Education Letter to the Editor

Press Fixation on Sex Abuse Casts a Pall Over Teaching

December 11, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

We tell teacher-candidates at my university not to hug, pat, or even squeeze the hand of a student. Why? Because of the media’s current love affair with stories about sex abuse by teachers.

Education Week recently ran a series of articles from the Associated Press reporting on the “plague” of educators in the United States punished each year for sexual misconduct. The collection of stories, “A Lingering Shame: Sexual Abuse of Students by School Employees,” makes one suspect any teacher, particularly any male teacher, of ulterior motives in wanting to be near children.

One article, “Sex Abuse a Shadow Over U.S. Schools” (Oct. 24, 2007), tells of a system “stacked against victims” and starts by saying that the Associated Press found more than 2,500 cases of such abuse over five years. Many paragraphs later, it breaks this down to 1,801 cases of sexual misconduct in which the victim was a young person, a category that includes students, unidentified youths, family members, and neighbors. It never reports how many cases are multiple transgressions by the same person or if the culprits are noncredentialed substitutes, products of for-profit teacher factories, or graduates of accredited programs.

Actual physical contact was made in 1,297 cases in which the victims were youths, for an average of 259 per year. There are 3 million public school teachers in the United States, so that means possibly as many as 0.00863 percent may be guilty each year, fewer than one out of every 10,000 teachers.

One case is too many, but the delight with which the media smear all teachers with the actions of a minute minority appalls me. The number of young people going into teaching is plummeting. On top of other professional abuse, it now seems necessary to question the moral character of teachers. The average reader must think, “No wonder they take such a crummy job at such low pay, they’re sex perverts.”

Teaching is an honorable profession. Teachers are less likely to violate the trust placed in them than any other identifiable professionals, including doctors, lawyers, police, priests, or, obviously, some reporters.

Paul L. Beare


Kremen School of Education and Human Development

California State University-Fresno

Fresno, Calif.