On Human Freedom, and Education, and Boobies

Instead of writing stuff here where thousands of people read it, I've been arguing with people on Reddit, in posts old enough that about seven people will read them.

I would now like to rescue some of that wasted time on my part and waste some more of yours, by asking you to check out this Reddit post about a teacher in Florida who got in trouble for bikini pictures and was going to be fired. She then basically said, "screw you guys, I can make way more money posing for photos than I can teaching anyway", which is not really a heartening outcome for that situation.

My first comment is here. Someone took exception.

Comment there, comment here, heave a sigh and skip the whole damn thing; the choice is yours.

What I'm trying to get at is that the USA has managed to get itself into a royally messed-up position with regard to sex (and race, and religion, and government, and capitalism, and war, and numerous other things), and the USA is so damn big that you drag large amounts of the rest of the "Western" world along with you, including us here in Australia.

The kind of mess I'm talking about is the one in which logical connections between concepts and arguments fade away, to be replaced with mere associations and "common knowledge", that're given the weight of a logical connection. Or there are logical connections, but they're based on unjustified premises.

So, for instance, sex plus children equals sex with children, which we've arbitrarily decided is the worst crime that can ever happen. (No, I am not suddenly joining NAMBLA, I'm just saying that I think killing a hundred children might very well be worse than groping one of them.) Therefore when sexy photos of a teacher come to light, whether taken professionally or by a boyfriend/girlfriend or at a party or whatever, that teacher must be fired. Teachers must apparently teach kids morals (I don't remember any of them doing that for me, but perhaps it's different in the States), but sexy pictures are immoral, therefore teachers with sexy pictures are ipso facto unable to do their job and must be fired.

Countries that managed to dodge that Puritan bullet cast from solid Original Sin (Bodies are dirty! Women are evil! God spends a lot of time thinking about penises!) find this particularly hilarious today. Today, kids with the slightest particle of computer/smartphone knowledge can see all the boobies and peeners they like. So it is I think preposterous on its face to argue that teachers' Adult Activities outside school time have any further impact on their effectiveness or otherwise as a teacher.

Back when department-store underwear catalogues were among the more treasured possessions of many schoolboys, and kids looked up anatomical terms in the encyclopedia in hopes of finding something exciting, you could make the argument that a teacher appearing in Playboy or a "naturist" magazine or whatever would have a shattering effect on their classroom authority. It'd still be because of unfounded associations between being a functioning mammal and pedagoguery, but there would at least be a massive effect.

Today, though... even if you do think bodies are dirty and teachers should be asexual, what further harm is done by adding the pink bits of a particular teacher to the vast and ever-increasing storehouse of other sexual imagery accessible to the entire class?

(And yes, "pedagogue" is a fun word to keep in your knapsack when discussing this stuff with someone whose vocabulary you suspect does not contain it. Deploying "pedagogical", or "niggardly", or "penury", or "titillate", may reduce your chance of changing their mind from slim to none, but it is good for a laugh if they take the bait. You've no-one to blame but yourself if this gets out of hand, though.)

Argue with people infected with this puritan virus, and they'll say of course the teacher should be fired, even if the kids already have daily access to hard-core goat pr0n, because that's what it says in the teacher's employment contract!

Except I was saying not that it's legally permissible to fire the teacher, but that it's wrong.

Oh, so we're still arguing? Well, teachers are meant to teach and they can't do it if the class is all a-tizzy, or a-titty if you will, with knowledge of the teacher's unclothed appearance.

Except, again, there's been no explanation of what the great qualitative difference is supposed to be between the general knowledge that people are naked under their clothes, and the specific knowledge of exactly what this person looks like under their clothes.

(Particularly true in the case of this one particular teacher, called Olivia Sprauer in real life or "Victoria V James" when getting her gear off in front of a camera; in the latter situation she always seems to be so massively airbrushed that you're not really seeing her at all.)

