While decorating our home for fall this weekend, I posted a new decoration near our front door. It is a sign with a witch hat and reads, “A happy witch lives here.” When my children were younger, I avoided Halloween symbols with the dark side of Halloween, including witches. I changed my mind about witches. I empathize with those falsely accused instead.
My fascination with witches and witch trials began while visiting a witch museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Before that, I hadn’t given witches much thought other than fairy tales, reading a blurb in my high school history book, and a watching a few sci-fi movies. The Salem trials began with accusations from a group of young girls and teenagers and ended with the death of 19 people. The trials in America’s colonies were not the only witch trials. In Europe, the church and state hung thousands of individuals after labeling them witches or heretics. This practice went on for hundreds of years. American history classes don’t spend much time contemplating the magnitude of the hysteria.
Modern women still feel the need to be pleasing and get along with the group. After researching the witch trials, I wonder to what extent we can connect our disease to please to the history of mass execution to those who are different, challenge cultural norms, or to avoid jealous accusations. Our families teach us the cultural lessons passed down from generation to generation. Some of these on conscious lessons, others are unexamined traditions. We learn to fear speaking out or being different as the consequences for doing so were severe in previous generations. Adults teach the young to be nice at the expense of being honest or true to one’s convictions. Our parents and grandparents encourage girls and young women to put aside our own needs for the convenience of others. We comply because we don’t want to be a bitch or even worse, a witch. I speak from a woman’s perspective, but many men fear disappointing others also.
In the witch trial era, anyone could accuse another for being a witch causing the so-called witch to go on trial. Sometimes the accusations were for jealousy, such as wanting another’s property. Sometimes people accused another to deflect attention to another. The accused had to prove innocence. Just imagine how difficult it would be to prove one did not practice witchcraft!
America’s modern legal system presumes an individual is innocent until proven guilty. It is too bad we don’t follow this ideology in our daily practices. Those in leadership positions, such as teachers, Sunday school teachers, PTA leaders, principals, or superintendents are open to criticism. I do not know of anyone who is able to avoid the jealous or angry critic at some point in his or her career. The disgruntled can spread stories about another without having to prove anything. I am not referring to an educator participating in an unethical or illegal activity. School policies and the justice system have procedures in place to protect both children and educators. I am concerned that people with ulterior motives spread malicious gossip or rumors that damage educators’ relationships with others, tarnish reputations, and ruin careers.
An angry parent who tells other parents the teacher is unfair or incompetent can damage the teacher’s credibility. The teacher who tells half-truths about a principal or superintendent harms the leader’s professional reputation. Both teachers and educators must abide by confidentiality laws. When a parent complains of unfair discipline, the teacher cannot discuss the incident or defend his position. It becomes impossible to prove one’s innocence. The school leader who attempts to help a teacher with ineffective classroom practices or reprimands or dismisses a teacher cannot publicly discuss the situation. Therefore, the teacher is free to tell one side of the story while the administrator remains silent. Sometimes the teacher’s story is a half-truth or inaccurate.
Like the accused in the witch trials, it is impossible to prove one’s innocence to vague accusations. When a parent shares a story of a teacher mistreating a child, notice the words the parent uses. The parent may blame the teacher for being unfair, picking on an individual student, prejudice against the child for some reason. This places the teacher in an impossible position to defend. When a disgruntled teacher states the school leader is defensive or hard to relate to, unfair, or caused low morale among the staff, how can the leader successfully defend her personality or leadership against something that is difficult to quantify?
When disgruntled, petty, or jealous people spread nasty gossip, it is as difficult for modern educators to prove one’s innocence as it was for accused witches to prove she did not fly on a broom at midnight. It seems hysteria rather than logic still remains alive and well outside the 17th century colonies. I may adopt the witch as my mascot as a reminder to learn from history.