When Teachers Can’t Compartmentalize

A teacher in Irmo, South Carolina — the same town where Harrison Hopkins last year challenged the school on officially sponsored prayers during the graduation ceremony (Edit: Max Nielson, not Harrison Hopkins; got two different South Carolina cases mixed up in my head after interviewing both of them recently) — seems to have a difficult time separating her ideological views from her job.

South Carolina teacher Laurie Humphrey has been removed from the classroom for a politically charged sign placed in her classroom, WLTX reports.

The Dutch Fork High School social studies teacher in Irmo, S.C., drew complaints from parents and students after displaying a placard that reads, “The road to hell is paved with Democrats” in her government class.

Humphrey is still employed but is not currently teaching. It’s unclear whether she is still being paid as district officials investigate to “make sure the students are taken care of and that we’re fair to the teacher,” Lexington-Richland 5 schools spokesperson Mark Bounds told WLTX.

Humphrey has been an educator for 15 years, spending 11 of those teaching in the area, according to WIS. Bounds tells the station that the district takes the issue seriously and is working to prevent similar future incidents.

She used really poor judgement,” Bounds told WIS. “This teacher’s actions are clear violations of Board policy and the District’s directives… Being a teacher doesn’t take away your rights as a citizen. So, after hours on your own time we encourage teachers, we want them to be politically active, but they shouldn’t do it in a way that makes any student feel uncomfortable.”

Before anyone starts lobbing partisan bombs, this sort of thing isn’t limited to Republicans. Only a few weeks ago a teacher in Philadelphia is reported to have ordered a student to take off a Romney t-shirt and compared the shirt to a KKK member’s sheet. What I don’t understand is why these teachers don’t understand that such behavior is so clearly wrong, not to mention illegal. Teachers certainly have every right to express their political views just like everyone else does, but how can they not separate their ideology from their jobs while they’re in the classroom? It’s the same problem with the many teachers who use their position to proselytize for Christianity, like John Freshwater and innumerable others.

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  • Nepenthe

    What lunacy. Corpses make terrible pavers.

  • xmnr

    Aren’t these people subject to the Hatch Act, or is that only we Feds?


  • Tualha

    Ah, Irmo. Also the same town that invited the Indigo Girls to play at the high school, many years ago, then rescinded the invitation when some irate parents gave the principal a clue about them being gay. There were three towns that did that about the same time, actually, but Irmo was the one where they didn’t try to pretend it was for some other reason. They wore their bigotry proudly there.

  • eric

    What gets me is her 15 years of experience. This implies that either:

    (1) She’s been doing stuff like this a long time, and just got caught, or

    (2) Her understanding of appropriate behavior has actually decreased with time.

    I don’t like either of those implications.

  • In fairness to the teacher in Philly, the Republicans really ARE getting as bad as the old KKK, and they’re less subtle about it these days. Add their equally overt and shameless hostility toward teachers (and the very idea of secular education, for that matter), and it’s amazing more teachers haven’t taken the same stand as this one did.

  • eamick

    Aren’t these people subject to the Hatch Act, or is that only we Feds?

    From what I can find, employees of educational institutions supported in whole or in part by state or local governments are exempt from the Hatch Act.

  • danielkim

    I was once asked about the Christian’s obligation to be consistent with their profession of faith when there is some kind of conflict with their job requirements. The need to show commitment to faith while teaching history, science, etc can lead some to the kinds of actions described here.

    I cited the story in the Old Testament of the prophet Elisha and Naaman, a foreign general. Naaman was healed of leprosy by following the commands of Elisha, and then decided that he would not worship any other god but the God of Israel. Still, he was a general of another country, and so had a conflict to resolve:

    [quote] 2 Kings 5:18-19 (NIV)

    18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

    19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. . . .

    [end quote]

    So Naaman has to enter the temple of Rimmon and assist his king, which includes helping him bow. This causes Naaman also to bow in the temple. It’s part of his job.

    Elisha has no problem with this, and does not even tell Naaman to do anything to inform the king that he is not acting in worship of Rimmon. Elisha basically says: “I know this is part of your job. God is not offended. He knows you pledged to worship Him only. Do your job, it’s OK.”

    This, I think, covers teaching Evolution or whatever. It covers other issues of job-related activities done by believers.

  • The Dutch Fork…

    The sex position?

  • D. C. Sessions

    What I don’t understand is why these teachers don’t understand that such behavior is so clearly wrong, not to mention illegal.

    Because they Serve a Higher Cause, what they do cannot be “wrong.” For many of them who don’t distinguish between “the law” and “morality,” that means that they also don’t see how they could be “illegal.”

    Of course, if they entertain the idea that “the law” can be wrong, then they simply put The Higher Cause (“God’s Law”) above mere legality and feel all the braver and holier.