Oh, so we're still arguing? Well, there certainly aren't any other countries that're less hung up about this stuff! And they absolutely certainly don't have better educational outcomes than the States!

And on it goes.

(Does anybody know where I can find data on different countries' definitions of teacher misconduct? I don't read Japanese or the highly implausible languages of the alleged Belgium, so I just had to kind of say "Japan, dude", without primary-source support.)

I'm uncomfortably aware that some of what I've said in that thread sounds as if it may have something to do with Men's Rights Activists, so let me make this perfectly clear: MRA is in my opinion a few per cent perfectly legitimate (for instance, bias in divorce proceedings that gives a terrible mother a better chance of getting custody of the kids than an excellent father). But the rest of it is outrageous atavistic nonsense, surprisingly often being espoused by people who seem to think it's a good idea to be known as "the Blackshirts".

The thing that had me commenting in that Reddit thread in the first place was my constant low-level resentment of one important part of this general sex-in-any-way-associated-with-children panic in the USA, and Australia, and the UK, and umpteen other countries. It is, of course, the popular belief that that every man in particular is constantly quivering with the desire to interfere with kids.

So if you see a man talking to your children, your best course of action is to call the police at once.

I really like talking with kids. (Not enough to actually have any though, you understand, let's not go crazy here.) But if I'm not related to them, I have to avert my eyes if I see any approaching. I wouldn't even consider saying more than "hello", and I'd feel nervous even about that.

(In the real world, kids are much more likely to be molested by someone who is related to them, or by a friend of the family or neighbour or babysitter or suchlike, than by a stranger. And abuse by relatives is likely to be more harmful than abuse by a stranger. But we don't cotton to facts 'round here, pal.)

Again, this is one of those things where incorrect premises lead to a demented result: Child molestation is the worst crime possible, Crime Value Infinity, and child molesters do exist. So even if the chance that a given person is a child molester is one in a million (and according to the conservative press it's apparently more like one in three), the magnitude of harm times its probability remains infinitely high, and the situation must be avoided at all costs.

If the cost in this case is glaring at a man as you lead your children away or calling the police because he's got a camera and is in a park and so are some children and holy shit better get the SWAT team for this one, and making damn sure the strange man knows you're implicitly accusing him of being a criminal that makes Pol Pot or Doctor Mengele look like pikers, then so be it. Think of the children, et cetera.

(It's like the ban on Saying Any Words Related To Terrorism in airports: No matter how small the possibility, the thing you think you're guarding against is infinitely bad, so logic calculations all go to zero or infinity and actual thinking cannot occur.)

Thank you for making it to the end of this post. Your reward is the Brass Eye paedophilia episode.

It's got Simon Pegg in it!

39 Responses to “On Human Freedom, and Education, and Boobies”

  1. tubagooba Says:

    The "controlling the classroom" business might be built not only upon the puritanism that you identify, but also on some myths about teachers and their authority. The fear of kids running riot over helpless teachers is pretty well embedded in many discussions about schools and schooling, which may be nothing more than a manifestation of the general 'kids gone wild' hysteria that you see regularly on Today Tonight. Anything is seen to compromise the (presumed) authority of the teacher, which he/she is presumed to wield over his/her students, and which is further presumed to be the only thing standing between us and a rapid descent into the juvenile apocalypse, is unacceptable. A teacher who shat himself in class, on that account, would be just as vulnerable to dismissal. The myth of teacher authority says that the teacher must be all-knowing and in control of everything, at all times. One chink in the armour is enough to send the whole fragile construction crashing down.

    The reality, of course, is that the teacher-as-oracle model of authority is something that a) is long gone, and b) we're well rid of. There are remnants of it, like, for example, the fact that many schools still insist their students refer to their teachers using salutations rather than first names. I tried and mostly failed to get my students to call me by my first name, in a school where salutations were the norm, because I could see that whatever authority might once have been conferred by 'Mr Gordon' over 'Dan', in the absence of a general culture of teacher-awe, using an honorific instead of a name was just an excuse for my students to overlook the fact that they were addressing a human being. I found I had much more success in gaining their trust and co-operation by insisting on mutual respect and equality, which entailed discarding the nonsense honorifics.

