Public-School Teachers, Those Ink-Stained Wretches

Culturebox has sustained quite a rap on the knuckles by Fraygrants for her piece on David E. Kelley’s TV show Boston Public. In the article, she declared her ignorance of any law requiring public-school teachers to be fingerprinted. Herewith, she agrees to copy out the following sentence on the blackboard 100 times: Public-school teachers do have to be fingerprinted in order to get or keep their license in most states of the union, and they usually have to pay for the privilege to boot, and it really, really sucks!

Requiring teachers accused of no crime to submit to fingerprinting and criminal background checks–and to pay for it, too–seems to Culturebox’s readers (and to Culturebox) to be one of those insulting invasions of privacy and probable abridgements of civil rights in the name of the children that became so popular in the 1990s. (Another would be Megan’s Law, which allows public officials to release the names and records of former sex offenders to the public.) Future historians will surely look back on this era as one in which a morbid preoccupation about children led to a seeming indifference to adults as a result. (Read, for instance, this essay by Larissa MacFarquhar, who wonders about the double standard according to which some abuse or crime is considered worse when it occurs to a child than when it is sustained by an adult.) There appears to be no evidence that fingerprinting teachers prevents abuse of children in schools–nor is there any reason to believe that abuse by teachers is or has ever been a national problem. On the contrary, according to last year’s Health and Human Services statistics, if anyone is to blame for child abuse, it is parents (75 percent) and other relatives (10 percent). Abuse by teachers is so rare as not to show up on the HHS breakdown. So why aren’t we fingerprinting all parents and potentially lecherous uncles?

Our blanket suspicion of teachers has become the object of a particularly bitter fight in Maine, whose legislature passed the fingerprinting requirement in 1997 but didn’t implement it until this past summer. Roughly 60 teachers around the state have quit rather than press their thumbs against inkpads and start the process whereby their criminal records are investigated. One of those teachers, Bernie Huebner, recently wrote: “We see the law as a clear violation of our rights. [It] strikes at the heart of the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.” Huebner has founded a protest organization called Maine Educators Against Fingerprinting. E-mail Bernie at for more information.