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Education Matters: Protecting children's and adults' innocence

October 08, 2010|By Dan Kimber

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

There was an interesting article in The Times last week about a flaw in California's child-abuse reporting system. It seems that the wrongly accused remain listed as reported child abusers, and the state has established no appeals procedure. The original "abuse reports" are used for employment screening, and there is no way for the innocent party to contest the report.

Looking back over my years as a teacher, I think of the many warnings and precautions that we teachers were given to avoid situations that may invite charges of impropriety. I hear from my colleagues that that message has been once again passed along to teachers to avoid any situations (teacher's assistants assigned during a teacher's preparation period, one-on-one tutoring/counseling after school) that may create a "compromising situation."

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I understand this completely. I raised two daughters, and I am fairly certain about what punishment I would have favored for anyone who violated their innocence. Life in prison seems about right, and in the case of an early release for a convicted molester, I would not be opposed to chemical castration. There is no crime, in my opinion, that is more despicable than child molestation.

That being said, let me try to address another issue that is an unfortunate consequence of the first, and one that teachers, male teachers especially, are well aware of. When an accusation is made, it is often followed by a presumption of guilt, and due process of law is sometimes compromised. Our instincts are naturally to protect and defend defenseless children. It is a measure of a civilized society.

But I sometimes wonder whether those instincts end up causing another kind of injury, letting our apprehensions turn to a general mistrust, or our worst fears lead to unwarranted accusations. Telling teachers to avoid situations where he/she might be alone with a student is, on the one hand, erring on the side of caution. On the other, however, it is an overreaction to the foul deeds of a relatively small number of people, and it ends up casting a broad blanket of suspicion onto all who come into contact with children.

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