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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Teens Sue School for Punishing Them over Lewd Photos

Two teenage girls, along with the ACLU, have filed a lawsuit against their school district after the school punished them for publishing racy photos on their myspace pages. Let’s get ready to rage.

The background: a group of girlfriends had a sleepover earlier this summer that involved phallic lollipops and a digital camera. “Suggestive” photos of two of the girls eating the candy found their way to myspace (surprise), though the girls set their privacy controls so that only “friends” could see them.  A few months later, some jackass kid (probably an ex-boyfriend or a vindictive drama queen) printed the pictures out and brought them to school, where they were shown to school officials. School officials then suspended the girls from their fall semester extracurricular activities, made them apologize to an all-male coaches’ panel, and made them seek counseling.

There’s so much wrong with this situation that I don’t even know where to begin. First, you’ve got school administrators disciplining kids for activities that didn’t take place on school grounds, during the school year, and had nothing to do with school, period. When kids bring phallic-shaped candy to school, confiscate it. When they violate dress code, send them home. When they misbehave, discipline them. But when they exercise their free speech rights as private citizens (and at fifteen, who among us wasn’t experimenting with the power of sex appeal?), the school has no business acting as a censor.

Second, it seems to me like the wrong people were punished. What about the kid(s) who printed the pictures out and brought them to school? Aren’t they the real evildoers here? They took what was intended to be private knowledge and publicized it. While that may not be illegal, there’s definitely a lesson here that these creeps aren’t learning. You don’t tell other people’s secrets, and you never spread unflattering or character-destroying photographs of anybody around school or the web. Those are two things that civilized, decent people just don’t do. Isn’t that a more important life lesson for becoming a decent person than the glib message “don’t take pictures of yourself licking a dick-shaped lollipop?”

Third, the punishment here does not even come close to fitting the “crime.” 1) The crime here is young ladies acting lewdly. Not minors engaging in sex acts. Not peddling child pornography. They were acting un-ladylike. If school admins looked around their lunchroom any day of the week, they’d see the same thing happening among giggling groups of girlfriends. It’s called “adolescence,” and while teens might be annoying to everyone else, they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary (I recall an old video of a friend of mine performing two seconds of over-exaggerated fake fellatio on a banana back in the 8th grade – good thing myspace wasn’t around then). 2) The punishment resulted in the situation going from merely embarrassing to downright humiliating. Someone tell me WHY these girls had to seek counseling. Even more important, tell me WHY they had to issue apologies to an all-male panel of coaches. Shaming someone over his or her sexual expression is a sure-fire way to really screw with their head and unleash their insecurities; the effect is worse if done publicly. Why on earth is the school getting away with publicly shaming two teens?

Fourth, the sanctimony displayed on the part of the school’s administrators is out-fucking-rageous. High school teachers: as much as you’d like to think otherwise, you are not charged with the sacred task of instilling a moral compass into other people’s children. You are civil servants – basically government employees. Your job is to educate, supervise, and when necessary protect these teens from external danger or from other students. Your job does not include the right to impose disciplinary sanctions on the basis of your subjective ideas about drugs, sex, rock and roll, politics, etc. That’s a job for parents. If anybody had any responsibility whatsoever, it would have been for a concerned teacher to quietly notify the girls’ parents of the photos, and let them deal with it. Instead, they made the whole incident into a much bigger deal than it needed to be.

The girls in question here have every right to be upset. School officials overreacted and overstepped their bounds. At the same time, these girls learned an unfortunate but important lesson about posting unsavory photos on the web. As I’ve said before, kids are stupid, and when you post pictures of yourself acting uncharacteristically lewd on the ‘net, you’d better be ready to be judged. But being teased by peers is punishment enough; being shamed and humiliated by school authorities is totally uncalled for.

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Filed under: Internet, Off-Topic, , , ,

8 Responses

  1. alex says:

    As teachers will continue to make any excuse for poorly educating children, with the exception of blaming the public system or themselves, this type of abuse will only get worse. The students, the parents, and the rest of society will continue to get blamed but the real culprits – idiotic administrators and teachers like those mentioned here – continue to be rewarded with jobs. I think I few hundred thousand pink slips are in order.

  2. I am all for lewd photos, though I prefer the over-18 variety. However, it seems these girls signed a contract (possibly implicitly, I don’t know the details) to abide by an athletic code which stipulated acceptable conduct.

    One might argue contracts of this nature are unacceptable. But it seems to me that individuals should be allowed to sign whatever contracts they’d like. And if a contract is signed, it should be enforced.

  3. jeeps says:

    Alex,

    Not sure if canning 100,000 pink slips will magically uncover 100,000 new and competent teachers…. it’s obvious we (yep, I am a teacher) do the best we can.

    When parents fail to properly prepare and monitor their kids in the dangers of the Internet because they lack any understanding of what it is, teachers need to step in and do something. Much like physics, mathmatics, and British Literature most often are better to be taught in schools rather than at dining room tables by people armed with a set of worksheets and the Internet, sex ed and related topics are better suited for the classroom as well. Any moron can have a baby- it takes intelligence to be a proper parent. It’s evident that more and more parents lack the coping abilities to put down their iPods and step away from the Facebook pages to properly monitor their child’s behavior or set good examples for their own kids. As professionals, teachers are armed with the best training and materials to better equip today’s kids with common sense.

    I would LOVE to have faith in society to raise confident and intelligent kids. I just think teachers need to be supported rather than villainized.

