How Parents Are Playing Russian Roulette With Their Children

Whenever I discuss an incident of astounding incompetence and idiocy by school administrators, I receive indignant protests that such incidents tell us nothing about the trustworthiness of the schools generally, and that any system, even the very best, have anomalous examples of misconduct and poor judgment. Admittedly I am somewhat conditioned by the experiences of my son, which convinced my wife and I to home school him, not for religious reasons, but because we were horrified by the inflexible, often cruel conduct of his teachers, the deceit and cowardice of various school administrators, and the accumulated impact of the inept teaching and oversight on our son’s attitude toward education, authority, institutions, and life in general. Yet even that was before I began recording the steady drumbeat of teachers seducing their students, teachers indoctrinating their students in their own ideological beliefs, schools punishing students for technical violations of badly written and overly broad rules and harshly disciplining children for their communications and activities outside school grounds, in their private lives.

I now believe that any parent who entrusts the welfare and upbringing of their children to today’s schools is playing the equivalent of Russian Roulette, allowing people who have inadequate standards, inadequate training, inadequate judgment and inadequate values to have an opportunity to warp, debase, confuse or otherwise harm the young. I believe this because I am convinced that the public and media are aware of only a small percentage of the misconduct schools and their employees engage in daily.

Take, for example, the experience of photographer Jess Michener. Two of his children were going on a school field trip. It was a sunny day, and his children are fair-skinned and prone to sunburn—one especially, because she has a mild form of albinism. When they came home, the two were so painfully sunburned that he had to take them to the hospital. He writes: Continue reading

More School Bullying…As In Schools Bullying Students

What the hell kept you?

From an ACLU complaint recently filed in the Northern District of Indiana:

“The plaintiffs in this case are all 14-year-old girls, proceeding by their initials, who were previously enrolled as eighth graders at Griffith Middle School, which is operated by Griffith Public Schools. In late January, they engaged in a lengthy conversation on http:// the comments section of one of their personal pages after school from their personal computers. This conversation spanned numerous subjects, from the pain of cutting oneself while shaving to the girls’ friendship, before turning to a discussion of which of their classmates they would kill if they had the chance. At all times, the conversation was purely in jest and could not have been interpreted seriously, as is evidenced by the girls’ repeated use of “emoticons,” by their use of abbreviations indicative of humor, and by the nature and tone of the conversation. The girls were simply engaged in teenage banter.Nonetheless, on January 26, 2012, all three (3) girls were suspended from school for ten (10) days as a result of this conversation, and they were ultimately expelled for the remainder of their eighth grade year. This disciplinary action occurred because they had supposedly violated a provision of the student handbook prohibiting bullying, harassment, and intimidation, even though no statement in the conversation-nor the conversation as a whole–constituted a “true threat.” Additionally, the conversation did not cause any disruption to the educational environment or to school activities, nor was it foreseeable that it would.”

Glory be and Halleluiah! Continue reading

From Massachusetts: Proof That It CAN Happen Here…and Does; That It CAN Happen To You…and Might.

Tortured. At his Special Needs school. By good people like us.

As I recently wrote to a commenter on another post, Ethics Alarms is not intended to catalogue every prominent example of unethical conduct, and not just because attempting to do so would require a fleet of bloggers. If it is discussed here, an incident usually requires some kind of ethical analysis to determine whether it is ethical or not, or has larger cultural or societal significance. That the incident at the center of this post was unethical (as well as illegal), there can be no doubt, and that, ironically, is why it is worthy of special attention. The conduct is self-evidently horrific and beyond justification, and yet it occurred anyway, in a community, state and nation where virtually every sentient citizen over the age of nine would say that it could never happen—not here, not in the United States of America, not in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The fact that it did happen is both a revelation and a warning.

Film footage under seal since 2002 was finally shown in a Massachusetts courtroom this week. The film shows how the staff of a school for special needs students in Canton, Mass., the Judge Rotenberg Center, strapped a disabled 18-year-old student named Andre McCollins to a table and proceeded to torture him, administering 31 jolts of electricity to the screaming boy over a seven hour period. Lawyers defending the school in a lawsuit have claimed that the atrocity was “treatment,” but other evidence indicates that it was punishment—for  McCollins’ defiance of a teacher’s demands that he remove his jacket in class. Continue reading

Sexual Predator Teachers: 1) Not Funny 2) Epidemic 3) Now What?

Child rapist teachers! LOL!

