What’s the Matter With Paul Gust?

Oh-oh...now I'VE searched for her too!

Combine the Anthony Weiner debacle and the Naked Teacher Principle (in reverse), and you get the travails of 45-year-old Paul Gust, the computer teacher at the Saugatuck Public Schools in Michigan. He has been fired, and I would fire him too. But which of his actions were a firing offense?

1. Storing photos of naked women on his school computer?
2. Being such a klutz that he accidentally flashed some of the photos on the screen in the middle of a presentation on computer technology?
3. Having the FBI find photographs of underage girls on that same computer, though not photos that constituted child-porn?
4. Having the FBI also discover that he had searched for photos of Miley Cyrus braless, when she was under 18?
5. Having personal e-mails on his computer—beyond dispute involving personal discussions, off hours, on his own time, using his own accounts—that included discussions of sexual fantasies involving teen-age girls?

Administrative law judge James Ward agreed with the school that there was ample reason to fire the tenured teacher, saying that Gust’s actions demonstrated a real risk of exposing minors to pornography and his “fantasies about females the same age as students attending the high school in Saugatuck” posed a legitimate concern.

Wait a minute. Obviously Ward could be fired for storing photos of nude women on a school laptop, which is a clear violation of school policy, especially after the nudes made a surprise appearance in a school presentation. The rest, however—searching for Miley Cyrus images? Having photos of (fully clothed) children? Fantasizing about sex in e-mails with a friend?—None of this is illegal or unethical.

Storing photos of young girls is creepy, but it isn’t child porn. Looking for sexy photos of—Miley Cyrus???—is strange, but it isn’t illegal. As for having sexual fantasies about teenage girls—do we really want to speculate about the percentage of male teachers in high schools who have sexual fantasies about their female students? The judge just stated that this should disqualify them from teaching. That’s thought-crime. Mere thoughts are not unethical for anyone, and a judge should not be suggesting otherwise.

You wouldn’t believe the things I think about, for example.

The Naked Teacher Principle requires that a teacher be fired not for his or her conduct, but for the fact that certain conduct comes to the attention of students. There is, for teachers, a very real duty not to get caught where conduct that can undermine student respect is involved.  Being a naked woman on the internet may constitute such conduct, and downloading naked women off the internet might, if it becomes generally known to a teacher’s students. For Gust, the hits just kept coming once the FBI got involved. Collecting  photos of children marks the teacher, perhaps unfairly, as having perverted and dangerous sexual desires, and this perception will undermine his ability to teach. The same effect is likely to result as soon as his—Miley Cyrus? Really?—interest is known, or the nature of the personal e-mails. But the ethical point is that these at most are irresponsible because they might be discovered—as indeed they were—and the discovery was predictably a threat to undermine the ability of the teacher to teach. Other than courting that risk, there is nothing wrong with Gust’s fantasies or his methods of dealing with them, except that he was careless. When it comes to teachers and fantasies, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the unwritten rule.

The fact that Gust misused a school computer provided a valid reason to fire him. The lesson of Gust’s fall, however, isn’t “Don’t have sexual fantasies;’ it is “Make sure your students, their parents and your supervisors don’t find out about them.”

If they do, you deserve everything you get.

13 thoughts on “What’s the Matter With Paul Gust?

  1. A public school official- who not only stores pornography on his computer, but seeks sexualized images of children as well- is not to be faulted? How many times do we have to travel down this road and deny the connection? Virtually every child predator ever caught started off this way and, when caught, was found in possession of vast amounts of both adult and child images of this order; both physical and cybernetic. The fact alone that this man sought sexualized images of child stars should render him unfit for his position. As I’ve often pointed out, those children are the face of America’s children to the world at large. The next step is full-blown pedophilia… if it’s not already present.

