a fire and forces their parents to dance.

I liked my one student very much. She was a DACA from Venezuela. She made the class, a real class. I first remember her because half her face was black and blue. I wondered what happened and assumed some dude was beating her. She was smart, perceptive, and unlike most students, she actually read the assignments. Near semester’s end, she asked if I could look at her applicant essay for medical school.

When I read it, she told her story.  She was struck down by a car in DC when trying to cross the road. At first, when she woke, she felt no pain. People were around her, then the pain set in. She described the amazing care she got at the hospital. She was so moved that she decided to become a doctor and go back to her country to help her people.

I often wonder what happened to her. Is she now a doctor, in medical school, or was she deported? Did she die of COVID, or is she still in the US? I remember writing a comment to her when, I too, felt at one of my lowest points, “You will get struck down many times in life, keep getting up.”

20-Year Deep Fake

I always wanted to be a writer. I failed. I don’t think I am a good writer. I think that I am a fraud as an English teacher. I barely got through grammar. I quit school at 17. But for the last few years, I hate teaching. It’s just nothing. There is nothing there, nothing to teach. It’s too safe, too vanilla, and too Leave It to Beaver. All of that is us running away and making things worse.

I read an ad for Harvard writing instructors. Suddenly, I was inspired. Harvard teaches writing the way it should be taught. Yes, community colleges should teach freshmen the way Harvard teaches freshmen. That is what I tried to bring to my students, the Ivy League, my year at Columbia, to them. It was my white-guilt way to lower the racial barrier. I worked very hard, for weeks, on that application. I created three courses themed on what it means to be a boy or girl in our society. I did another on using sex trafficking as a theme and having Harvard students work with local organizations on prevention measures. I felt like teaching again!

In a COVID riddled era, I did not even make the first round. Nearly 20 years of teaching seemed useless. In the end, I was still white trash with a third-tier PhD. Harvard was Sister Hope in my seventh-grade class telling me, “Earl, I just want you to know that you are hopeless and will never mount up to anything.” I thanked Sister and believed that Sister Hope would indeed be an expert in hopelessness.

Do Old Men Have Dreams Worth Dreaming?

A week ago, I was getting a background check, and the person was telling me what to write on the FBI fingerprint card. She said, “What is your height?” Well, it used to be 5’ 11” but I said 5’9,” so she told me to put 509. She then looked at my hair and paused. “Put Grey.”

It hit me. I am an old man. I will be 50. If you asked me what my dream was, it would be to become a writer. I wanted that, the romance of it, when I was 9. At 12, I spent $120 on a Sears electric typewriter. As bad as I was at English, that summer, my brother and I wrote. I wrote a story called 5-O-Ways, five kids that run away and live alone. I typed 120 single-space pages and sent a copy to the U.S. Copyright Office. It’s still listed there today. I am sure it is awful, but what 12-year old does that?

I decided to leave teaching in May 2021. It was a tough decision. But I know in my heart Prince George’s Community College tolerated me, but I never fit. My teaching and art are provocative and can be triggering. I don’t think people can learn any other way.

I have a trophy from 2014 someone sent me. It is a big number one. It’s engraved, “Dr. Earl Yarington, Number 1 Professor.” The day it came in a box, I thought it was a bomb. I just published my book and thought someone was trying to kill me. The paranoia is for another article.

The English secretary looks at me, when I put down the posters for a workshop on Lolicon and Anime, and says, “Some of your colleagues are asking when you are going to stop with all of that?”

At college, it’s seldom about what the student holding the donuts and a card wants. It’s only about what the administrators and faculty want. They want to teach but run away. They want the same, normalcy, but there is never such a thing as normal.  We learn this in social science. Normal is a value judgment. I gave her a B. I wish I gave her an A. I wish I graded based on who I liked. She deserved and A.

I wish that my skills and knowledge would not be seen as a perversion but as a means to prevention, as a means of connection. I now dream that people would put as much effort in knowing someone “different” as they do in judging and shaming them. That, though, takes courage, just like it took courage for me to provide sex offender treatment in prisons.

Leaving teaching feels as violent for me as leaving the Catholic Church. I am a teacher at heart, but I teach such subjects and areas of study that we want to go away, to stop, but that is exactly why such issues will never stop, such as child abuse, because we never face it. We just cover it up and treat survivor’s stories as science. We lock up people and think we are safer, but those people seldom ever reoffend. What we get is hate and vengeance, political opportunity to win office in spite of prevention.

My friend and colleague is riding on a train to DC. A person asks, “So what do you do?” He says, “I teach at PGCC.” She says, “Oh, I am sorry.”

I am sorry, for her, too.