When we were kids, the teacher’s desk was a fearsome island, a place you didn’t approach unless you absolutely had to.
Clearly, things have changed.
Take what happened when a South Carolina high school teacher left her cell phone on her desk last week to, she says, do her hall monitoring duties for a few minutes.
That phone was swiped by a 16-year-old male student, who then opened her photo library, went through the teacher’s photos, found a picture of her nude that she had taken for her husband (as she would later freely admit) for Valentine’s Day. The student took a snapshot of that photo with his phone, then sent it around to anyone and everyone he chose.
According to the teacher in an interview with a South Carolina CBS affiliate, that student later told her, “Your day of reckoning is coming.”
Now, I would like to state, proudly, how old I am. I am old enough that 1) If I took something from my teacher’s desk 2) If I dared to leaf through it 3) If I ever uttered the words, “Your day of reckoning is coming” to ANY ADULT IN THE WORLD — my day of reckoning would have already arrived.
I would have been thrown out of school, no questions asked, which would not have mattered, since my parents would have grounded me for life.
Instead, last week, the only day of reckoning was for the teacher, a 13-year veteran named Leigh Anne Arthur. Thanks to this kid’s antics, she was pressured to resign, she said.
And, until Friday, after the public outcry had grown loud, the student had not been punished or charged.
Like I said, things have changed.
Wrong person being blamed
The interim superintendent of the Union County School District, David Eubanks, seemed to blame Arthur, the teacher, far more than he blamed the student. He called the photo “inappropriate material,” claimed she wasn’t where she was supposed to be during the four-minute break between classes and criticized her for not having the phone locked with a passcode.
Wow. And if someone leaves keys in a car, is it all clear for his students to go joyriding? I have read this story a hundred times and for the life of me can’t figure out what has happened to common sense and ethics.
While I might not applaud a teacher taking a nude selfie for her husband, that’s not my business. There is still no denying the student took her phone. No denying he went through her photos. No denying he took a picture of her racy but private image. No denying he sent it to others.
But SHE is out?
Yep. Not only that. But the superintendent actually suggested to a news outlet that Arthur, 33, may have been guilty of corrupting a minor.
Let me break some news to the man: if a 16-year-old knows how to that rapidly find someone else’s photos on someone else’s phone, I’m pretty sure he has found access to a lot worse.
Finally, on Friday, the teen was charged with violating the state’s computer crime act and aggravated voyeurism. You’d think, if authorities came to that conclusion in less than a week, the school might have seen it coming and not acted as if this was so completely the teacher’s fault.
Instead, you have the superintendent’s statement to the media: “One error ... by a teacher, has and will affect the lives of many.”
A teacher error? That’s how you sum it up?
Common sense overlooked
But this is the age we live in, when schools are more worried about lawsuits and political correctness than teaching things that truly matter. Like privacy, or respecting others’ dignity, or, failing that, their property.
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Late last week, a group of students started a petition to get Arthur’s job back, claiming she was a fine teacher (she taught mechatronics — mechanical and electrical engineering and computer programming) and that she was a victim of “a blatant attack on her privacy.”
This proves that certain South Carolina kids are already smarter than the school that’s trying to teach them.
Arthur, for her part, isn’t sure she wants to come back. She claims she has already received reprints of her personal photos in her home mailbox with a threatening note.
And then there are her bosses, including the tone-deaf superintendent who is still arguing that she let students use her phone before — as if that excuses stealing private photos and sending them to the world.
Amazingly, Arthur herself has already forgiven the student who violated so many things we never would have considered in the old days, when a teacher’s desk was No Man’s Land.
“He’s 16,” she told an NBC affiliate. “He’s going to make stupid decisions. We all made stupid decisions at 16.”
Some, like this school system, haven’t stopped.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for The Detroit Free Press where this column first appeared.Follow Mitch Albom on Twitter: @MitchAlbom