First, there’s the middle school principal in Geneva, Illinois, who thinks it’s OK to force students to allow him to rummage around in their Facebook accounts. This sort of Big Brotherism is problematic enough when it’s done to a job-seeker, but at least there the victim is an adult, and has the right to tell the meddlesome HR person to perform an act best suited to especially limber hermaphrodites. Adolescent kids whose fondest desire is just to make it through the 7th grade don’t have the luxury of just walking out.
Here’s the story: Pam Broviak’s daughter attends Geneva Middle School South. According to Broviak’s blog piece on the incident [obvious typos corrected]:
It started because a teacher heard another student spreading rumors about my daughter-–all of it unrelated to school and nothing against the law. So the school called in my daughter to demand to know if the rumors were true. This went on for some days, without my knowledge, and culminated in them asking her to open her Facebook account to them which she did. Then the vice principal called me to demand I come to the school immediately to read through her private messages. At the time I was out of town for work and could not make it back until later that night. She had obviously kept the account open long after my daughter had left and told me she would keep it open until I got there. She was almost hysterical about the whole situation also demanding I punish my daughter for what she had allegedly done. …Gentle Reader, Curmie knows better than to form an opinion with only one side of the argument expressed. But he also knows creepy when he sees it.
Of course I found out when I got home that this had taken a huge toll on my daughter who ended up crying through most of the rest of the day and therefore missed most of her classes. She was embarrassed and very upset. Particularly so because their line of questioning had also been sexual in nature with them demanding she share with them everything she had done sexually. In this day and age, I just cannot imagine how a school adminstrator could confront a 13-year old girl and demand to know the extent of her sexual experience. …
So the next day, I spoke with the principal.... He explained that the reason they had to interrogate my daughter was because the punishment for spreading rumors is different depending on if the rumor is true or not. So he insisted on his need to conduct an investigation into the truth each time they hear a rumor about a child. …
I told him not to pry into the private lives of my children. And he said he cannot do that-–it is his obligation to look out for the morals and ethics of the children at his school. And if he feels they are not leading a moral life (obviously according to his standards), he is going to launch an investigation. And only if he finds they are in fact exhibiting poor behavior will he contact parents. And even then he said he doesn't like contacting parents because most kids don't want their parents to know anything and would rather just talk to him.
Assuming Ms. Broviak’s account to be accurate, here’s what we’ve got. A 13-year-old girl is the subject of rumors, apparently about sex. The principal, rather than squelching the rumors (or admitting that he’s unlikely to be able to do so), uses them as an excuse to pry into this girl’s private life. Sorry, sir, that’s not due diligence; that’s prurience. It is not the principal’s job to snoop into the morals or ethics of his students, certainly not unless there is a provable and direct link to the efficient functioning of the school, and certainly not without parental knowledge. And if a misbehaving student doesn’t want his/her parents to know, that’s all the more reason to call them in.
Moreover, the way to encourage high ethical standards amongst one’s students is most assuredly not to adopt an unethical and (literally and figuratively) unwarranted subterfuge to access personal information not only about them, but about their friends, families, and acquaintances, as well. That, sir, is NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.
Neither the blog piece nor the MSNBC article by Bob Sullivan where I first heard about this case refers to the principal by name. I’m guessing that it’s Terry Bleau, who is indicated as such on the school web page. That would certainly make sense. Click on his name on that page and you get his autobiographical blurb, which includes the following: “I am a devoted family man.” Those of you, Gentle Readers, who know me personally have probably heard me say, “If you have to tell me, it ain’t so.” If you have to tell me you worked hard on that project, you didn’t. If you have to tell your cast that you’re in charge of a rehearsal, you aren’t. If you have to tell me you’re a devoted family man… well, you get the idea.
But if the principal isn’t identified, the superintendent is: one Kent Mutchler. He seems indignant about the suggestion that school officials demand students’ passwords. “Nay!,” quoth he, “we simply demand that students sign into their accounts and then we don’t close out of their private affairs until we get our voyeuristic little rocks off.” OK, so maybe that’s not a direct quote.
Mutchler also disputes Broviak’s claim that this kind of amoral intrusion is common. “It happens a half-dozen to a dozen times per year.” Let’s see, that’s roughly once a month, figuring nine as the average between the two extremes mentioned, and a school year lasting about that many months. That doesn’t strike me as remarkably rare, even if we believe him. But let’s look at it another way. The population of Geneva is 24,391, as of July 2009. The population of the country at that time was 306,771,500, or roughly 12,577 times as big. So, if there’s one such incident per month in Geneva, and if Geneva is average, that means there are over 12,500 invasions of students’ privacy happening somewhere in the country each month of the school year. The average school day is about seven hours, with maybe 22 or so days of school in an average month. Let’s say 150 hours a month of school being in session.
