Photo: Patrick McLaw
Editor’s Note: Patrick McLaw, a language arts teacher at Mace’s Lane Middle School in Maryland, was recently placed on administrative leave from teaching after it was discovered that he had published two novels. One of the novels, “The Insurrectionist”, is about two school shootings and takes place far into the future. McLaw was taken in for an emergency medical evaluation and the police swept the school for bombs and guns, coming up empty.
We have the privilege of publishing here a letter from Nalo Hopkinson, a professor at UC Riverside and a science fiction author, to the Dorchester County Board of Education.
September 1, 2014
My name is Nalo Hopkinson. I am a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside. My university houses the Eaton Archive, the largest archive of science fiction and fantasy open to the public. The archive contains materials dating back to the 16th Century, including Thomas More’s “Utopia.”
I am also a published science fiction writer with numerous novels, short stories and awards to my name. I am invited to read, lecture and teach in educational, cultural and literary institutions all over the world. My 2013 novel The Chaos (Simon & Schuster) opens in a high school and describes youth suicide, mob violence and sexual harassment of youth.
Got that? I’m a teacher, I write science fiction, and I have a novel which features violence in a high school. I have written stories in which the protagonist destroys the CN Tower (perhaps the largest free-standing structure in North America), in which a main character skins someone alive, in which the protagonist is a serial sex killer of children. Know what happened to me as a result of being a science fiction author? I received tenure. Know what didn’t happen? I was not removed from my place of employment. I was not prohibited from setting foot on county property. I was not made to undertake a psychiatric evaluation. My campus and my home were not searched tooth and nail for bombs and guns and turned into enclaves guarded by armed police. I was not forbidden to travel, nor spirited away to an unnamed location. Shame on you, Dr. Wagner and members of the Dorchester County Board of Education, for how you have allowed Patrick McLaw to be treated. You are an embarrassment to education. What in the world persuaded you to try to destroy the career of a young teacher who is apparently devoted to his students? I’m not sure why you seem to have missed this fact, but writers write about things that concern us. Science fiction in particular allows us to imagine worst-case scenarios so that we may consider the implications of allowing present-day ills to continue. So a schoolteacher extrapolates from contemporary occurrences to write about a non-existent incident of mass violence in a high school – eight centuries in the future! – and you subject him to this kind of assault? Have you no understanding of how fiction works? Should Stephen King have lost his high school teaching position when he wrote Carrie, a novel in which a teenager slaughters her whole graduating class? Should Joss Whedon have been subjected to a psychiatric evaluation for creating “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a television series in which a high school regularly experiences serial, ritual and mass murder? Should Suzanne Collins be treated as a public threat because she wrote The Hunger Games, a novel in which children and young adults are forced to take up arms against each other?
But perhaps you do believe that writers should be prevented from dealing with such themes in fiction. Will your next act be to dismantle the language arts programmes at all the schools over which you have jurisdiction? After all, you have demonstrated to the students what will happen if they risk using their imaginations. The change.org petition in support of Mr. McLaw requests that you issue a full apology to him and reinstate him or assist him to find comparable employment elsewhere. I don’t think that goes far enough. I say his employment record should be expunged of any black marks relating to your shameful reaction to his work, and you should all resign your positions. But I can’t make any of you do the right thing. I can only write about it.