    Had my students come across photos of me in the nude (soberingly possible, actually), it would have been a bit awkward, but I doubt it would have compromised my ability to run my classes, because it was always taken for granted that I was just as human as any of them. I had to teach a whole class once having inadvertently drawn all over my shirt with a whiteboard marker. They giggled a bit at first, but I think even teenagers are capable of understanding that embarrassing things can happen to anybody.

    • TwoHedWlf Says:

      If you were to have nude photos of you passed around you'd likely be much worse off than the woman. Because you're clearly a pedophile rapist kiddy fiddling child molester and must go to jail. What more damning evidence can their be of your infinitely evil crimes than photographic proof that you were once naked?

  2. setbit Says:

    Dan, have you ever been to the United States?

    I ask because it seems that you are using the term "USA" to mean "things that I have read about and people that I have argued with on the Internet regarding the USA".

    • c.j. kerr Says:

      Well I, for one, haven't. But:

      You do know that the place that is written about is the same place, right?

      Our perceptions are, inevitably, warped by our choice of media. But the simple truth is that the USA as written about in the New York Times or Washington Post exists. Simultaneously, the USA as written about on, say, FreeThought Blogs exists. The USA as portrayed in mainstream media, the vast majority of which is produced by Americans, exists.

      Obi Wan had it right - "What I told you was true, from a certain point of view". The trick that separates the intellectual is recognising their own preconceptions, and understanding that you can consider (and even argue for) an idea without believing it.

      So sure, there's a bias. But what we read in the news isn't (entirely) a lie. What we see on TV isn't all fiction, and that which is fiction still betrays something about the people that made it. We can learn from other people's experiences, that's what communication is FOR. The tourists and expats we speak to have valid opinions. So too the (mindbogglingly odd) population of Reddit, sometimes.

      I guess what I'm saying is that you can take your "You haven't been there, you don't understand" banner and go home. It's an old and tired argument, and a pretty crap one to begin with.

      • tubagooba Says:

        Yep. You can make a statement like 'America is more puritanical than most other Western countries' without having to verify it by living there.

        • dan Says:

          (I've previously noted that I know that the USA contains a lot of very different places and societies, and it's certainly not all Guns 'N' Jesus Forever!! This does not preclude criticism of those parts of US society that are alarmingly nutty, though.)

          • setbit Says:

            And yet you assert that, "[The] USA has managed to get itself into a royally messed-up position with regard to sex..." based on the actions of a school administrator, as reported by local TV news, in Florida, which shows a pretty poor understanding of the nature of school administrators, local TV news, and (some) Floridians.

            Granted, plenty of US citizens could have said something equally foolish. But since you are not, as far as I can tell, sufficiently foolish, I was looking for another explanation.

          • dan Says:

            OK, poll people in the town of your choice, anywhere in the USA (or many other countries) about male teachers who have sex with a female student (to the gallows!) and attractive female teachers who have sex with a male student (lucky little bastard!).

            And... scene.

            I've got more examples. So have you. That's just the first one that came to mind as being relevant to the current discussion.

            Yes, the USA has a lot of problems with sex. And drugs, and war, and capitalism, and religion, et cetera.

            When more than half of your elected representatives proudly stand up to declare their allegiance to some particular piece of idiocy, I think it is fair to call it a problem that the whole country has.

          • wumpus Says:

            If you spend time in the US (especially outside of the tourist districts: especially places like Oklahoma) you will encounter this type of thing quite often.

            Australia got the criminals.
            The US got criminals (yes, there is a reason the first ship to Botany Bay left roughly when England accepted US independence) and the puritans. Australia got of easy.

          • setbit Says:

            OK, poll people in the town of your choice....

