Sex and the Substitute Teacher
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, March 3, 2007
Julie Amero was a teacher at Kelly Middle School in the Norwich, Connecticut, school district. On Friday (March 2), she was convicted of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child, by a six-person jury that deliberated less than two hours on her case. At sentencing on March 29, Amero faces up to 40 years in prison. which can be summarized this way: On October 19, 2004, Amero was assigned to substitute-teach in a seventh-grade class at Kelly. The classroom’s regular teacher had logged into the computer that morning. After a bathroom break, Amero returned to find two students fiddling with the computer. They were on a hairstyle site. And then, she claims, the computer went haywire with popups of sexual sites. The computer was infected with spyware. Nothing could stop the popups. About ten of her seventh graders, usually 12 year olds, saw pictures of naked men and women pop up. The school has a policy against turning off computers, and Amero claims she’d not have known how to turn it off anyway, although it’s never been explained why she never turned off the screen. There’s no policy against turning off the screen. But that’s besides the point. Knowing what we know of the current workplace and prevailing mindset, it would be utterly idiotic for anyone to use a public or business computer for anything that could lead to moral minefields. Still, a potential 40-year prison sentence, for an act that, even if Amero was proven to have acted with malicious intent to expose her kids to pictures of dicks, titties and pussies, warrants barely more than a severe reprimand, maybe a reassignment, maybe even a firing if the school is so inclined and the evidence against Amero is incontrovertible. But the involvement of the law? A prison sentence? A 40-year prison sentence?
As it is, the evidence against Amero is very shaky. It relies for its main points on the sole testimony of Norwich Police Detective Mark Lounsbury, a computer crimes investigator, who claims that because the urls of sexually explicit web sites were logged into the computer’s history, the teacher had to have accessed them. Not so. Just because http://meetlovers.com/ and http://femalesexual.com/, two sites the detective said were accessed, appear on the computer log doesn’t mean Amero intentionally accessed them, as anyone who’s been the victim of a flash-flood of spyware’s effects, the pornographic kind especially, will tell you. (When I still used Explorer I had to fight off those attacks from time to time. Some of the attacks were quite enjoyable, at least for a few moments, but they’re invariably aggravating and so difficult to defeat completely that short of reinstalling Windows, the battle is never entirely won. Since migrating to Firefox and ending most downloads of any kind, spyware and popups have disappeared entirely; I limit my porn excursions to reliably pop-free sites). The detective never even checked the computer in question for spyware or adware. Not much of a detective.
Nor are those two web sites offensive. Femalesexual.com is actually an advice site that has this disclaimer when you access it: “Our site appears to be one of the two websites that Julie Amero opened for her classroom. This website has never contained any kind of graphic porn content (child or adult).We have never used pop ups as an advertisement tool. We have already checked our server seeking for any virus introduced by a hacker, but none were found. Our site is just a female sexuality guide written by professionals. Some external links go to other adult sexuality guides or sex sites, but not via any pop ups or porn photo content placed without parental controls.” Well, even femalesexual.com can’t know where external links end up: no one does. At any rate, it’s not an “offensive” site (offensive, that is, to those offensively small-minded imbeciles who think porn is more destructive of children’s morals than, say, images of fighter bombers obliterating a school or of the president lobbying for homophobia on national TV—as when he lent his support to bans on gay marriage—or of those televangelists making asses of themselves and god: public displays of religion are always more offensive than anything porn can come up with).
The other site mentioned by the detective is a stupid dating site that does list a slew of other dating sites, some of them graphic in silly, lumpy ways (see http://sexywives.alldating.info/), some of them in more graphically juicy ways (see http://www.fashionpoint.co.uk/), none of them in particularly disturbing ways, unless, again, you consider sex disturbing. That, of course, is the problem. Because even if Amero was guilty of surfing sex sites, what, in the end, was the damage done to children? None. Zero. No child is going to be “disturbed” or shocked by the appearance of a tit or a penis on a computer screen unless he’s been pre-disposed to be so shocked, and worse, unless the image isn’t explained, like any other image, for what it is, in its context. Son, you don’t drink coffee because you’re too young to be bouncing off the walls. You don’t need to see these pictures because you’re too young to be bouncing off titties, and your breastfeeding days are, alas, over. Not to mention the fact that healthy, well-adjusted children taught and explained what comes along as it comes along would likely not give a shit about sex sites anymore than they would fox.com: the bore factor is their greatest protection. A little explanation, a lot of trust and much less hysteria can go a long way.
Regarding the kids in Amero’s class, the damage was assumed, the offense an after-the-fact reaction of parental hysteria and the school administration feeling obligated to seem upstanding, moral, protective. Without even going to the facts of a shoddily put-together case against Amero, without even having to suggest that spyware is by nature offensive in what it does to computers and their users, Amero is being punished (already has been, her reputation being in tatters) not for her own aberrant behavior, but for the aberrant morals and mindset of the people she worked for and the society she is living in. Sex is the self-evident scarlet letter stitched on every person’s forehead the moment it dares cross over from its hypocritical lair, where most people want it, into the open, where most people judge it with about as much sophistication as Salem judged its witches three and a half centuries ago. Given the logarithms of “vice,” Amero’s adult accusers have among them whoremongers, adulterers and basement-porn addicts who nevertheless call themselves “upstanding,” call their wives their “better half” and revel in their hypocrisy by lynching Amero all they can. Their children, spyware willing, will grow up to be just like them.