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Teaching Contempt for Rules

Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:30 PM Comments (39)

It's never happy times when my tiny hometown makes national news. Matt Drudge doesn't pick up the story of a really successful chili cook off in Broad St. Park, you know? Nothing really awful happened in the story he did run -- just something so stupid that it makes me remember why I now live here instead of there. 
 
First, a little background. Three weeks ago, Christopher LeBlanc, a young male math teacher, was arrested for having sex with a fourteen-year-old student in the classroom. That's not what made national news, though. The headline that made the Drudge Report was about a different teacher, a long-term substitute, quit after decades of working for the school district, rather than unfriend her students on Facebook. 

It has been a long-term policy of the school that staff and students shouldn't be Facebook friends, or post pictures of students on their Facebook page. According to the superintendent, 

"being a caring, lovely woman doesn't give you immunity to ignore a school board policy that's designed to protect everyone ... [S]he's friending students and it's very sincere, but other persons have access to that person as well, so that interpersonal friendship is opening it up to many other people."

[...]

"In essence, we told her if you cannot comply with school board policy, you cannot work for us. That means we're not going to call her anymore."

He said LeBlanc's arrest has made school personnel more sensitive to keeping appropriate professional boundaries.

"After the LeBlanc matter, everyone was much more sensitive to what has been in place for some time," he said.

The teacher was told to unfriend her current students four years ago, which she did not do. The superintendent, who came on board two years ago, reminded her that she was expected to adhere to school policy. Instead, she resigned. Predictably, students protested and walked out; another staff member quit in solidarity; and her Facebook page has been flooded with a viscous river of lamentation. Unfair! Mean! They suck! Nazis!
 
On her Facebook page, she speaks of being a free spirit, of marching to a different drummer, of "being true to her own truth," of "eliminating fear."  She quotes Khalil Gibran and Baba Ram Dass. And Thomas Aquinas (that whirring sound you hear is that last fellow, spinning in his grave). All because she worked for an employer which had rules, which she did not feel like following.
 
So, here's the problem. You may agree or disagree with the school's Facebook policy, but it is the policy, and it applies to everyone who wants to work there.  She's a teacher. She's supposed to be an authority figure, and as such, she is supposed to, you know, follow the rules. If she thinks they are unjust, she is supposed to be mature enough (she is 79 years old!) to go to the administration and push for change. At very least, if she fancies herself some sort of heroine of civil disobedience, she is supposed to do what people do when they commit civil disobedience, and that is to take the consequences. Instead, she's going on Matt Lauer and allowing people to miss school, even quit their jobs in support of her. Because she believes in love, or something.
 
Why do I bring this up in a Catholic publication? Because this teacher is not alone, and people like her have done an excellent job in educating at least two or three generations of people in the lesson of autonomy above all.  It's a trivial thing when some self-important substitute teacher makes a to-do about Facebook friends. It's a less trivial thing when those children she's taught try to get their first job, and chafe and scream when their boss expects them to show up on time, or fill out the time card properly, or not be rude to customers. It's a less trivial thing when the children she's taught are in charge of corporations, and have no qualms about ignoring environmental regulations, or reporting financial records accurately  And it's less of a trivial thing when the children she's taught hear that God has rules for us -- and they've been trained to think, "I'm a free spirit! I believe in love! I march to my own drum!" And over the cliff they go.

So let's go through this one more time.  How are we supposed to respond when someone gives us rules to follow?

Questioning the justness of rules as a matter of course? Fine.

Endlessly questioning them and never arriving at an answer, or always arriving at the answer that makes life easy for yourself? Not fine.

Mindlessly following authority just because it's authority? Bad.

Mindlessly questioning authority just because it's authority? Also bad.

Protesting unjust rules? Good.

Protesting reasonable rules that happen to be inconvenient to you? Bad.

Taking the consequences for protesting unjust rules? Good. 

Knuckling under to unjust rules that hurt people? Bad.

Making a big, dramatic fuss about rules which may or may not be reasonable, and assuming you don't have to follow them because you are special? Nauseatingly bad.

Encouraging young people to protest and carry on and draw attention to themselves and make everything personal? Worst. Teacher. Ever.

I don't know a single darn thing about this teacher, besides what she's quoted as saying.  Apparently she's well-known and beloved in the school that I attended for four years, but she doesn't even look familiar to me. But based on how she's behaved over this trivial matter, I'm glad she's gone. Now, how do we go about firing everyone who thinks just like her?  Oh, dear.

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About Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher
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Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and nine children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.