            Yes, well, of course. Make a dubious speculation, state it as objective fact, and you "win" the argument. Congratulations.

            What you've actually done is replace a not-terribly-strong example (the fired teacher) with a wholly imaginary one (polling the spectral inhabitants of your own mind).

            The irony is that I don't really disagree with you. In particular, I think you are right that the US Congress is a clear and present danger, not just to us here in the States, but to much of the world. And clearly, the "lock up your children the predators are coming!" stories that sometimes appear on TV are ridiculous. To the degree that those stories reflect or influence the culture at large, there is a serious cultural problem. (My impression is that the problem is much worse in the UK than the US, but I have no direct experience of that, so I would not be so stupid as to claim it as fact.)

            But the arguments you've deployed in your post and subsequent comments are just crap. Far be it from me to stand in the way of a good spleen-venting, but if you don't channel that energy into something factually and logically coherent, you're just another angry douche on the Internet. Worse, you end up emulating exactly the sort or irrational behavior that you're arguing against.

          • dan Says:

            (polling the spectral inhabitants of your own mind).

            You would appear to be very fortunate never to have heard of this unpleasant phenomenon. Or you're just trolling.

            Perfectly typical example: http://lukeford.net/blog/?p=40877

            Seriously, you've never heard anyone say this?! You've never found how difficult it is to find people, particularly men, who don't say this?!

            Actual evidence:
            Summing-up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment_in_education_in_the_United_States#The_gender_double_standard
            (and http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DoubleStandardRapeFemaleOnMale )

          • setbit Says:

            (Good grief I can't believe I'm wading even deeper into this. xkcd 386 indeed.)

            Seriously, you've never heard anyone say this?!

            I'm certainly not denying that the attitude exists. And it's not unreasonable to assert that differences in sentencing arise from a double standard in the US legal system. (There are lots of other double standards in the US legal system, as well.)

            There are plenty of jokes about "lucky" male high school students seduced by female teachers. (I vaguely recall Jay Leno beating this to death in his usual leering style.) Some say it in all earnestness, as well, as evidenced by the Luke Ford link.

            However, I can honestly say no one has ever said this to me in person. Not even as a joke, as far as I can recall. That's one of many reasons that I think your assertion that a majority of people everywhere in the US would seriously say so is ludicrous. The Bible Belt? Rural Minnesota? Salt Lake City? Give me a break.

            You've never found how difficult it is to find people, particularly men, who don't say this?!

            Wow. I mean, I realize that my life is atypical in lots of ways. I've been very fortunate, and I have invested a lot of effort in surrounding myself with good, positive people.

            But if you are honestly claiming that you have a hard time finding men who recognize that an adult teacher (male or female) having a sexual relationship with a minor student (male or female) is emotionally unhealthy for both parties, that's pretty dark. I suppose I'd be cynical in that situation, too.

          • Slurpy Says:

            I've heard it PLENTY of times. But I also worked in a motor oil factory in the American Midwest (Cincinnati), where we aren't exactly known for our progressiveness.

            But I'll be honest - I've HAD that "lucky bastard" thought on more than one occasion. And I know girls that wished they could trip up a few of the teachers in our high school.

    • MikeLip Says:

      Dan doesn't have to live in the US. I do and he has nailed it. In this case anyway. He's not always right about us, but he sure is here. If you are a male in the US, you are very likely to be frightened by the mere necessity of speaking to a child not your own. God only knows what the owner of the little kneebiter will imagine you are about to do in their fevered imagination and they may very well call the police. Or at least grab their kid by the arm and drag him or her away. I've seen it happen with someone trying to help a child reach something on a high shelf in a store, with a simple exchange of thank you and you're welcome.

      On another topic, his primary responder in the reddit thread kept banging on about a teacher being a moral arbiter. Which is so much bullshit. Isn't that why we have parents? Teachers should set a good example, yes. That's the responsibility of all adults when interacting with children. But to be put on a pedestal as an unassailable example of moral rightness is to ignore their basic humanity. Beside, MY moral rightness is not necessarily YOUR moral rightness. For instance I think homophobes are raging lunatics, despite being straight. Others may disagree.

