Thursday, September 30, 2010

Naughty teacher?

New York is all aflutter at the fact that former sex worker Melissa Petro revealed her shocking past on-line just after receiving tenure.

This little bit of excitement suggests a panoply of possible responses, here are some:

1) I thought New York was a rough-and-tumble bastion of secularism, not rural Alabama. Though I suppose this kerfuffle is of a piece with the resistance to the "mosque" near the World Trade Center site. Both are narrow-minded and illiberal.

2) New York has many thousands of teachers. Based on published estimates, probably two percent or so of the female teachers have had sex for money at some point. One could round this up on the grounds that New York is not rural Alabama, or round it down on the grounds that college graduates are less likely to have sex for money (do we know this?) but in any case Melissa Petro has dozens, if not hundreds of compatriots in the NY public school teaching corps. Has NYC gone to hell as a result? Are students setting up brothels during recess? Maybe this is not really a very big deal after all.

3) Sex work is legal in most developed countries. Maybe it should be here too?

4) Maybe the real issue is Melissa's highlighting of the lack of any rational justification for tenure for primary and secondary teachers. More broadly, if you have a system with tenure, Melissa's timing is clearly the optimal one. In academia, in my experience people who have gamed the tenure system by successfully concealing their type prior to tenure stop doing research immediately after getting tenure. Why wouldn't they?

5) In what sense is it worse for children to have a former sex worker as a teacher compared to, say, a teacher union organizer? I had a math teacher in junior high who broke her arm [sic] banging it on the car of a substitute teacher hired during a strike. Did she provide a good example to her students? Certainly she did not provide a good example of the life of the mind and the value of resolving disputes non-violently. Melissa, in contrast, provides a fine example of not paying attention to stupid laws and also of honesty.

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