Discrimination, Diversity, And The Tattooed Teacher

Sylvain Helaine, 35, has, as you can see above, gone to great lengths to cover nearly every centimeter of his body with tattoos, including the whites of his eyes. He is, believe it or not, a kindergarten teacher, and Helaine is complaining that he has been told he cannot teach young children because some of them find his appearance nightmare-inducing. This, he feels, is discrimination.  Nonetheless, he is still teaching older children.

He says that he hopes his tattoos will teach his students about acceptance so that “maybe when they are adults they will be less racist and less homophobic and more open-minded.”

I’m sorry this issue is emerging in France and not in the U.S. It’s an excellent Ethics Incompleteness Principle case. When an individual deliberately mutilates himself like this, a school rejecting him as a teacher of young children, and indeed older children as well, is fair, reasonable and responsible. His “disability” is self-inflicted, his appearance teaches that narcissism and lack of respect for others is admirable, and he is quite possibly mentally ill.

Yet the ethics conflict posed by Sylvain Helaine’s obsession put me in mind of “Moby-Dick,” and thus weakened my resolve on this point. When Melville’s narrator Ishmael is forces to sahe a room and a bed  at the  Spouter Inn, is terrified by the appearance of his South Seas cannibal roommate who has been peddling a shrunken head on the streets of New Bedford. Then the ever-philosophical whaler muses: “For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal … a human being just as I am. … Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

When Ishmael awakes in the morning  to find Queequeg’s arm “thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner,’ almost as if “I had been his wife,” he is no longer alarmed.  “The truth is, these savages have an innate sense of delicacy,” Ishmael writes. “It is marvelous how essentially polite they are. … So much civility and consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness.” Regarding Queequeg’s tattoos, which are alamost as extreme as the kindergarten teacher’s, he concludes: “Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face — at least to my taste — his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul. … Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”

The two become instant friends, yet when they try to sign up for a whaling voyage,  Queequeg is rejected, not for being tattooed, but for not being Christian. Ishmael successfully argues that Queequeg, like “all of us, and every mother’s son and soul of us,” belongs to “the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshiping world. … In that we all join hands.”  His eloquence and ethical aspirations carry the day, and both become members of the doomed crew of the Pequod.

In an essay about Melville’s exhortation to diversity and acceptance, Carl Safina writes,

Nearly two centuries ago, Melville showed us how easy it is to welcome as our own the touches of others, their equivalent colors, customs and beliefs; their journeys, their transitions. And to remember those who, unwelcomed, suffered. How much could have been avoided, and embraced, had we heeded.


This demands the poll question…

24 thoughts on “Discrimination, Diversity, And The Tattooed Teacher

  1. The reason I voted “neither” is because while true, the soul is beautiful, miraculous, created from love and a piece of Gods expression on this earth,, our society has certain norms.

    A child can’t understand a man like him isn’ta monster (most) BUT, though he be deep
    Down a loving wonderful soul and man, his very words making it all about him PROVE he’s not worthy or honest enough to teach children of ANY age. But especially young.

    He would have to admit first his appearance is extreme and frightening and little kids could be traumatized for LIFE having to be in a room all day with a man that looks like he walked out of a horror film.

    Maybe one day our culture gets to the place where we have so much love driving it, we don’t judge people by their looks, and maybe one day those who truly want to end what they call discrimination will also not lie to us or themselves when they ask us to do what this man is doing.

    Ridiculous and sad too, If he really believes himself.

    • “A child can’t understand a man like him isn’ta monster (most) BUT, though he be deep
      Down a loving wonderful soul and man, his very words making it all about him PROVE he’s not worthy or honest enough to teach children of ANY age.”

      I agree and add… we can constantly say “deep down people are wonderful and loving and caring”, but’s its all for nothing if the manifestation of these so-called “deep down” don’t line up with the supposed values claimed to be somewhere in there.

      He’s permanently dressed himself up like a nightmare. I would conclude that, as a matter of fact, deep down he is NOT a caring person beyond the minimum necessary for performative purposes to “prove” to the addle-brained that “deep down” he is.