  3. hagmanti Says:

    I live in the United States. America is WAY more puritanical than most other Western countries.

    Plus, I have THREE kids. The only way I get to talk to any other kids is if I have at least 2 of the three currently making physical contact with me.

    And that sucks.

    FWIW, Dan, if you ever come to DC, you can talk to my kids.


    • setbit Says:

      I also live in the States, with three children, and my experience has been entirely different.

      I've had plenty of positive interaction with other people's young kids, both before and after having my own. As a matter of fact, the day I knew I wanted to be a parent was when I got an unsolicited hug from one of the three year old kids I was helping to watch on the playground.

      It's all about the culture in a specific location and community. There are both healthy and horrible sub-cultures across the US.

      Sadly, my values and behavior are probably a prime example of what people mean when they call the US "puritanical", so I guess I must be part of the problem that Dan is talking about.

      • dan Says:

        Re the last paragraph:

        Think gays should be killed, do you?

        Protest about pornography all day and buy it online all night?

        Raped women usually asked for it?

        Jesus rules the man, the man rules the woman, the woman rules the kids and the kitchen?

        No televangelist can be too wealthy, no prosperity-doctrine cathedral can be too huge?

        If not, then no, you're probably not part of that problem.

      • MikeLip Says:

        Are you female? If so, you need to know that the rules are very different for men. Men are unclean. You may get away with a hug once or twice, but don't bet on it.

      • setbit Says:


        Just a moment, I'll check...

        Nope, male.

      • setbit Says:


        No televangelist can be too wealthy, no prosperity-doctrine cathedral can be too huge?

        If you are asking if I believe the US Constitution forbids the aforementioned wackos in the US Congress to decide, via laws and tax policies, what constitutes the acceptable use of voluntary donations to a religious organization -- independent of how vile or ridiculous I may personally find that organization -- then I'm afraid the answer is "yes".

        Rats, I was so close!

        • dan Says:

          No, that's not what I was asking, as I think you very well know.

          Many of the people I have a problem with believe that giant Crystal Cathedrals and gold-plated Rolls-Royces for TV evangelists are direct evidence of the Lord's favour and the correctness of their claims, and that people starving in the street must be pretty darn evil to have earned this fate.

          You of course do not believe this, but for some reason you seem to be trying to dig up a disagreement wherever you can find one, no matter how dubious its provenance.

        • setbit Says:

          No, that's not what I was asking, as I think you very well know.

          No, Dan, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but in all honesty I do not know the point you are trying to make. I thought I understood the argument we were having when I wrote the comment above, but now you've lost me.

          Are you saying that prosperity theology is something that many or most US Christians believe, as opposed to a fringe doctrine?

          • MikeLip Says:

            Here's a thing to consider - I used to coach, and so did a number of my friends. Because of this attitude towards adult males and children, we had to shut down our league for lack of coaches. It's that bad - you cannot even work with kids, in groups, in public, without basically enclosing yourself in a bubble. Every try coaching a sport without being close proximity to a kid? You can't tell them, you have to show them. And it's uncomfortable enough these days that most of us reached the point of simply saying "It's not worth the risk and trouble, and there is no fun left in it for the stress - I quit." I can't imagine being a teacher - the only way to be safe from accusation would be to teach from the other side of a plexiglass wall.

            I am guessing you have not been in a similar position, since you seem fairly sure this attitude is not prevalent. Being a parent with kids, and trying to WORK with kids are two entirely different things. I've been in both places (I have three girls - now all late teens) and I can tell you that there is a world of difference in how a man working with and teaching kids is perceived as opposed to a woman doing the same. Dan is spot on here. And it's a shame. I for one refuse to work with kids anymore. And so do most of my coaching friends - we have found other things to do to help people. As long as "people" are all over 18 or so. Who loses here? We do as coaches since working with kids can be one of the most rewarding things you can do, and so do the kids. In all the years I coached there was never a single incident with any of the kids, while I have personal knowledge of several incidents with the kids and family members. One such incident was related to me by the kid and resulted in an investigation. Funny how the kid trusted *me* to look out for her, but not her own family.