    We have to ask ourselves just how precious our children’s bodies and souls are to us when we see this (especially in adults who have authority over our kids) and buy the notion that this is merely a “thought crime”. From “thoughts” like this spring deeds of criminality of the very worst order. Again; the chain or events in these cases is all too clear. And the trust that must be inherent with all who stand as mentors to children must be absolute. The fact that such sexualized images of children are readily available and allowed by a perversion of the First Amendment is no excuse, either.

    It should be noted that today marks the 21st birthday of JonBenet Ramsey… one of the most sexualized children in history, who paid for it with her still unsolved death 15 years ago. What have we learned from that tragedy? Apparently nothing.

    • I know this is right in your wheelhouse, Steven. I don’t deny the connections at all—a guy who keeps photographs of kids on his laptop is indeed a greater threat to do something wrong in that regard. So is an adult male who buys Tiger Beat magazine—I have a friend who used to do that in his forties. So is a middle aged man who watched “Tigritos,’ the weird Mexican “kids” show that was on SIN for over a decade, featuring a provocatively clad group of innocent Hispanic Annette Funicellos ranging from age 10-17 singing and dancing pop songs.So is anyone who bought a ticket to “Hounddog,” or who follows the strange modeling career of Dakota Fanning’s physically precocious 13-year-old sister Elle. But the fact is that all of this is legal and in the majority of cases, indicative of nothing but a fetish, curiosity, or a creepy streak that the individual has well under control.

      Are we really going to punish citizens of the US for conduct that statistically increases the odds of actual misconduct? Or even “watch”
      them? That seems like pre-crime to me. You are right and wrong at the same time. This IS a slippery slope, and I see no reason why it would stop at protecting children.

  2. I understand your concerns, Jack. In some ways, I actually share in this guy’s activities, as I keep up as much as I can with these child exploitations. BUT… I don’t keep a stash of child exploitive images beyond a few that I can use to make my case against them. I don’t secret them. Nor do I hold a position of trust with children in public schools.

    I was also aware from the onset of my advocacy that I was- even with my policy of openness as to my identity, my activities and why I pursued them- I was taking a personal risk with my reputation. This is why so few concerned adults take this burden… and why my own family had reservations. Once you’ve been accused of such things publically, your reputation never really recovers. And good adults HAVE been not only accused, but unjustly convicted of crimes against children. Still, someone must stand forth against what I consider the darkest evil of all.

    This man, by his actions, demonstrated all the warning signs of an impending or existant sexual obsession that included children. The fact that adult porn was part of his “library” and that he had no open record, declaration of opposition or membership in a group against child exploitation sends up flags that no responsible people can ignore. He forfeited his public trust in the process.

    He may not have committed a physical crime. Neither (I think!) did Mark Foley or Anthony Weiner. But they did all commit a breach of ethics and public trust. Paul Gust might not have been a congressman, but his own trust involved thousands of children. In all those cases, the loss of trust was, at the very least, the result of unhealthy sexual obsession that included minors.

    • Yes, imagine the plight of a child advocate who really IS doing “research” when images are found on his computer. That explanation, the reflex defense of every teacher, journalist, judge or professor, has been permanently rendered a joke, if not proof of guilt.

      As I said, Gust needed to be fired, and parents cannot …or rather WILL not—-trust someone when they know about interests like this. he knew it; he’s accountable. It is still unfair. Foley and Weiner’s activities involved actual conduct—Gust didn’t send communications to any young lust-objects (unlike Foley) and he didn’t send naked pictures to any of them either. His “misconduct” was all in his mind—other than the policy violation.

      If Bill Clinton and Jack Kennedy allowed voters to see what went on in their dirty minds, neither could have been elected dog catcher. They might have been deported. I don’t even want to think about what was in there.

  3. You might add TED Kennedy to that list! But I deliberately used my own case as a comparison. My activities are such that I not only make them known, but insofar as I deliberately make it easy for any monitoring agencies to contact me should a question be raised.

