Mayhem at Midnight
by Toby Price
Mayhem at Midnight is a children’s book about autism. But that’s not why I’m featuring it. I am compelled to call attention to the story of the author. And that led me to discover some stunning statistics about illiteracy in America.
Toby Price was an assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary School in Hinds County, Mississippi. He was fired in March of 2022 for reading a silly children’s book called I Need a New Butt to second graders during a Zoom call for Read Across America Week.
“A young boy suddenly notices a big problem—his butt has a huge crack! So he sets off to find a new one. Will he choose an armor-plated butt? A rocket butt? A robot butt?”
Superintendent Delesicia Martin, Ed.D. fired Mr. Price. The basis of the firing is that the book depicted nudity, thus purportedly violating Standard 1 and Standard 4 of the Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics.
Seriously? For a cartoon depiction of intergluteal cleft? Here’s a video of second-grade teacher Melisa Hayes reading I Need a New Butt with her class. Do these children look traumatized?
The firing of Mr. Price is so absurd it was covered by national and international news outlets including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New York Post, USA Today, the Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CNN, the Guardian, CBC, and the New Zealand Herald (I Need a New Butt author Dawn McMillan is a Kiwi) as well as the American Library Association. Dr. Martin has made herself the butt of the joke on a global scale.
Imagine the culture of fear created by this leadership failure.
At his appeal hearing, Mr. Price read a poem: “Sharing fun books with kids is a need. I did what I did to get them to read.” Indeed. And that’s an important thing to do.
ILLITERACY IN AMERICA
An October 24, 2022 Education Week article reported on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, which tests students in 4th and 8th grades. “About a third of students in both grades can’t read at even the ‘basic’ achievement level—the lowest level on the test.”
There are real implications for the future of these individuals and the economy.
On June 11, 2019, PBS News Hour reported, “in the U.S., 36 million adults lack the basic literacy skills needed to sustain employment.” That’s more than 10% of the population.
In a September 9, 2020 Forbes article, Missouri State University president emeritus Michael T. Nietzel wrote: “According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old—about 130 million people—[are] reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level… Eradicating illiteracy would yield huge economic benefits. If all U.S. adults were able to move up to at least Level 3 of literacy proficiency, it would generate an additional $2.2 trillion in annual income for the country, equal to 10% of the gross domestic product.”
Surely the causes of America’s literacy problems are complex. Parents, drug abuse, and ESL are just a few factors that come to mind. But when I see an experienced, dedicated educator purged for making reading fun, I have to wonder if school administrators have lost the plot. Is the ubiquitous Ed.D. degree an indicator of competence—or a contra-indicator?
According to the American Enterprise Institute, between 1950 and 2009 the number of students grew 96%, the number of teachers grew 252%, and the number of administrators grew a whopping 702%. Similarly, the think tank American Experiment reports between 2000 and 2019 there was a 7.6% growth in students, 8.7% growth in teachers, and 87.6% growth in school district administrators. We cannot ignore the role of lawmakers in creating this monster.
One might well conclude the tail is wagging the dog.
The numbers above suggest that too much of the funding allocated to education goes to bureaucracy—not the classroom. We’d be much better off with fewer bureaucrats like Dr. Martin impeding education, and more front-line educators like Mr. Price who demonstrate student engagement and focus on fundamentals.
MAYHEM AT MIDNIGHT
Toby Price has written and illustrated a couple of children’s stories about autism. Mr. Price has three children, two with autism. These “almost true adventures” are based on real family events—embellished with the Tytus the Monkey character.
In Mayhem at Midnight, “The Yellow-Haired Girl told Tytus her brother and sister have autism. They get distracted easily and wonder off. Tytus made sure he was always nearby in case they need him.”
“One night while everyone in the house was sleeping Tytus woke up to see his friend, the Red-Haired Girl, preparing to leave the house. She put on her shoes and grabbed her tablet. It’s dark outside thought Tytus. She can’t leave now, it’s not safe.”
And so begins the adventure. But Tytus is a monkey with irrational fears, which adds some silliness to the story. For example, he must protect the Red-Haired Girl from the sewer zombies. And he takes preemptive action to ensure the neighbor’s mailbox doesn’t eat her.
Price writes, “Why do I share these personal stories? Because I want people who know and or love someone with autism to know that these things happen to all of us. You aren’t alone. We understand. I also want people to use these stories to teach others about kids and families with autism. People and kids need to see themselves in the stories they read.” He adds, “Kids need silly books.”
If you would like to hire an educator who can overcome the fleeting attention span of elementary school students and inspire them to read books, connect with Toby Price via Twitter. Or support him by buying a copy of one of his Tytus the Monkey books and donating it to your local library.
McMillan, Dawn, and Ross Kinnaird. I Need a New Butt! Dover Publications, Inc., 2012. Buy from Amazon.com
Price, Toby. The Almost True Adventures of Tytus the Monkey. X Factor EDU, April 2022. Buy from Amazon.com
Price, Toby. Mayhem at Midnight. X Factor EDU, November 2022. Buy from Amazon.com
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.