            Don't tell me this isn't a problem in the US. If you do, you are simply ignorant.

          • setbit Says:


            First, let me say how sorry I am for you, the other coaches and the kids. That's a tragic story.

            Secondly, I never claimed that this flavor of paranoia is never a problem in the US. I merely pointed out that it's not universal.

            Thirdly, where the hell do you live and why haven't you left!? Seriously, if this is an honest portrayal of your experience, you either need to man up and fight or get the hell outta Dodge. It's a big country; you can do better.

            What's driving this paranoia in your area? Have there been multiple abductions or abuse cases receiving lots of media coverage? Racial tensions spilling over into general mistrust? Self-appointed witch hunters stirring up panic? Pod people?

            Via friends, family, and business associates, I know parents in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. That's just off the top of my head.

            I've never heard a personal story as sad as yours from any of those places. I would remember, because I would have been hopping mad. When I encounter similar stories about the UK I am hopping mad, along with a lot of other US readers.

            As a sanity check, I asked a few other dads at work about their experience volunteering with other people's kids. While everyone agreed that you need to use basic good judgement -- not giving a car ride to an individual child, for example, especially if you don't know both the child and parents well -- nobody had a bad experience to report.

            Obviously, people do get falsely accused, sometimes with horrific results: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMartin_preschool_trial. But the one salutary effect of these disasters is that more people come to realize that there are not actually Satanic ritual child abusers hiding behind every bush.

            So while I don't want to minimize the reality and pain of what you've been through, your story is clearly the exception.

            And if you don't agree, well then for the sake of your kids and everybody else's, you need to get out and do something about it, because the world you describe is BROKEN.

          • MikeLip Says:

            Sorry, the threading here appears goofed up. But your reply to my rant deserves a bit of a reply.

            Broken? It certainly is. Fight it? How does one go about doing that? When every objection you make and and every step makes you look more like some sort of weirdo? "Why exactly is this guy so upset about this? Why is he so insistent on working with kids? He can't love it for the simple love of doing it. There HAS to be some dark reason behind it." This IS the mindset I have run into and it is exactly why I have simply given up. You cannot fight mindsets like that. Everything you say or do makes you guilty. As for the precautions mentioned, I have never once been with the kids when their parents weren't right there. Same goes for the rest of the coaches. It makes no sense because there is no sense to be made. It's sheer paranoia and no rationality can be injected. There comes a time when the fight is lost, and this one appears to be. Yes I am bitter and I apologize for the tone of my previous. This discussion hit a nerve.

          • setbit Says:

            You're damned right it hits a nerve, and you have every reason to be bitter.

            But you ignored the second part of what I said. What could possibly cause you to subject yourself and your family to people who are so deeply sick in their souls? Go somewhere else!

            The reason you're so justifiably angry is that this isn't just about kids' sports teams or even sexual mores. The world has lots of evil in it, but people who see evil everywhere they look are inevitably projecting something ugly in themselves.

            There's a good chance that eventually they will either crush your soul or make you one of them. Sounds like they've already made a pretty good start on the "soul crushing" part.

            And no, Dan has not nailed it, your experience is not normative, and there are better places you can go. Maybe fairly close by. I can't think of any state in the Union that could be uniformly as awful as what you describe.

            And speaking of which: seriously, where are you? I can well understand why you wouldn't want to give enough detail to be identified individually, but throw me a bone. Red/blue, urban/rural, East/West, religious/secular? I tried to think of any place in the US that I loathe enough to preemptively accuse it of the being the setting of your story, and I came up empty.

