Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Darwin Award In Education: Topless In Texas

Today's Darwin Award In Education (background here) has got to go to the Texas high school art teacher who authorized her "partner" to publish topless pictures of her on the internet:
Until they found the topless photos, Austin High School officials considered Tamara Hoover a model art teacher with a knack for helping students find their creative streaks.

Now, she's fighting for her job.

The photos, which were posted on by her partner, depict Hoover in the shower, lifting weights, getting dressed, in bed and doing other routine activities.

Her abrupt dismissal highlights a new concern for employees: Your boss has Internet access, too.

"People don't realize when they put their entire diary out there, they're giving very private information to the public," said Kate Brooks, director of career services for liberal arts students at the University of Texas at Austin. "You never know what's going to appeal to someone or disturb someone."

The school district said the photos were inappropriate and violate the "higher moral standard" expected of public school teachers. As a result, she's become an ineffective teacher, she was told as she was escorted out of class last month.

The photos came to light as a result of a feud over ceramics equipment with another art teacher, according to sworn affidavits. Students who had seen the pictures showed the teacher, who then notified school officials.

Colleagues and students dispute the district's characterizations of Hoover.

"I don't view Tamara any different having seen the photographs," said fellow Austin High teacher Robin Lind. "It doesn't make her less credible or less respectable."

Still, experts say it's a risk employees take when posting personal information online. That's particularly true for teachers, said Bill Shaw, professor of law and ethics in business at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas.

"School teachers are supposed to be mature enough not to titillate their students," Shaw said. "A teacher is more or less expected to be a guide or ... demonstrably mature. And this doesn't sound to me like it meets those standards."

Hoover said Friday the photos are art and makes no apologies.

"I'm an artist and I'm going to participate in the arts," Hoover said. "If that's not something they want me to do then I want to be told that. I don't feel as if I was doing anything that was beyond expectations."

Some of her students agree.

"Many artists have nude pictures, like Georgia O'Keeffe," said 16-year-old student Austen Clements. "If Georgia O'Keeffe wanted to teach at Austin High, I don't think they'd say, 'No, you have nude pictures online.'"

Hundreds of photos of Hoover were part of partner Celesta Danger's online documentary of their lives together.

"I don't think I can be responsible for other peoples' perceptions or reactions when they look at my photos, it has to do with their state of mind at the time," Danger said. "I'm not out to change people's minds, but I'm not a pornographer."

Even in the name of art, Brooks warns her students that it's impossible to predict how potential employers might respond to personal information.

Sites like Flickr and have become popular not only with teenagers and adults, but with companies screening potential employees.

Internet career site estimates that about 5 percent of employers research applicants on sites like Flickr, MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, but that number is growing.

Brooks said employers with whom she works regularly tell her they've rejected otherwise qualified job applicants because of material they found online.

Her counselors already warn students about what they post online. This year the university will dedicate a Web page to the issue.

"We would never tell a student to not put anything on MySpace or take anything down, that's their choice," Brooks said. "But that's the point: They need to be aware of the choices they're making."

Employers should handle the sites with caution, too, experts say.

"Information on those sites is inherently unreliable," said Steven Rothberg, president of "People post information about themselves that is not true. Their friends know it's not true, but the employers don't know that."

Hoover' teaching career remains on the line. The district wants to revoke her teaching certification, which would keep her out of Texas classrooms permanently.

Hoover will appeal the ruling and is prepared to take the case to court, she said.

"I never thought in any way I was doing anything to compromise my position at the school," Hoover said. "I love working there and I love teaching art. I feel like that's what I'm here to do."
We present the Darwin Award in Education to those educators who throw away their own careers by doing something so completely boneheaded as to leave most rationally-thinking people scratching their heads.

Update:(AM) See a gallery of Celesta Danger's photos of Tamara Hoover here, here, and here. (The topless ones seem to be M.I.A.)
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