Students First

With their responsibility to educate, teachers' dogmas should be kept on short leashes

If a gay Ayn Rand club were to hold some sort of D.C. confab and I covered it, they could well come back and cry foul. While it’s my job to attempt to bury my biases and cover any story fairly, I’ve made my feelings about Rand clear publicly. However I might have covered the gathering, they could point to a column I wrote and argue it would be impossible for me to cover them fairly.

I understand. That’s simply part of the job. Accordingly, if such an event ever came to town, I would recuse myself. I am free to hold my personal beliefs. I’m also aware that they may come into conflict with my job, and I need to have the professionalism and maturity to act responsibly. That’s pretty easy to grasp, and I’m not even terribly clever.

Teachers, on the other hand, should be much smarter than me. I’m not qualified for much more than about an hour’s worth of babysitting, and certainly not dedicating my career to grooming youth to tackle their tomorrows.

Maybe that’s why I’m stumped when a schoolteacher – ”of the year,” no less – thinks it’s appropriate to use a quasi-public forum for a homophobic screed.

That’s what Mount Dora High School’s Jerry Buell did, which is old news by now. I should’ve been able to forget about it. Perhaps his lack of judgment – not the homophobia, to which he is certainly entitled – has stuck in my craw because I was once a closeted high school kid in small-town Florida. I’m sure he has a kid or two just like me in class every semester.

I’ve never been to Mount Dora, Fla., but it always had a sweet resonance with me. Not only is it the highest point in that insanely flat state, but my mom’s first name is Dora. Thanks for pissing on all of that, Jerry. But that was July. Let’s move on.

Nope. Can’t. Turns out there’s another idiot teacher.

Viki Knox, a special ed teacher in Union Township, N.J., also has some need to throw her personal beliefs into the wrong spotlight. Just because it’s fine in your particular church on Sunday, doesn’t mean it’s okay to rant about on Facebook.

Sadly, it seems she’s got company in the LGBT-affirming camp. According to the Christian Examiner, a Fort Worth, Texas, German teacher, Kristopher Franks, had a 14-year-old student suspended for stating that his interpretation of his Christian faith holds that being gay has something to do with morality, and not in a good way.

What’s at issue here is not homophobia. It’s not religious beliefs. It’s not freedom of speech.

This is a matter of common sense, professionalism and what’s best for children.

Common sense should tell these educators that regardless of what they believe, no matter how strongly they believe it, they will have students who believe quite differently. As professionals, they should apply that common sense to their conduct as educators and avoid actions that would put an undue burden on any of their students. Ms. Vick, Mr. Buell, if a student asks you point blank, ”Do you have an opinion about homosexuality?” it’s your job to judge that student’s level of maturity before responding; and then, with caution. Mr. Franks, it’s not your job to punish a student for his or her religious beliefs, assuming they are presented respectfully.

Again, the bottom line is what is best for these young people. Their in-school freedoms aren’t that much different than those of an inmate or a member of the military. They are not free to talk back. You, as educators, have power and authority over students. And if your jobs are in jeopardy, it’s no one’s fault but your own. You’re not being called out for your beliefs, but for your lack of judgment.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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