Secretly Falling in Love: America's Love Affair with Controlling the Hearts and Minds of Public School Teachers

By Shotwell, Kristin D. | Journal of Law and Education, January 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Secretly Falling in Love: America's Love Affair with Controlling the Hearts and Minds of Public School Teachers

Shotwell, Kristin D., Journal of Law and Education


American schools began as Protestant institutions' and for many decades, teaching was almost exclusively a female profession.2 The schools' Christian origins, rigid gender roles, and obsolete legal doctrines combined to create a stringent moral code for teachers that regulated highly personal aspects of a teacher's private conduct.3 For instance, a typical early twentieth century teaching contract forbade female teachers from riding in cars with men who were not their relatives, secretly marrying, or falling in love.4

The history of American schools is largely a history of a Protestant institution.5 While modern schools are increasingly secular, the Protestant influences persist. Major curriculum and student conduct battles were fought in the last century so that now, any hint of religion is regarded as suspicious in public schools.6 However, Judeo-Christian standards of moral conduct have continued to control the private lives of public school teachers.

For instance, recently, a Florida teacher started his class by performing a thirty-second magic trick.7 He thought it would be a good way to get the students' attention, but he was discharged after parents accused him of "wizardry."8 In Arizona, a local news station aired a segment encouraging parents to conduct their own cyber-sleuthing to discover as much as possible about the private lives of their children's teachers.9

In 1890, when modern technology was in its infancy, Justice Brandeis cautioned that "numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that 'what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.'"10 But respect for teachers' privacy has lagged behind respect for other citizens' privacy because of the long history of community-prescribed conduct and identity for teachers. And today, communities can monitor their teachers in infinite ways.

Recent technological advances like the Internet have ushered in a new era of public scrutiny of the private lives of school teachers, marked by the ease of obtaining information. Now teachers are facing renewed intrusions into their private lives from parents and community members seeking to monitor their private, off-duty conduct through the use of the social networking web sites, online public records, and drug testing requirements.11

Justifying encroachment on teachers' privacy rights because teachers are expected to act as role models is not only an historical problem. Even in this era of increasing recognition of individual liberty and privacy,12 the public continually circumscribes teachers' private conduct as new social problems manifest in public schools.13

This article explores restrictions on teachers' lives in the historical context of American public schools as religious institutions created to inculcate children with Christian values, teaching as an historically female profession, and America's information-addicted culture in which citizens have come to demand, in fact, feel entitled to increasing amounts of information about teachers' private conduct.

Section II offers an historical perspective on how the Protestant foundation of American public schools, the feminization of teaching, and women's lack of legal identity contributed to a stringent moral code for teachers, which regulated many aspects of their private lives. Section III discusses the Morrison v. State Board of Education nexus requirement that mandates disciplinary agencies make a fitness-to-teach determination before discharging teachers for immoral conduct. Section IV argues that courts have not lived up to the promise Morrison offered, especially when the notoriety of the teachers' alleged conduct satisfies the nexus requirement. Section V argues that continuing to allow community control over teachers' private lives hinders legitimate pedagogical goals of teaching tolerance in our increasingly secular and pluralistic society and puts schools officials at risk of violating teachers' constitutional rights.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Secretly Falling in Love: America's Love Affair with Controlling the Hearts and Minds of Public School Teachers


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?