Friday, October 09, 2009

Teachers Behaving Badly

Salacious news sells well. A juicy story that has been splashing across the pages of my local newspaper in recent days is the tale of a 62-year-old high school choral teacher that married one of his former students a short time after she graduated high school and turned 18. (See St-Ex story — the paper’s gotta be loving this one.)

The story referenced above mainly focuses on the opinions of various teenagers. Some are kind of creeped out. Others figure that the two partners are consenting adults, although, it’s pretty clear that the relationship was ongoing while the girl was still a minor. The police want to know if any laws were broken during that time.

Regardless of whether the teacher violated any legal statutes, he has crossed a social moral boundary. This necessarily damages public trust in his profession and in the institution where he has worked.

I can’t speak to this specific relationship. I know nothing of these two people other than what has been hinted at in sensational news coverage. But I will comment on the social implications of the pattern they have demonstrated.

Some of the reasons society looks askance at winter-spring relationships include the tremendous power differential between the partners involved and the incentives that generally underlie such liaisons. Although it is entirely possible that the teacher was the one seduced, the more mature individual is considered to have vastly more power in a situation of this nature. The older person has much more life experience and should be far more capable of temperate behavior.

The power differential is even greater when the mature partner has held in loco parentis trust over the less mature partner. This is the case with roles such as teachers and clergy, where persons are tasked with essentially performing the function of the parent — in essence, acting in the interest of the actual parents. This puts these kinds of relationships on a pseudo incestuous footing.

What about incentives? The base incentives for an old man to enjoy an intimate relationship with a young woman are so obvious as to be understood by children.

Less clear are the incentives of the young woman in such a liaison. Although I have no idea what is going on in this instance, common motivators include wealth, a desire to prove one’s maturity, and getting away from a difficult home atmosphere.

Many people are not able to fully articulate why relationships such as that of the high school teacher and the former student seem morally improper. But most sense that there is something wrong with the picture.

When an official at an institution that holds in loco parentis trust over minors effectively violates that trust, it reflects badly on both the institution and on the profession of the official. This is as true for clergy, daycare workers, and police as it is for teachers. They are held to a higher standard because their positions imbue them with higher level of trust than the average person.

I have spoken mainly of institutions that serve children, but this also applies to institutions that serve any member of society that is not fully capable or culpable. Consider nursing homes, for example.

Regardless of whether this teacher violated any laws, he has harmed his own trustworthiness and that of his colleagues. Which of the parents of this man’s female students isn’t going to be concerned about their daughters’ interactions with him? What does it say about the trustworthiness of a school (and a district) that has such an individual on staff? What is the likelihood that other teachers are disposed to similar behaviors?

People already know that schools are a pedophile’s dream. Matters like this only strengthen that perception. This situation puts the school district in an awful position. If it turns out that there are no legal grounds for this man’s dismissal, the district will be stuck having to keep him around despite the broad perception of untrustworthiness.

Again, we are not necessarily talking about this specific relationship. Perhaps these two people are so far from the average that they will have a happy, successful, and long-lived marriage. But the pattern they are acting out is cause for public concern.

1 comment:

Charles D said...

I should have stayed in the choral conducting field apparently.