      Anne Frank said, I think “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” She may have been insightful on many things but I think her quote is wrong despite how great it sounds. While I think individuals can have disciplined themselves or been disciplined well enough to stifle their innermost selfishness, I think that IF a person does have the inherently “good hearted” qualities we laud, then it MANIFESTS. And while most people can manifest good pro-community conduct, demeanor, etc, it doesn’t mean they are inherently good inside, but it’s a good clue they are….in reverse…people manifesting anti-social demeanor, like our French example above, can otherwise conduct themselves properly for a time, but it’s a good clue that their willing choice to appear anti-social indicates something else about what is *actually* DEEP INSIDE and not some platitude about “DEEP DOWN he’s a great guy”.

      Ok, swell, that’s good…we also need him to be a great guy in person also… and the visuals aren’t convincing.

  2. Ishmael is an adult; not a kindergartner. He can associate with whomever he wishes.

    This is a version of the Naked Teacher Principle. He cannot hope to effectively teach very young children while looking like something they thought was hiding in the closet the night before. He’s a distraction.

    Teaching older children may be different and he may be a very good teacher, but I would be wary of anyone who would go to that extreme because he felt my child needed diversity training.

    • This teacher is a complete narcissist, disguising his sociopathic lack of empathy as purehearted goodness. He’s the sadist who calls you a monster as he stabs you.

      A person who cares about children doesn’t disguise himself as a lizard person from hell and then say, “we’ll, the kids will get over it and they’ll thank me later for teaching them to suppress their disgust-reflex and reject the very concept of beauty.”

      There is valid reason to believe that this person is excited or even aroused by the fear of children. I put nothing past France.

    • I agree with you. This calls to my demented, Dr. Pepper-deprived mind the “Story Time with Transgenders” at the local public libraries, aimed at young children. With all due respect, I: don’t need or want the local public library instructing my child about diversity and inclusion. If my child is 5 years old, I will do that myself, thank you. What’s next? Should the local library have “Story Time with Axe Murderers and Serial Killers”? Diversity is diversity, right?


  3. I’d have to vote neither in this case. Appearance is a part of being a kindergarten teacher. If someone’s mere appearance frightens students so much that they can’t properly learn, then that teacher cannot effectively do his or her job. It would be wrong to keep someone in that capacity when they cannot effectively teach. If the faculty and Mr. Hillaire wish it, another position could potentially be found where Mr. Hillaire’s appearance is not a factor in being able to adequately perform his job. But as a kindergarten teacher, no, not if his appearance is causing children nightmares.

  4. I hold Queequeg in very high regard, and Melville too. So much so that I once read a good part of the book, very lightly paraphrased) to 3rd-graders before the school informed me that it wasn’t aligned with state standards.
    The tattooed man as kindergarten teacher? Absolutely not. Nor Queequeg. Despite the current trend, and the likelihood that the Culturally Intelligent among us might advocate for forced exposure to the different as part of a healthy indoctrination diet, I would no more hire either of them or put a child in a room with one of them than I would put a kindergartener into a Mason jar full of roaches.
    On the other hand, if a Queequeg were a known and trusted member of the school community already, I might do it. There is a tiny difference.
    I am a fan of both discrimination and diversity. One must be judgmental and discriminating, discerning, extremely picky when it comes to the environments of small children. It pained me greatly yesterday, on the first day of in-person kindergarten, for instance, when the school leadership chose grown-up sexymusik for the entrance soundtrack. Yes, we know that Rhianna’s Dancing in the Dark was in an animated movie. Or so I subsequently found out.
    Is it ethical to put children at risk of shock and trauma in the name of “acceptance and diversity”? No. The adult consequences of an unsafe, unprotected early childhood are well known. Diversity hires, in general, are questionable in that environment. So are decisions that cut slack for somebody’s decision made during an existential crisis. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, anybody? Hire for quality, safety and integrity.
    At least the music that was blaring at the end of the day got more intelligent, if not more appropriate:
    I want to spread the news
    That if it feels this good getting used
    You just keep on using me
    Until you use me up
    Until you use me up

    • Our son’s 4th grade teacher put on a “music show” at this all-boy Catholic school The songs were:

      1. Joan Jett, “I Love Rock and Roll”
      2. Michael Jackson, “Smooth Criminal”
      3. Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark,” and
      4. AC/DC, “Highway to Hell.”