  4. Libby says:

    Will – Churubusco High’s policy enables the principal to punish any student whom “creates a disruptive influence on the discipline, good order, moral or educational environment” of the school. Extremely vague wording, right? I don’t think the girls in question disrupted the “moral environment” of the school; if anything, the jerkoff(s) who spread their racy photos around the school did.

    Also, [insert argument that Churubusco public school holds a monopoly over education in its jurisdiction and therefore its “contracts” are not voluntary].

    Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  5. alex says:

    Jeeps,

    I think schools should be privatized and teachers exposed to the rigorous competition that disciplines other competitors in a free markets. Whether that is through vouchers or an outright privatization, I don’t care. But what I do know, and what my training as an economist tells me, is that insulation from competition never produces good results. Ever.

    My experience as a student in a National Blue Ribbon public school is that teachers are people like anyone else. The notion that teachers have some superior type of skills, intellect, incentives, or knowledge to mold kids in every way is ludicrous and frightening. There are bad parents, but I do not believe that a teacher should be empowered to step in and humiliate children when the teacher thinks the parent is doing a bad job.

    Teachers should teach the few subjects they are competent to teach (math, history, science, etc.) and leave morals and ethics lessons for the home. Ultimately morals and ethics exist because it is in the best interest of the individual who wants to exist in society to behave in a certain way. If those individuals do not learn, it is there fault.

    “One should hope that mankind will never have to learn so important a lesson through so corrupt a channel.”
    -William Godwin, responding to the argument that we need government run schooling to teach people morality.

  6. Libby says:

    Jeeps,
    I see that you’ve also left comments on my facebook entry for this post, and eventually came understand the reasoning behind my anger at this story. But I’d like to address this comment.

    You clearly have an idea of how people ought to raise their children. I know that our beliefs on how to raise kids probably overlap by a good solid 98% (as we were both raised by the same set of parents ;)). But it’s a fascist position to think that the public sector – i.e. the state – ought to have any say in raising people’s children for them (other than instances when kids are being neglected, abused, or harmed in an extreme way). “People are too stupid to raise kids.” Can you hear how that statement conveys arrogance? Exactly what level of intelligence is necessary to be a “proper” parent? How much doubt in God should a sufficiently intelligent parent possess? How much cultural awareness, or acceptance of gay marriage, or understanding of political economy should a parent have?

    I know that you have special training as an educator, but the fact remains that education is a largely uncompetitive industry. Parents, save for the more affluent, don’t have much of an option when it comes to selecting teachers whose disciplinary styles and methods for educating children line up with their own child–rearing preferences. Would this situation be different if one of the girls’ moms had provided the phallic candy? Or if she were the photographer? I knew parents like this in high school – they were kinda creepy, but they loved their kids just the same.

    There’s a gray area between class room education and socialization/moral instruction, I get that. But I think it’s better for everybody if teachers are cautious to not overstep their bounds. Parents have the ultimate say in how their kids are instructed. My intuition is that educators would do better serving as an extended support system for students, not as moral authoritarians.

  7. jeeps says:

    Alex,

    I don’t think you know the first thing about teaching. I think you have a vague notion about it based on some pretty poor representative data.

    A teacher can take a kid from zero to sixty in a blink of an eye. I can make a comment to someone that I barely know that will either give the motivation to want to be a better person or to hate teachers for a lifetime and post f’d up comments on my sister’s blog. Obviously, teachers are human and don’t know whether their comments tore someone down or pulled them from the edge of something… but regardless, I think the issue needs to be made that teachers don’t deal with anything concrete or absolute, this making the “free market” pitch complete bull shit (sorry, Libby, I love talking about it, but nothing has convinced me it’s a good thing… you guys have it all wrong, because none of you have ever spent a second as a classroom teacher to know what it’s like… empirical data, ftw!).

    So, at what point does facts, stats, and figures become the only commerce in education. I donate my time as a role model to kids who don’t have one. I spend hours helping kids with their papers, assignments, projects, and speeches because no one else has the time to do it with them. I guess the next time I should say “Nope, sorry, some guy named Alex won the Interweb today and said teachers should not get involved morally or ethically because it’s not right.”

    What’s ironic is it was a teacher who motivated people to pursue whatever career they have… yet, teachers get pissed on because they get summers off and are unionized…

    Now, Alex, as an economist, please explain to me how teaching is anything like any other job out there? Should a dentist get paid better for his patients lack of cavities? In most jobs that “produce” things, a worker’s time is often rewarded if they are more “productive” than the other guy. How should teachers be rewarded? Perhaps you think test scores are indicative of a superior teacher… but how is it any more my responsibility when I have a class of 9th graders who do well on a state mandated writing test, I should I get credit for it because I saw them for 45 minutes per day for 20 weeks? Maybe I should be punished because as a science teacher, one of my students learned about some chemical reactions in my class and was interested and decided to make a few bombs…

    Vouchers… I know Libby has done research on the topic and if I had time to devote to finding point by point analysis of why they are dumb, I would…

    But let’s say we open things up for parents to decide to let so-called “bad schools” sink. Where are these kids going to go? If you give a parent $5-10K to spend on a private school, will there be enough room for the new supply? As mentioned earlier, most economists know nothing about being a teacher… they see it as a system of putting time in to earn tenure and handout worksheets. While that can be a portion of our job description, it’s only a fraction.

  8. Alex says:

    You said I have some “vague notion about it [teaching] based on some pretty poor representative data.” I did not give you “representative data.” The information I posted is of a type called “anecdotal.”

    This website should answer your vocabulary questions:

    http://dictionary.reference.com/

    If people make errors like that in blog posts or comments I don’t read beyond them. Employing incorrect vocabulary, syntax, or grammar is indicative of sloppy thinking.

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