    That’s why I post as much as possible under my full, legal name… while carefully limiting any contacts with actual children to an open forum. No secretiveness. Nor do I retain any actual pornographic images- adult or child- in my files. Mine are mainly of photo shoots, movie images, etc. that were released to the general public, but nevertheless make the case for child exploitation. And as few as necessary!

    Unlike Mr. Gust (apparently) I don’t seek out such images for “private perusal”. Nor (and unlike a number of public officials!) have I ever sought out or recorded child pornography on the internet… something that children encounter frequently these days. It comes down not only to intent, but discretion in approaching the subject. It can be a very fine line, of course.

    That’s why I chose the forthright approach in my researches and advocacy. Others have not. Gust certainly didn’t, whatever his motives. And, as I said, the fact that his own files DID include actual porn- child or not- places grave concerns about his motives. I’ve seen too many cases like Gust’s before.

  4. As is often the case, your post has prompted me to write a rather lengthier response than qualifies as a “comment.” My piece can be seen in its entirety here, but much of it just endorses what you already say.

    My last three paragraphs, though, bring up a different issue:

    But there’s one more aspect to this case that no one I’ve seen has covered: What the hell was the FBI doing in this business? After 9/11, their mission was re-defined to concentrate on anti-terrorism efforts. I guess that problem has been solved now, huh? Likewise illegal immigration, drugs, organized crime, gangs, armed paramilitaries, soldiers who intend to shoot up army bases, vote fraud and vote suppression, securities fraud… Hell, jaywalking is at least illegal. That would make investigating it a more legitimate use of the agency’s time than this.

    Really, as the country agonizes over what cuts in government spending must be made in order to restore fiscal stability—and perhaps to improve the credit rating downgraded yesterday by Standard and Poor’s—we’re not even a little bit concerned that the FBI’s resources are being employed in an internal personnel matter at some school in Michigan? I see no evidence of any crime whatsoever—no conspiracy, no molestation, no child pornography—just a violation of school policy. Indeed, I see no evidence that there even might have been evidence of a crime.

    On what grounds were the FBI called in, and what district Bureau executive decided this case was worthy of his/her office’s time, effort, and—by extension—budget? Either there’s more to the case against Gust than we’re hearing about (unlikely, but possible) or there are some serious imbeciles in positions of power in the hierarchies of both the Saugatuck school system and the local FBI office.

    • Dear Rick: I understand your concern over the FBI (or any federal agency) becoming involved in something that, at first glance, seems to be a state or local issue. But internet crimes are inherently interstate and international as well. The possibility that Mr. Gust may have been collecting child pornography and thereby, directly or indirectly, endangering children or contributing to their exploitation (and his being a public official as well) brought this case within the FBI’s purview. These sort of crimes have become just too pervasive. Thus, the FBI’s Center for Missing and Exploited Children was created as a “clearing house” establishment to co-ordinate the efforts of law enforcement in the protection of children. Even with this in place, the online perverts and solicitors usually stay a step ahead. And they’ll continue to as long as the culture abets it and legal authority turns a blind eye. Even with their resources, law enforcement can’t do it alone.

      • Steven: I’d agree with you if there were any evidence of a crime per se. But a private forensics firm scrubbed the computer and, as far as we’re being told, found nothing illegal. (Creepy, yes; illegal, no.) Mr. Gust’s actions may have been immoral and/or unethical, but I see no evidence of criminality, or even evidence of the likelihood that a crime had been committed. Absent that, the involvement of the FBI is both overkill and a misuse of resources.

        • Dear Rick: Like I said, the CMEC exists as a clearing house resource for investigating possible dangers to children by those in a position to be a danger. It may have been, in this case, too much by the FBI… although the extent of their involvement remains unknown to me. Personally- and given the level of the dangers that DO exist- I’d rather be safe than sorry. Protecting children is about as basic a human concern as it gets. But I think we’re agreed that, at least, Mr. Gust’s removal from his position of authority is a good thing.

