I highly recommend an op-ed by Campbell Brown, a former anchor for NBC and CNN who is now the founder of the Parents Transparency Project. She documents several cases in which arbitrators are effectively undermining what teacher unions claim is a “zero tolerance” when it comes to sexual misconduct cases. In instance after instance they find conduct that should be a firing offense to be permissible. Many arbitrators, in Brown’s words, “normalize sexual behavior or invent standards to arrive at decisions that flout zero tolerance.”
To Ms. Brown’s observations I’d add these three.
The first is that it’s not exactly a state secret that teacher unions have set up the system in a way that leads to arbitrators handing out light sentences. Which is just more evidence (though none was really needed) that teacher unions are not interested in the well being of children as much as they are in protecting teachers, including predatory teachers. When William Bennett was Secretary of Education, he said (and I’m paraphrasing now) that teacher unions were perhaps the most pernicious legal organizations in America. Nothing has changed. The damage teachers unions have done – by what they have done and by what they have kept from being done – is extraordinary.
Second, the attitude of arbitrators is a fairly common one, and it goes like this: There are certain things that qualify as genuine misconduct; predatory sexual behavior really isn’t one of them. In truth it is, and (to take just one example) referring to a teacher’s secret agreement to be sent nude photos of a student as “a lapse in judgment … [that] does not justify upholding her termination” is a sign of moral debasement.
The harm that can be done to young people who are sexually mistreated, physically and emotionally, can be grave and long lasting. We live in a society where many people consider virtually anything that’s related to sex and sexual misconduct places it in a value-free zone. It’s quite the opposite; and when this reality is denied by our culture our children – and not only our children – suffer.
A final word about schools. They once took seriously the motto in loco parentis (“in the place of a parent”). Parents could count on schools, and those who represented schools and teachers, to protect children from physical and moral harm and nurture their character. They had confidence that their children would be in the presence of morally mature and even exemplary adults.
Don’t get me wrong; most teachers in America are very fine people and many of them are outstanding: trustworthy, honorable, dedicated, people of integrity. My point is a different one: the organizations that say they represent teachers are in fact harming their profession by acting as a shield that protects the worst among them. There is a cost to such things.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Justice Louis Brandeis said. What Campbell Brown has done is to cast much needed sunlight on practices that need to be stopped and people who need to be held accountable. Because if they’re not, it’s our kids who will pay the price.