Uh oh. This is looking unpleasant. That makes 83 such events per hour. In other words, either Geneva schools aren’t normative, after all, or there is some creep in a school administration somewhere in the country demanding access to personal information from students in this particular manner about every 43 seconds that classes are underway. Sure doesn’t sound “very rare” to me. Wanna know something else that’s all too common? Idiots in charge of schools.
For further proof of this assertion, we turn to Tooele, Utah. There, the blogger known as “adult onset atheist” has a 14-year-old daughter who attends one of the local junior highs. On Wednesday, he was called to the school, where his daughter has apparently committed some grievous offense against humanity. I’ll let him tell it:
The office has large windows so that the student is on display to their peers throughout the interminable wait time. The bell rings and hundreds of students rush past the offender-on-display; some linger long enough to make obscene gestures. There are some sociopaths that would revel in the attention, but in most adolescent minds this is cruel and unusual punishment.Yes, really. I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but I, for one, would be immensely comforted to believe that 20% of the adolescent girls in the country dressed as appropriately. The outfit is attractive, conservative, and appears comfortable without being scuzzy. If I had a 14-year-old daughter, I’d want her to dress like that to go to school.
What had AYD done to deserve this punishment? Was it some valiant gesture of defiance against a fascist dehumanizing system, or was their [sic.] cruelty and torture involved? I found it hard to picture AYD engaged (or at least being caught) in either of these types of actions, but I was hoping for the first. …
After spinning up the possibilities in my mind I was not prepared for the actual nature of her offense. AYD was dressed inappropriately. I am not the best judge of “appropriate” dress for a 14-year-old girl. I try, but it is a skill I have no intention of using for very long. I tried to circumvent my need for it at all by suggesting that both AOD and AYD wear hospital scrubs till they graduate the 12th grade, but that was apparently “not happening”. I know that if I dressed myself from AYD's wardrobe it would be wildly inappropriate regardless of what I chose. Now my lack of attention had forced AYD into a life of crime. It is always the parents’ fault.
Luckily I was working at home, so I took a camera and rushed over to the junior high school with some dungarees and a sack-like shirt for AYD to change into. This is a picture of her in the school's front office, and this is the apparently inappropriate outfit she was wearing.
But… erm… her skirt was apparently ½” too short. Actually, no. No, it wasn’t. If there’s a rule that says it was, then perhaps the dress code should have been revised at least once since 1962. Moreover, AOA says the yearbook (coincidentally distributed that very day) “had many photos of students with much higher hems on their skirts or pants. The yearbook photos raise the issue of selective enforcement.” More to the point, for that outfit to be regarded as provocative, we’d have to be looking at an intentionally deceptive view of a get-up in which there’s really no back to the skirt and the girl’s butt is hanging out. Why do I not think that’s the case?
The more trenchant issue, though, is this: given the fact that the skirt is obviously not provocative at all (unlike a good share of what teen-age girls wear these days), what kind of perv does it take to look at it long enough and hard enough to start calculating hem lengths to the half-inch? Here’s AOA, again [a couple of obvious typos corrected]:
I began to think: “luckily the school administration can look at AYD and see her as a provocative female,” but then I thought… no… that is extremely creepy. I tried to think: “luckily the school administration can look at AYD through the eyes of hormone addled teenage boys to see her as provocative,” but then I thought… no… that is weird-creepy.Beneath AOA’s snark is the legitimate concern of a good father. Who is this principal, and WHAT IS HIS PROBLEM?
So I began to imagine some teacher thinking inappropriate things about AYD, and she being punished for it. Imagine sitting in a class where you knew the teacher was literally looking through your clothing to see you as a provocateur? I began wondering if transferring her to a new class in the last two weeks of school would do more harm than good.
It turns out that the principal himself had personally identified her as inappropriately dressed. He had walked up to her during lunchtime and identified her crime where nobody else could. I can’t help but think that the principal’s action creates an unhealthy atmosphere in his school. What does it say to the teachers who had her in class earlier in the day, and not noticed her inappropriate dress? Will there be punitive actions taken against the teachers who could not look at my daughter with perversion in their eyes?
Is AYD safe?
As I’ve said, I don’t want to leap to conclusions about either of these cases. In one or both, we may be hearing about events only as interpreted by a parent who is, quite reasonably, not the most objective of observers. But based on what is available to us right now, both of these principals seem to be struggling to keep their minds on their real jobs. Both seem to have just a liiiiiiittle too much interest in the sexuality of their adolescent female charges. In one case, it’s a perverse desire to intrude into their private lives; in the other, it’s a rather unsettling if not fetishistic determination that an outfit the rest of us would consider positively demure is somehow arousing.
I posted the latter story on the CC Facebook page, and got the suggestion of a special Creepiness Curmie award. I must say, it’s kind of disturbing to get two nominees on the same day.