The Ethics Alarms Naked Teacher Principle (NTP) states:
A secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result. The first formulation of the NTP can be found here.
I suppose I need to circulate this more widely, because some schools apparently are confused, such as Union County High School in South Carolina. In a completely warped and unfair application of the NTP, school district officials in Union County demanded and received the resignation of engineering teacher Leigh Anne Arthur after a student stole her phone, examined its contents and found a semi-nude selfie (intended for her husband’s enjoyment only), which he shared with his classmates.
The district’s David Eubanks said that the district’s position was that the 13-year teaching veteran was at fault for leaving her phone unlocked on her desk when she went out of the room, and that she had, in effect made the pictures available to her students. He also said that the engineering teacher’s actions may have contributed to the delinquency of a minor.
The technical terms for Eubanks are unethical, unjust and illogical. The kid stole the phone before he knew what was on it. He would have stolen it even if it had been locked. Arthur didn’t make him a delinquent; he was already a delinquent. How far would the school board take their absurd logic? If the kid stole her purse, found a key in an envelope with a bank account number on it, and the student took it to a bank and got into her locked storage box, and in there was the combination to a warehouse storage locker that contained a nude oil painting of her that was painted when she was an artist’s model, and he stole the painting and held an exhibit of it in his garage, charging admission, would the school system fire the teacher, or expel the student for an outrageous invasion of privacy, as well as theft?
Had the teacher taken the selfie, sent it to selected friends who then posted it on Facebook and other websites, that might trigger a particularly unfortunate application of the NTP. Yes, high school teachers may not responsibly have provocative photos of themselves floating around on the internet, unless they have given due warning to their employers and the employers assent. However, no logical or ethical principle exists holding that it is irresponsible to the point of mandatory dismissal to have such photos on a private phone.
True, phones can be hacked, meaning that only moral luck separates the teacher whose naughty selfies are seen only by her significant other and the teacher whose phone is criminally invaded and her private life exposed on the internet. I teach tech ethics, and I advise against putting anything on your phone that you don’t want on the front page of a supermarket tabloid. Still, holding a teacher responsible for the consequences of a criminal act by a student prompted my a momentary lapse is cruel and unfair.
Arthur had a reasonable, if not entirely correct, expectation of privacy regarding the contents of her private phone. Her mistake was trusting her students, the bastards, for a brief period. She did nothing wrong, including taking the photo. The students were wrong.
The Naked Teacher Principle must not extend to stolen cell phones.