Death, Taxes, … and Teacher Abuse?

School bullying can be tough.  Once kids get the taste of blood, they will often hound their victims mercilessly.  The victims have no place to run, especially in the new world of cyber-bullying.

Anyone who survived middle-school in America knows that the tired old advice to “tell the teacher” is only guaranteed to make it worse.  But what about when the victim is the teacher himself?

A story on National Public Radio this morning details a new law in North Carolina designed to protect teachers from student cyberbullying.

Lisa Miller reported the story of one teacher:

“Chip Douglas knew something was up with his 10th-grade English class.  When he was teaching, sometimes he’d get a strange question and the kids would laugh.  It started to make sense when he learned a student had created a fake Twitter account using his name.

“‘It was awful,’ he says. ‘It had this image of me as this drug addict, violent person, supersexual, that I wouldn’t want to portray.’

“Douglas told the kids he planned to call the police—because under the new North Carolina law, the student behind the tweets could spend a month in jail and pay a $1,000 fine.”

As any educational historian will tell you, Facebook and Twitter aside, there is nothing new to teacher abuse.  In nineteenth-century schools, a prime consideration of teaching prowess was physical prowess.  In those “good old days,” teachers often had to physically overpower their students in order to control a classroom.  As historical Carl Kaestle argued in Pillars of the Republic (New York, 1983, p. 19), many schools in the 1800s required male teachers, since “the older boys were often stronger than [women teachers] were.  It was for this latter reason that female teachers were in many districts employed only during the summer sessions, when the older children were generally working.”

My research for my 1920s book found similar assumptions during that decade.  Perhaps the most intriguing glimpse of teacher abuse came in a little snippet I uncovered in the legislative record for the Florida State House of Representatives for 1923.  Tucked away with all the other proposed bills was this little mystery:

“House Bill No. 747:

“A bill to be entitled An Act to amend Section 5443 of the Revised General Statutes of Florida, relating to the insulting of teachers upon the school grounds. 

“Which was read the first time by its title and referred to the Committee on Education.”

Despite my digging, I couldn’t find out any more about the fate of this odd little bill.  I do know that it was submitted by request, meaning that some Floridian wrote to his or her state representative and asked for a law like this.

Did a teacher suffer insults on school grounds?

Did he or she yearn to prosecute the little brat?  Or brats?

If so, the hapless teacher would have been better off to teach in North Carolina in 2013.

Or maybe not.  The teacher described in the NPR story had to resign.  The law could not protect him after all.

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