|Madonna in Sorrow or The Perfect Teacher?
In another stunning defeat for free speech and privacy, the California Commission on Professional Competence (CPC) has upheld the dismissal of Stacie Halas, finding her “unfit” to teach 8th-grade science because she had acted in pornographic films in the past, the Los Angeles Times recently reported. (An East Coast appellate court just ruled that a school could fire a teacher for a Facebook posting)
The CPC argued that her pornographic past prevented her from being a good role model in the present. Even though she made the films from 2005-2006, before she was employed as a teacher, “the continued availability of the films will hamper her ability to be an effective teacher,” according to Judge Julie Cabos-Owen. The commission also took offense at her “dishonesty” and her failure to convince them of her “redemption.”
This ruling (along with the recent ruling against Jennifer O’Brian, for her Facebook posting) is chilling to all teachers and anyone who hopes to enter the teaching profession. While there is a broad public consensus that teachers should be good role models for their students, there is no consensus about what this actually means. A teacher can be accused of being a poor role model for any number of protected actions, including having tattoos, being an atheist, belonging to the wrong political organization, or for questioning the authority of her principal, superintendent or Arne Duncan. Any of these could become a distraction in the classroom (if the teacher lacks the skill or experience to prevent it), but none of them (including a past experience in pornography) necessarily prevents a teacher from doing a good job.
Another disturbing aspect to her firing is that it was in response to a past behavior that occurred well before she entered the teaching profession, that had no direct relevance to her ability to teach, and that she shows no sign of doing again. Considering how easy it now is to dredge up a person’s history on the internet, one can imagine all sorts of other “distracting” past behaviors that could ruin a teacher’s career (e.g., high school or college photos of drunkenness or nudity, arrests for civil disobedience, addiction).
The ruling is indicative of the Madonna/whore schizophrenia society has around teaching. Despite the fact that teachers can now stay on the job when pregnant and usually even when gay or living in sin, they are still expected to live lives of moral perfection, even when outside of school and in the privacy of their own homes. They should not drink or do drugs, perform in or watch pornography, fight, swear, scream or get angry. In short, teachers are not permitted the luxury of being human.
The ruling is moralistic—a product of adults’ discomfort with sexuality, not Halas’ competence in the classroom. It should be remembered that her students are not old enough to legally access her videos and are unlikely to actually see their teacher nude (though their parent might be scouring the internet this very moment). It is precisely people’s moralism that has made it a distraction by turning an insignificant part of her past into a maelstrom and portraying her behavior as something terribly shameful.
Even her lawyer has been complicit in this moralism, portraying her as a person who made a mistake (i.e., choosing a lucrative but despicable job) out of financial desperation, but who then went on to do something glorious (i.e., become a teacher). According to her attorney, had her district allowed her back on the job, the message to children would have been that one can make a mistake and redeem herself; whereas the ruling against her sends the message that you better not make any mistakes.
However, it is inaccurate to call her past behavior a mistake. She made a rational choice to act in pornographic films. It happened to be one of the quickest ways to help her family out of their financial mess. It is perfectly legal, pays really well, and theoretically harms nobody. Calling it a mistake implies that porn acting is deplorable or unacceptable and that it is preferable to accept low paid, tedious and backbreaking work instead. The message to children (and to teachers) is that one’s material security and wellbeing are subordinate to the need to shelter children from all turpitude, both real and imaginary.
The dishonesty charges stem primarily from her failure to come clean before being hired. Yet had she included her acting career on the job application it is virtually guaranteed that she would never have been hired in the first place, even with a valiant public appeal for redemption. Thus, she was faced with a choice of never becoming a teacher (something she apparently felt was more desirable than porn acting) or being deceitful. Ironically, had she been a prostitute, which is illegal, they likely never would have found out and she would still be teaching today.