One of the enduring myths about public education is that the ranks of public schoolteachers are filled with socialists who are doing their best to indoctrinate impressionable children and turn them into godless tree-huggers who will undermine traditional American values, prey on unsuspecting children for immoral purposes, and, even worse, join the Democratic Party.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Classroom teachers are a reflection of their communities. During lunch time this past school year, I listened to the pronouncements of Rush Limbaugh coming from the teacher in the next room. Another teacher down the hall made it clear that he believes Osama bin Laden was killed so that President Obama could be re-elected. (Though if that were the purpose, the president might have considered waiting another year.)
I know teachers who range from radical left to the right of Sean Hannity, and despite those who insist otherwise, the vast majority make no effort to sway students to one political belief or another or sway them into immoral and illegal relationships.
Nevertheless, the myth persists, and that has made it much easier to teachers to become one of three natural targets for state legislatures.
During the past two years, at the same time they were loudly proclaiming that finding jobs was the number one priority, state legislators filed one bill after another targeting the three kinds of reprehensible individuals who apparently are the plague of decent society -- drunk drivers, sex offenders, and classroom teachers.
One of the bills that passed in Missouri during the past legislative session, SB 54, the so-called Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, outlaws teachers and students being "friends" on Facebook or other social networking sites.
It is only a small section of the bill, buried neatly toward the end, but in the spirit of protecting children from those evil classroom teachers, Mrs. Cunningham, the same legislator who showed her compassion for children this session by sponsoring a bill that would repeal child labor laws, fosters the notion that the only way a teacher can be a "friend" to a student is through some sort of sick sexual social-network stalking.
It also continued the now honored process among legislators of labeling teachers as perverts whose sole purpose in earning teaching degrees was to gain an invitation to a place where children are assembled.
And now the same political party, which each year gives lip service to keeping big government out of our lives, has an open door to continue the assault on teachers' reputations.
The bill does not mention private e-mail communications, telephone calls, or text messages.
As we have seen time after time, our legislators are never satisfied. About 18 months ago, when this bill was being discussed during the 2010 session, I wrote the following possible steps that could be followed by Mrs. Cunningham or other elected officials.
- Teachers could be prevented from going to movies which might be attended by a younger audience. After all, this would provide ample opportunity for a teacher and student to sneak away during the movie or sit by each other.
- Teachers should not be allowed to live within a certain distance of any house in which underage children are living. Let's cut down the access.
- Teachers must not have listed telephone numbers, since this provides them with unlimited chances to have conversations with young ones.
- Signs need to be placed in teachers' yards warning parents and children that someone Jane Cunningham considers to be unworthy lives only a few feet away.
- An 800 number should be created to call if the person who is driving my car ever waves at a student or says hello.
All of that seems ridiculous, but so did this Facebook bill just a couple of months ago.
Classroom teachers' only consolation is that our last legislative session could have been much worse.
Mrs. Cunningham also sponsored a bill which would have eliminated teacher tenure and mandated a four-tier pay scale, primarily based on standardized tests, with the highest tier paid 60 percent more than those on the next level.
That will be brought up next year, when the Missouri legislature once more targets its Axis of Evil -- drunk drivers, sex offenders, and above all, classroom teachers.
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