About This Journey

When Morality Rings a Bell.

Work: "When Morality Rings A Bell"
Artist: Heather McMeekan

Disclaimer: My art represents my feelings/memories/perceptions only and is not intended to be a 'factual account'...nor is it intended to represent anyone else's views other than my own.

**********Trigger Warning********
If you went to Hawthorn School in Marengo, Illinois during the years of the Eckmann trial, or have experienced psychological trauma, please be aware that viewing this site can be triggering of distressing emotions.
Please don't view this site - or stop viewing it - if you find it distressing.


I attended Hawthorn Elementary School District in Marengo, Illinois. My father was on the school board. My Mom was a substitute teacher.

There was a junior high teacher who was abusing us. Many parents, teachers, and staff tried to help us.

The school board acted on the advice of their lawyer and sent a letter of reprimand to the teacher.

That teacher, Jeanne Eckmann, then sued the school district and the members of the school board.

I was one of the children (of several) who testified against her in US District Court.

She won.

The court case continued on throughout my junior high and high school years....and beyond.

A 'Made for TV Movie,' based upon the teacher's story, was made and aired when I was in college. There is no portrayal of me or of my family that I can identify. My experiences were just a small bit of this case.

It recently started popping up in social media and throughout digital movie sites. I realized that some day, the movie is going to be the final word on this case, unless those of us who experienced it differently speak out. Some of my classmates have already died, and their chance to share their pain is gone.

I am choosing to push past the shame and fear and speak out publicly about my experiences and, where I have permission and proof, that of others. I discount NO other person's experiences, beliefs, or thoughts on these matters.

The movie is on Lifetime tv occasionally. I gave up watching Lifetime tv a few years ago, because there is no way to predict when the commercial will pop up and it was too upsetting to me.

In this court case, my father was a defendant, I was a witness, some of my classmates were also witnesses or their parents were 'on the other side.' It was an extremely difficult subject of conversation, as it was triggering to so many. I, like many of my peers, received the message 'Don't Talk' about it...even with family members. My family and I didn't receive any professional help at the time or in my teen years to help us process this ongoing trauma. Once I graduated from 8th grade, I didn't speak of it if I didn't have to.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” - Maya Angelou

At that time, there were no counselors nor child advocates in our classroom, nor the courtroom, nor provided to me. I don't know if they would have known to do so, but I would hope that now they would.

The stress on my family was very difficult on all of us. It was an ever-present part of all aspects of our lives.

Beginning This Work

For most of my life, I had virtually no 'accessible' memories of my junior high years....other than intrusive traumatic fragments.

When children are subjected to overwhelming stress, sometimes they respond by using a mental 'distancing' of the harm by 'disavowing' the memories of that trauma. If the trauma is severe enough, or ongoing, then the memory loss can be severe enough to 'lose' all memories of it - this is called 'traumatic amnesia.' Several of my classmates from that time also suffer from this and other trauma-related disorders.

In the summer of 2010, by a bizarre twist of fate, two of the children - also witnesses - died unexpected premature deaths within weeks of each other. I remember both as kind, brave, honest, and caring of their classmates. One of them was my closest friend.

At her memorial and funeral, I realized that she hadn't been able to tell her story as of the time of her death. Her many current friends did not know what a courageous child she was....what was done to her. How she stood up in court against an abusive teacher and told the truth.

It seems few of our classmates have ever been honored for being the survivors they were...and are. I honor them now. By just the abuse I saw, I believe many others could use and deserve support, witness, and validation.

...and healing.

"Students who are bullied by teachers typically experience confusion, anger, fear, self-doubt, and profound concerns about their academic and social competencies. Not knowing why he or she has been targeted, or what one must do to end the bullying, may well be among the most personally distressing aspects of being singled out and treated unfairly. Over time, especially if no one in authority intervenes, the target may come to blame him or her self for the abuse and thus feel a pervasive sense of helplessness and worthlessness."
Source: TEACHERS WHO BULLY STUDENTS: PATTERNS AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS. Available: http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/teachers%20who%20bully%20students%20McEvoy.pdf

I had never wanted to visit the memories. The memories, however, apparently decided it was time to visit me. In my dreams...in triggers to everyday life, impacting my life in ways I had never realized they could. Untreated childhood trauma can have long-term impact on our lives.

I knew it was time to deal with the events that happened to me and my family. The expressive vehicle I knew best was through visual art.

I began to work on this piece as a way to journey back to that time of my life, to recover what memories I could. I am able to face the feelings now that it is safe to do so...and bear witness as to the events as I remember I experienced them as a child.

I will mention that I have made several spelling errors on this site for Jeanne Eckmann's name. I made the mistake of misspelling it when I was first in her classroom and the punishment I received for that seems to have caused me to have both spellings permanently etched in my brain as 'incorrect.'

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