      I wondered what went through her mind. Joan Jett croons about bedding a 17 year old boy (and the boys were singing those lyrics!), and Michael Jackson sings about a brutal, bloody murder scene. I love AC/DC, but “Highway” speaks for itself. Springsteen is tame by comparison. The parents, oblivious to the lyrics, thought it was great.


      • Popular music makes for some of the most hilarious teacher-and-parent ineptitude. I volunteered at a field day at an ELEMENTARY school where they had some DJ playing 50 Cent and so forth. The swear words were edited out but the drug and sex references were all still there. And as someone who knows what all the songs were about it just about tore me up inside. For some reason I have OCD anyway when it comes to music selections and this wasn’t even good mood music for outdoor games either, so it was double bad.

  5. Melville’s story is a work of fiction. The sentiment may have been lovely but many works of fiction conjure up these extremes to make the less extreme permissible. If you can tolerate a cannibal who sleeps with you you can tolerate anything.

    It is one thing to be accepting of a person with a physical deformity that was not self inflicted such as a soldier whose face was burned by an explosive, someone missing a limb because of thalidomide, or someone with warts covering their entire body but to subject anyone to have to associate with someone that purposefully tries to color or mutilate their bodies such an extent is beyond the pale not specifically for the trauma that could occur but because I question their mental fitness to be around my child and the lessons they may teach. I also don’t want this to become normalized.

      • Then we’re also not really talking about a body-tattooed cannibal either…

        That’s the problem with fictional stories.

        It’s like in the movies or episodic TV shows that show a slight conflict in a family and then the resolution has happy teenagers absorbing the wisdom and contented charismatic moms and dads working through their teen’s problems with just enough friction to claim realism.

        “Why can’t yall be like the parents in such and such a show???”

        Because it’s fiction.

        I wonder if a real life tattooed cannibal just off the streets hocking a human head to curio buyers is just as polite as Melville’s imagined character which he’s ultimately crafted to be symbolic of something else anyway.

      • Lisa- “Dad you can’t take revenge on an animal. That’s the whole point of Moby-Dick!”

        Homer(patronizing)- “Lisa the point of Moby-Dick is Be Yourself.”

  6. I’m replying either, but under the assumption that they are competent kindergarten teachers. As long as my kids can learn the letters, numbers, and sing songs together I’ll be ok.

    Then again, I may be biased that the school I attended (many years ago) had a one-eyed teacher for the first graders. And my own pre-K teacher used colored contacts (this was back in the ’80s) in bright unnatural colors; my favorite were the purple ones.

  7. If you thought Moby Dick was intense and strange . . . read Pierre:

    Many critics have deemed Pierre the most puzzling, and—alongside Moby-Dick (1851)—the most structurally and thematically complex work of Melville’s career. Denigrated by most contemporary reviewers for its main themes of fornication, incest, and illegitimacy, Pierre was praised by some as a successful sentimental romance. The history of Pierre criticism has been controversial, with critics agreeing on very little, in part because the novel itself seems to contain and encompass two sides of every critical argument. For example, it is a romance that also parodies the genre of romance, a philosophical work that satirizes philosophers and philosophizing, and the story of an idealist who consistently undermines his own good intentions and ultimately commits suicide. Pierre has become increasingly popular in the latter part of the twentieth century, with many readers speculating about its psychosexual themes, Melville’s intentions in the work, and the novel’s place in Melville’s corpus.

  8. “…maybe when they are adults they will be less racist and less homophobic and more open-minded.”

    Amazing! Who knew all it took to gain racial parity in schools is for white people to attempt to look like lizard monsters. It’s not racist at all assume being brown is just like choosing to ink your whole body.

    And for gays, it’s nice to be conflated with people so insecure about who they are, as they are, that they think they have to engage in severe body modification. Oh wait… that’s already happening. Please, someone get me some eye dye and fake balls so others can practice their tolerance!

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