Red cups = red flags

And I would bet the following scenario that happened a year or two ago in my neighborhood at a public high school has happened at others: the on-line record of a student’s out-of-school activity was used as evidence of a breach of conduct rules. “Hey, what’s our star running back doing with that red cup?”

In this socially-mediated age, it came to the attention of school administrators that some student athletes were on Facebook/myspace pages drinking out of red cups (vehicles of corruption) and acting exhuberant and possibly inebriated. The consequence was suspension from classes and disqualification (athletes had to sit out a portion of their seasons).

But how fair is it to assume that the red cup holds illegal beverages? And should it not be taken into account that the evidence was provided to the investigators by students at competitor schools, whose motive would be to make our star players sit out? These questions perplexed administrators in my school, and I’m sure others have had to redraw and re-articulate the lines they expect students to live by. And that’s why we pay administrator’s more–they have to maintain the fortress.

Now comes a new administrative pickle: students have found and are passing around to fellow students images or video depicting certain members of the faculty at some wedding reception, a public ceremony at which inebriation and exhuberance are somewhat expected. “Somewhat expected,” unless you’re a school teacher. We expect our teachers to be morally above reproach, nay, beyond the mere suggestion that a trusted steward of our young could ever be in high spirits–who knows: dancing or singing or laughing out loud where anyone could see him/her. Seeing his/her teacher on the dancefloor, junior gets confused and loses respect for his teacher. No, goes the conventional argument, the proper place for a teacher is supervising the craziness, and making sure it doesn’t get too out of hand.

On a more progressive side, some argue that a teacher needs to be able to have a personal life, should be allowed to have a full range of cultural experience, even participation in one of the sanctioned Dionysian ceremonies we allow doctors, lawyers, and other, ahem, “professionals.” We have a society that is more open and accepting than that of our grandparents. We need to throw away the old “schoolmarm” stereotypes we have of teachers, a supposition that made teaching a job for spinsters only–when women married, they were disqualified for the work. Even a generation ago, they were kept out of the building (and their jobs) when their pregnancies would become obvious.

Others present the conservative argument which is I think most likely going to be the premise for inititial administrative response. Teachers and clergymen/women are traditionally expected to represent moral “pillars” of the community. And no one wants a pillar that shimmies on a dancefloor. Ministers and teachers are sort of expected to mute any “out of control” impulses they may have, or at least conceal them from their clients. Teachers and minsters should be interesting in the pulpit or at the lectern, but boring when away from the church or school building.

When a minister is discovered to be Rev. Dimmesdale, a sinner, he loses his status, is soon “de-frocked.” And when a teacher is discovered by sleuthing students to be cavorting in legal but possibly “unbecoming” activities on the internet, s/he may–for some students–lose what some call “moral authority” in his/her classroom. His/her “other life” as a dancing, laughing, singing human being (as a full human being, it may be said, in touch with Apollonian and Dionysian elements of his/her sel) becomes a hindrance to the child’s educational processing.

If nothing else, the issue raises some interesting questions. For instance, if we allow that teachers’ moral suasion exists, should we hold all teachers equally responsible, given the developmental age of students? I mean, certainly it is more damaging to the third grader if Miss Jones is waving a red cup and dancing the macarana at a wedding reception than it should be a high school sophomore, no?

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