          • MikeLip Says:

            As to leaving, no. My family is here, and mostly aging. I was born here, grew up here, went to school here. My career is here. As to where, northeastern Ohio. Not exactly Bible-belt, very definitely middle-class.

          • setbit Says:

            Well, thank goodness nothing has happened there recently to make the fear and suspicion worse.

            This also completely confirms my basest political prejudices, so thanks for that.

            I dunno, seems like anyplace worth staying is worth fighting for, and anyplace not worth fighting for isn't worth staying in. Good fortune to you in any case.

  4. Max Says:

    It seems Dan himself isn't immune to the old xkcd 386 syndrome (http://xkcd.com/386/). The only problem is that equally old warning about arguing with idiots - unfortunately, much like in the case Dowley from "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" they cannot ever be proven wrong by reasoning simply because they're not capable of it.

    And, yes, more to the point - freely admitting I'm neither a parent nor a teacher, I hear from friends of mine who actually are that that so called authority of and respect for teachers today is long, long gone so as to practically nothing remains of it (I'm in Eastern Europe btw.). The whole apparently widespread idea of any person needing to be basically a hermit to be worth listening to would be ludicrous if it wouldn't be so sad.

    Somehow I suspect the need to easily identify people worth listening to based on their perceived moral ground for authority and the aforementioned incapability to think for oneself independently which would allow one to recognize wisdom wherever one encounters it are not entirely unrelated...

    • TwoHedWlf Says:

      The people worth listening to bit probably works out similar to the way listening to your parents works out. Start off your parents are godlike, all knowing, all seeing all powerful figures.

      Eventually they lose all authority when you realise they're just normal flawed people and don't know crap(When you're a teen). Seems a lot of people's opinions of teachers and authority are sitting right here.

      Then later you hopefully figure out that while they're not all knowing godlike figures they've been around for longer than you have so are probably worth listening to.

    • dan Says:

      It seems Dan himself isn't immune to the old xkcd 386 syndrome

      I am made out of that syndrome. There is nothing else inside my head at all.

      so called authority of and respect for teachers today is long, long gone

      I wonder how well this correlates with the abolition of corporal punishment in schools?

      I accept that that was a very good thing, because hurting kids doesn't work very well even to make them obedient, let alone to make them learn. There's a reason why drill instructors in many countries' militaries are no longer allowed to strike their recruits, and those recruits are being trained to kill, not just to do algebra.

      But I cannot avoid a certain caveman conviction that being able to give some insufferable kid a slap on the ear might still be a thoroughly effective adjunct to more subtle class-control techniques.

      My partner Anne does Primary Ethics teaching, for primary-school students who get to go to these ethics classes instead of "Scripture". (Non-Australians who have just been surprised: I know, right!?)

      She doesn't really have much in the way of class-control problems, but one of my numerous unhelpful suggestions for dealing with those problems she does have is to lean in on the boy responsible (because nine times out of ten it is a boy...) and say, "You know, teachers aren't allowed to hit students any more."
      "But I'm not a teacher."

      • Bern Says:

        (Non-Australians who have just been surprised: I know, right!?)

        You'd be surprised how many Australians would be surprised by that. It's hardly a topic of conversation around the water cooler / espresso machine at work...

        I work in an environmental services company. I gave a presentation on the science of climate change, and the number of comments that were "Holy shit, is this for real?" were scary, considering it's kind of vaguely related to our job to know this shit. (well, it was - my employer has disbanded the climate risk services group, because they couldn't get enough work in Australia any more...)

        • dan Says:

          It just occurred to me that the Primary Ethics stuff, which is not anti-religious but is a-religious, actually is a teacher acting as an ethical guide to the kids, by definition. They make a point of not directly telling the kids what to think, but the syllabus doesn't have *that* many possible logical end-points, and few of them are likely to be "God says it's the right thing to do, so it must be".

