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Jewish World Review May 9, 2000 /4 Iyar, 5760

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Consumer Reports


Teachers can't be role models without moral parameters -- I LIKE IT when my listeners and readers fight battles on behalf of kids. We just have to push back against the tide of inappropriate messages they are receiving from everywhere else -- even at school.

A dear lady in Colorado sent me a copy of a letter she wrote to her school board. "I am writing in response to statements made by teachers at the middle school on Jan. 24 and 25. My son, an eighth-grader, told me his algebra teacher announced to the class that he would be absent several days while he stayed home to take care of his pregnant girlfriend, who is having their baby. Later, his Spanish teacher said how wonderful it was that the algebra teacher was having a baby."

Her letter also asks: "Is this appropriate classroom discussion? I believe what teachers do with their sexual lives is definitely not appropriate to discuss with their classes. Unfortunately, many children give their teachers hero status. As a matter of fact, according to No. 7 of the school system's philosophy statement, 'Teachers are role models.'

"I do not feel this is an example to set for our young teens. When one of the students asked another teacher why the algebra teacher wasn't getting married, he replied that it was none of the student's business.

"My sentiments, precisely. The entire subject is not the business of any classroom discussion," wrote the irate mom.

Isn't this amazing? People can say the most outrageous things, but no one is allowed to comment on them. Suddenly, it's a private matter. Well, if the teacher's sex life is a private matter (and I agree that it is), then the teacher should not have made it public.

The mother's letter also asks the following question. "What is the school district's policy regarding on-the-job teacher moral standards and professional code of ethics?"

Now, this teacher told his class intimate details about his personal life. That sounds like on-the-job behavior to me. But listen to what the school superintendent had to say in his reply: "You inquired about our policy regarding teacher moral standards. We do not have a policy that addresses teachers' moral conduct out of school. It is not illegal for people to live together."

The mother, of course, was not talking about legality. She was asking about morality -- role-modeling. The superintendent's letter goes on: "It is not illegal for people who are not married to live together. It is not illegal for them to have a child. I have talked to the principal of the school regarding this, and he told me that the teacher struggled with how best to handle this situation with his students."

(How about keeping his mouth shut. Did that occur to him?)

"I believe he knew that some students and parents who see him as a role model would be disappointed with him.

"As a parent of two children in the same school district, I share some of the concerns raised in your letter. The discussion is not a topic for classroom discussion. However, I cannot legislate morality."

No one was talking about legislation here. However, it is a well-known fact that many contracts have morality clauses. Most companies state that employees can be fired for certain kinds of conduct that is considered immoral. I think the phrase is "moral turpitude." Can you believe that teachers could be hired without this type of formal understanding?

The superintendent's final comment should ring in our ears: "What you and I consider to be offensive may not be offensive to others." Don't you just love that? What kind of parent do you suppose would fail to be offended by a teacher telling his/her child that he/she was having a child out of wedlock? Exactly the kind of parent whose child desperately needs to have teachers as role models, since obviously his parents have the mistaken notion that there are no absolute moral values; that right and wrong is a matter of opinion.

Is this the message that the American public pays school taxes to deliver? Is this the message that you want your kids exposed to? If not, then get on the same page as my radio listener, who took up pen and paper and assures me that she won't let the matter rest with such an equivocal, gutless response from the school "authority" (you should pardon the expression).

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