  5. An observation – Just watched a bit of El Club de Los Tigritos (never heard of it before) and ya know what? Golly gee whiz those girls ain’t got nothing on our May talent show at the elementary school I used to teach at (and at which I now am a sub). Do you get my drift here? We got girls as young as third grade out there on stage strutting their stuff. To the applause of students, staff and parents.

    Now, I’m not judging one way or the other. It’s just an observation. Hell, I like it. But I’m 64, so does that make me creepy?

    One more thing, when I was a teacher at another school a few years back, a few fifth grade girls, wannabe gang bangers who didn’t like my classroom discipline cause I refused to take their shit, went to the principal and accused me of “looking down their dresses.” This was at the start of the school year. Long story short – I was removed from the school. I responded by going to the NMSU law library and learning what I needed to know in order to defend myself. I received my bi-weekly check for the rest of that school year. Meanwhile,I got a job in food prep at a local restaurant, and next school year got hired as an educational assistant at the school I mentioned in the first graph (different school system, of course). The following year they hired me as a fourth grade teacher. I taught till I got fed up with No Child Left Behind and went back to being an EA. Last year I became a sub and I only sub at that particular school cause the kids and staff know me and I like everybody there.

    Finally, I’m with Jack on this, Steven, although I can understand your POV. But, as I said in my initial post, if you could read my thoughts concerning the US government, you’d surely have me arrested. But, are my thoughts a crime?

  6. Dear Fattymoon:

    Two days ago, I happened across “Toddlers & Tiaras” while channel surfing. I’ve seen that show before, but this was one of the most nauseating yet. Pre-teen children in not local, but national competition; all under high pressure, all plastered with cosmetics and all wearing outfits that adult strippers used to wear before nudity became legal. One little girl was only three. Needless to say, no one was observing JonBenet’s 21st birthday!

    Looking at this pathetic spectacle, I wondered how long it would be before this further devolved into explicit child sexuality. It already has in Hollywood. On stage, underage performers (including preteens) have been featured nude. Yet, it was in local school pageants where this all began… and innocently enough. Little girls would dress up in a silly costume, maybe sing or recite some ditty and giggle their way offstage to the laughter, applause and adoration of assembled parents. But others came to see the possibilities of this with far different motives in mind.

    Once perversity gets a foothold and money becomes a factor, it won’t stop until citizens wake up and see it for what it is. Unfortunately, it’s often us older people- who’ve seen one or more generations of little faces pass through their families and into the world- that are the most moved to their protection. For us guys in late middle age also comes the stigma that our demographic is also the most likely to be involved in depredation. Ironic, but true.

    Nevertheless, if we don’t take that risk of infamy for the children’s sake, that’ll leave the ladies to bear the burden. It will also mean that we, as men, have failed in our greatest responsibility AS men. It’s inherent in our natural state to protect and provide for women and children… and to put our lives on the line for this, if necessary.

    There have been times when I expected legal retribution from “intrenched interests” disguised as accusations of child depredation. That may still happen. I’ve stepped on a lot of toes in the past five years! But those whom I’ve “offended” are the real predators and have profitted from it. I still have a few good years left to me, and I intend to use them in taking down these creatures.

    BTW: Congratulations for taking a stand in the classroom. I encourage you to take what you’ve learned and disseminate it to as many good teachers as you can. Teachers are often under great pressure from their unions and administrations not to “rock the boat” on the children’s ultimate behalf… as you did. But a teacher’s moral example can be decisive for the future adult’s life.

    As I like to tell my teacher friends, I can still see the faces and remember the names of all my elementary school teachers, to include Mrs. Keith. Kindergarten- 1957! I’m sixty now. With a sometimes turbulent family life as a child, these people were rocks that I clung to.

  7. The idea of “thought crime” reminded me of this old canard (it helps to get the joke if you were raised Catholic).

    A young fellow is in the confessional booth.

    PRIEST: “…and so, my son, are you ever bothered by impure thoughts?”

    PENITENT: “Oh no, Father, I enjoy them thoroughly!”

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