          (Well, it's anti-religious to the extent that it encourages clear thinking and logic. And it displaces the religious education they'd otherwise be getting. Kids could always opt out of Scripture, usually because they belong to some religion there isn't a Scripture class for, and go to the school library instead. Now they can have Primary Ethics instead. Needless to say, the usual suspects were and are VERY ANGRY about this.)

          It of course still doesn't matter if after the teacher leaves the classroom they put on their SS uniform and then stomp some kittens; the teacher's job is to facilitate the kids' understanding of objective concepts, not to impart morals by osmosis.

          But if any teacher is a moral guide, it's them, and of course the rest of the Scripture teachers.

          (The rest of them have a tendency to just tell Bible stories, though, so they could be a bunch of pure bastards too and still have the intended salutary effect on the kids, whatever that is actually supposed to be. We still had Scripture classes in my first couple of years in high school; the students' job then was of course to drive the poor teacher to drink.)

  5. cr Says:

    Hey Dan

    Love the rant, you're absolutely right. There seems to be a rich vein of absolute bullshit running through society ready to unload itself on whatever is the currently fashionable obsession. At the moment it's paedophilia and terrorism, in a couple of years the folks with the pitchforks and torches will have found some other windmill to chase.

    I got a good laugh over your comment about kids looking up dirty words in the dictionary for a thrill. Only too true, sadly. (I say 'sadly' in that I grew up in those days...)

    • Bern Says:

      Hey, the dictionary my parents owned had a whole section at the back on sex education...

      Bloody useful thing, IMHO.

      Curiously, I went to Catholic schools, and I got far better sex ed than my wife who went through the public system all the way. The puritans (aka National Party) ruled the roost in the public system here in Queensland at the time, though.

  6. ix Says:

    FWIW, it's never been a publicized issue in Belgium as far as I can recall, so hard to tell if it would lead to firing. Closest I can remember is there was a photographer who decided to use the courthouse where he worked to do some nude picture photo sessions. He was fired, sued, and won (including a "moral restitution" of 15.000€, which is a lot as far as these things go).

    In general, I think if you were a highly publicized porn model in your off time, people would probably take some issue with it (because when it comes to children, most people go a bit crazy), but it's unlikely to actually be a lawful reason to fire you. The only thing that should be able to do that outright is being convicted of a vice related offence. Although, come to think of it, one of my old teachers was once fired for very vague reasons that involved police but as far as I can remember no conviction.

  7. wumpus Says:

    "Sexy pictures of a teacher get said teacher fired. A teacher having sex with a student gets said teacher fired. All under the same clause, and all worthy of being put in the same sentence, as if the first thing is somehow related to the second."

    Actually a teacher having sex with a student over 18 (or 16 depending on the state) could still have criminal charges filed against him (I doubt they would charge a woman for "harassing" an 18-year-old "man"). Once placed in a position of power things get dicey, even if it is a non-traditional (read "old") undergraduate and professor.

    So no, not the same. And the numbers of teachers busted for sex with students (typically with extra statutory rape as well) is either skyrocketing or simply every single one of them hits the daily fail and is reposted on fark.com (I'm guessing both, but there was only one teacher-student pair that I suspected during my high school days).

  8. wumpus Says:

    "So even if the chance that a given person is a child molester is one in a million (and according to the conservative press it's apparently more like one in three), the magnitude of harm times its probability remains infinitely high, and the situation must be avoided at all costs."

    You make it sound like a properly calculated Pascal's Wager. In fact, it is quite the opposite: kids are removed from free/unsupervised activities and are expected to be supervised by an adult at all times (on pain of child abuse accusations). This is rather impressive, considering that actual pedophiles are certainly more likely to accept the risks of being accused of pedophilia in order to get access to kids. NAMBLA and the Catholic Hierarchy couldn't come up with a better program of "sex by eight or it's too late".

    See "free range kids" for some resistance to this idiocy (although likely for reasons of freedom and helicopter aversion).

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