Perhaps the least surprising aspect of this story is that the N&O had to shut down comments on it because they became so abusive:
A Wake County middle-school teacher may be fired after she and her friends made caustic remarks on a Facebook page about her students, the South and Christianity.
Melissa Hussain, an eighth-grade science teacher at West Lake Middle School in southern Wake County, was suspended with pay Friday while investigators review her case, according to Greg Thomas, a Wake schools spokesman. The suspension came after some of Hussain’s students and their parents objected to comments on her Facebook page, many revolving around her interaction with Christian students.
Hussain wrote on the social-networking site that it was a “hate crime” that students anonymously left a Bible on her desk, and she told how she “was able to shame her kids” over the incident. Her Facebook page included comments from friends about “ignorant southern rednecks,” and one commenter suggested Hussain retaliate by bringing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster to class with a swastika drawn on the NASCAR driver’s forehead.
“I don’t defend what the kids were doing,” said Murray Inman, a parent of one of Hussain’s students. “I just couldn’t imagine an educator, or a group of educators, engaging in this kind of dialogue about kids.”
Hussain did not return calls and e-mail messages Monday.
The Wake district doesn’t have a policy on the use of social networking sites, Thomas said. But the district, North Carolina’s largest, does have a code of ethics for employees that the school spokesman says applies to social networking. The code says employees’ conduct “should be such as to protect both the person’s integrity and/or reputation and that of the school system.”
Teachers across the nation have been suspended or fired because of questionable material posted on their Facebook pages and other online social networking sites.
- The first rule of blogging about the day job is don’t blog about the day job. What the teacher did was stupid.
- The second rule of blogging about the day job is don’t blog about the day job (unless blogging about the day job is part of your day job).
- Commenters on one’s Web site/Facebook page can and will say all manner of stupid, objectionable stuff. While I would argue that one may have a moral obligation in some cases to take down such comments, I wouldn’t argue that one has any legal (or regulatory) obligation to, and I sure wouldn’t fire someone for comments someone else posted. In other words, whatever was posted in response to the teacher’s postings ought to be irrelevant for purposes of this discussion.
- One irony about this case is that under current First Amendment law, government employees and non-government employees have roughly equivalent levels of freedom and risk with regard to speech about their respective employers, but the practical result is that government employees have less protection under the First Amendment itself, which protects citizens from government interference in their speech, than do private-sector employees.
- The district’s employee code of conduct says employee conduct “should be such as to protect both the person’s integrity and/or reputation and that of the school system.” To the extent that this phrase even has any meaning, that meaning is BS. The school system cares only about its own reputation, and it cares about the employee’s reputation only to the extent that it is perceived to reflect upon the school system’s reputation. Moreover, who decides what actions do or do not damage one’s integrity or reputation? If, say, a war criminal like Dick Cheney claimed that I had a lousy reputation and no integrity for criticizing him, I would interpret that as proof that I had an outstanding reputation and a great deal of integrity, and so would many other people. I am not defending the teacher’s postings in this particular case; I’m saying that the code of conduct appears to be meaningless and therefore useless and irrelevant to this case.
- If Murray Inman can’t imagine teachers “engaging in this kind of dialogue about kids,” then Murray Inman isn’t very imaginative. Everybody in every line of work imaginable says disparaging things about his/her customers from time to time, and teachers are not immune. If Inman meant he couldn’t imagine anyone would do so publicly, well, all I can say is that no level of human stupidity should be unimaginable; as a species, our capacity for Teh Stoopid approaches infinity. Some stupidity is fatal, and evolution is our friend in this regard, but it’s a long, slow process.
- What the teacher did was stupid. It bears repeating.
- What the children did was both stupid and cruel, which is worse than stupid alone even allowing for the fact that we’re talking about kids. These are middle-schoolers, not kindergartners.
- What the parents who are defending their kids’ behavior and arguing for punishment for the teacher are doing is less teaching the teacher that actions have consequences, although it is that, than teaching their children that stupid, cruel behavior can and should be rewarded.