  • Ben P

    One of my philosophy professors in college had a sign that said “The Road to Hell is paved with good Kantians.”

  • What I don’t understand is why these teachers don’t understand that such behavior is so clearly wrong, not to mention illegal.

    There must be several million teachers, at least, in this country. Out of that multitude, you’re bound to get a few loose screws who do things that make no sense. It’s just statistics. The reason we hear about them is because, of course, they’re teachers, and local news stations eat that stuff up. You don’t hear about the 99.9% who do their jobs correctly.

  • sebloom

    I taught for 35 years in a very conservative area of Indiana…conservative even by Indiana standards. Most of the teachers I worked with were Republicans (and I, of course, was the very obvious misfit!) and many were evangelical Christians. All knew, however, that their religious and political beliefs were their own and, for the most part, they didn’t bring them into the classroom.

    This teacher in this story has obviously lost her professionalism…assuming she ever had it to begin with.

  • iknklast

    I was working for the state of Oklahoma during the 2000 election and recount. Even after Bush was declared the “winner”, there were obnoxious signs, jokes, and cartoons in the break room clearly insulting any and all Democrats (I think there were about 3 of us – Democrats weren’t allowed to work for the State of Oklahoma – thought of course that wasn’t official policy. We hid under our desks). When the management removed all the political nonsense (with snide commentary about it that made it obvious someone had complained and that was the only reason it was coming down), the signs would be back up the next day. This continued for months after the election – I don’t know, it might still be going on today, but I left in June of 2001, so I didn’t see where it ended.

    The law doesn’t bother partisan ideologues, though they would have been all over the law if we had been the ones putting up signs.

  • magistramarla

    I was teaching in Texas during the 2008 election.

    Even though the district’s rules clearly stated that no religious or political messages were to be displayed or sent via the district e-mail, it was totally ignored. The entire campus received “inspirational messages”, prayer requests and religious chain-mail silliness every day, and often it was started by the principal’s secretary or the couselors’ staff, so no one dared to complain. Often those things were sent district-wide.

    Many of the teachers and staff were blatant about their political leanings.

    I was the GSA mentor teacher, and the “minority” students also realized that I was their friend and ally. While I wasn’t blatant about it, the students had a good idea of where I stood on issues. On the day after the election, several students came in my classroom door and happily gave me high-fives, saying “Yes, we did it!” One student who was an evangelical xtian and had even told me that she was taking Latin “to read the Bible in it’s original Latin”(I kid you not!) complained to Mommy. I was called into the principal’s office and Mommy ranted about me exposing her child to my “liberal views”.

    That was when I decided to encourage my husband to apply for a program at work that would take us out of Texas.

  • sytec

    @ magistramarla:

    I would say, “Hey! you were at the district I just left,” but I think that type of thing is too widespread in Texas to jump to that conclusion. I also got the many “Merry CHRISTmas, yes I said it!!!” emails from people at the school. Those I find irritating because I want to ask, “you want, like, a badge or something?? what courage.” A group teachers met for prayer before school once a week (gag), and was organized by a fellow science teacher.

  • kimberlyherbert

    Another Texas Teacher here. I don’t even put bumper stickers on my car. When we were required to use our Google Accounts for something, I protested that I use that for my political activities and didn’t want it tied a school only account. When we used to get political/religious garbage – I replied “This is my school account. It is paid for by the tax payers of (district) and should not be used to further any political or religious agenda. Do not send this type of trash to my school account again.” I don’t get that type of message anymore.

    Two students (5th graders) had a conversation about Day of the Dead at lunch. They asked me if purgatory was real. I said that was a question they should ask their parents. I got called up on the carpet for it. I was called into the principal’s office and the parents were there and very hot under the collar. I was put on the spot because I wasn’t warned and it was now March and the conversation had happened mid November. Once I explained that the conversation had been so far back, had started over a book one child was reading on his own, and I told them to talk about religious beliefs with their parents the parents apologized.

  • magistramarla

    Sytec and Kimberly,

    Oh yes, we’ve all had those experiences in Texas schools.

    My rather small department also had a weekly prayer meeting.

    They started out constantly inviting me to them, but finally realized that I was ignoring them. When our fair and supportive department head left, one of the prayer group leaders took her place. After that, those of us who didn’t join the prayer group were often snubbed and never supported.

    There were also weekly “meet you at the flag pole” prayers which included students and staff. I parked right in front of the pole in a handicapped spot, so I often got dirty looks as I passed by.

    My GSA kids were given a hard time by teachers and administrators more than by their peers. It was interesting that I could be reprimanded for holding up for the students’ rights, but the department head was ignored when she openly mocked a pair of lesbian students right in front of an AP.