Two nights ago, Tonight Show host Jay Leno included in his monologue a joke about Christine McCallum, the Brockton, Mass. teacher convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old boy over 300 times. Jay can make jokes about whatever he wants, but the fact that we are laughing about this kind of conduct by teachers rather than asking hard questions and insisting on some accountability for the schools shows how tolerant our society is of a supposedly essential institution and a once respectable profession that have both fallen into rot and ruin.

In 1996, when Mary Kay LeTourneau was revealed to have made an undereage student her lover and fathered a child by him, it was national news. For me, it was the first I had ever heard of a teacher abusing her power and profession to that extent. This month alone, March 2012, I have counted thirteen such cases making the local news across the country, including McCallum, and I’m sure I missed some. I’m also reasonably sure that for every one of these cases that get prosecuted, many more are covered up or never discovered at all. Continue reading

Weekend Ethics Catch-Up

If you took an ethics break this last weekend of February, here’s your Ethics Alarms make-up assignment:


“No Tolerance,” Expulsion, and Poisoned Coffee

A post this weekend discussed the case of an elementary student who was expelled for showing a pocket knife to friends on school grounds. Dig around in the Ethics Alarms archives, and you’ll find many other “no tolerance” stories in which schools levied harsh punishment for perceived student infractions such as describing murderous fantasies about teachers on Facebook; a pizza bitten into the shape of a gun; taking possession of a knife from another student in order to turn it over to school authorities, and even more outrageous examples. In several of these incidents, the police were called in. You may recall the case from last year in which a Spotsylvania (Va.) high school student was expelled and charged with criminal assault for the equivilent of blowing spit-balls at a student in class.  Now we have a shining example of why this decade-long trend is not only devoid of justice and common sense, but also counter-productive. It undermines the school’s ability to send a coherent message to the students who need it—the truly dangerous. Continue reading

School Insanity: A Warning From Canada…

Jessie Sansone and his trouble-making daughter

…And the warning is: the police and schools aren’t this crazy and irresponsible in the U.S. yet, but all the signs are present. From the news in Ontario:

Police arrested a Kitchener, Ont., father outside his daughter’s school because the four-year-old drew a picture of him holding a gun. Jessie Sansone told the Record newspaper that he was in shock when he was arrested Wednesday and taken to a police station for questioning over the drawing. He was also strip-searched.

“This is completely insane. My daughter drew a gun on a piece of paper at school,” he said.

Officials told the newspaper the move was necessary to ensure there were no guns accessible by children in the family’s home. They also said comments by Sansone’s daughter, Neaveh, that the man holding the gun in the picture was her dad and “he uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters,” was concerning.

Police also searched Sansone’s home while he was in custody. His wife and three children were taken to the police station, and the children were interviewed by Family and Children’s Services. Continue reading

The Ethics Question That Is Driving Me Crazy

I don’t like to poach advice columnist questions unless the columnist makes a mess of the answer. This is an exception, however. It is an ethics question like no other I have ever encountered, the ethics equivalent of Monty Python’s “killer joke.” It is driving me crazy.

The question came to Ariel Kaminer, the writer of the New York Times ethics advice column, “The Ethicist.” Kaminer is typically all over the map, and often makes simple ethics problems more complicated than they are, when she isn’t getting them wrong entirely. “The Ethicist” didn’t get this question wrong entirely, but she did write a long explanation that missed what was really remarkable about the question. The only answer that was absolutely required would have been, “WHAT???

Here’s the jaw-dropping question, from a student:

“My school charged a dollar for students to bet, or “predict,” which team would win the Super Bowl. It was $1 for one team, and if you won, you would get a candy bar. If you bet $3, you could choose both teams and guarantee your candy bar. Is this legal or even morally right?”


The school (Where is this school?) is not only promoting gambling, it is promoting crooked gambling, or, if you prefer, attempting outright theft. It is encouraging students to spend a dollar on a 50% chance to win something that costs about a dollar! In addition to being a scam, the school is either… Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Lincoln School in Spring Valley, Illinois

Thanks to Lincoln School, this isn't me. Yet.

Thank you, oh thank you, Lincoln School in Spring Valley, Illinois! Your superb and inspiring decision has stopped me, for the moment at least, from seeking species reassignment surgery. My membership in the human race has been an embarrassment to be of late, and I had been seeking alternatives. You give me hope.

Spring Valley’s Lincoln School gymnasium held a day of appreciation this week for custodian Edward “Red” Nestler,  88, who will retire on June 30. To his surprise, Red did not receive just a free lunch, or a watch, or a jacket, or a plaque in appreciation and commemoration of his many years with the school, a journey that began when he was a student there in the 1930s. On his “day,” Red learned that the school board, responding to a petition from students and staff, had voted to name the school gymnasium in his honor. Continue reading