A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Due Process and Proportionality

In my December 8th post, I expressed my discomfort at the inability of Democrats to distinguish between the misdeeds of Al Franken and Roy Moore. Zephyr Teachout has a piece in this morning’s New York Times that expresses the same concerns and which sketches out a mechanism for due process and proportional responses to inappropriate sexual conduct. She, too may not have all of the answers, she is attempting to lead Democrats to firmer ethical and political ground than our Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Teachout continues to be a sane political voice. It’s a pity she can’t seem to get elected to high public office. 2018 could be her year.

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Democrats’ Miscalculation

In their rush to gain the high moral ground, congressional Democrats appear to be staking out a zero tolerance policy for any sexual misbehavior. They, like too many of the TV talking heads do not seem to be capable of discriminating between the misdeeds of Al Franken and a Roy Moore. This calculated political move carries with it a huge political risk that does not seem to have informed their calculation. It is also a perversion of any meaningful concept of justice and proportional punishment.

For a long time, Democrats have had a very hard time with male voters. I fear that if the current stampede to purge all of our elected male officials perceived to have to have acted inappropriately with women continues, the potential gain of women voters will be more than balanced by the further loss of men who will increasingly see these events as a war on males. Such an outcome will neither permit the evolution of new standards of male behavior nor will it widen the possibilities of legal improvements in the status of women in our society. In the end, there is a real risk that it will simply bring about the elections of more people who are as angry about women’s drive for equality as they are about other planks of the progressive agenda. It also runs the real potential to stall the advance of women in the workplace.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers to the problem of male sexual aggression in the workplace and society. It has been my observation that these aggressive tendencies are distributed on a spectrum, that is, with men displaying various degrees of flirtatious aggressiveness. We ought to be able as a society to reasonably draw lines between the annoying, the threatening and degrading and the criminal manifestations of these tendencies. We ought to also be able to find ways to teach all of our children that no job is worth the sacrifice of one’s self-respect. Above all, we need to find ways to advance our society’s norms of sexual behavior without sacrificing our notions of due process and justice.

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Combating Sexual Abuse

Walk down the halls of any American high school and you can observe to a reasonable degree of certainty the boys who will grow into abusers of women. Over the years I taught, I took dozens of girls aside to let them know that the publically physical behavior of the boys they were attached to was not only not indicative of real affection but was also an ominous sign of a pattern of behavior that tends to grow worse over time. I would try to get girls to understand that physical abuse is not an appropriate price to pay for male attention and the social status that tends to accrue to high school girls who have it.

While our nation is focused on the sexual misbehavior of some of the powerful males in our society, it’s appropriate to think seriously about what we do in our schools to acculturate boys to constrain their impulses and respect the right of girls to be free from undesired, sexually aggressive male behavior. While the misbehavior of the famous and powerful is deeply troubling, it can tend to mask the broad prevalence of violence against women in our society and our failure to as yet come up with an approach to stem it. Surely, if we can observe the budding of this behavior in the boys in our public schools, we are ethically obliged to think through a program to combat it.

I know that some of my readers are fuming at my suggestion of adding one more job to the teaching day. That’s not what I’m about. I’m well aware that the expectations for what teachers are to accomplish in a workday far exceed what time will allow. Rather that suggesting an extra job, I believe the socialization of children central to the mission of public schools. Surely part of that socialization process needs to be the inculcation of appropriate norms of male/female interactions.

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