The recent story about the Victorian high school teacher who starred in an internet porn video has already started to fade from the news. The circumstances reminded me strongly of the Lynne Tziolas case a few years ago, where a NSW teacher who discussed her sex life in a women’s magazine and posed for nude photos was summarily dismissed from her job.
The circumstances are very similar. In both cases, the teachers have broken no laws or professional codes of conduct. They engaged in lawful behaviour as private citizens, and were forced from their jobs because of moral panic on the part of the schools’ management and the education departments, the hype created by a hypocritical media, the stupidity of parents and the pathetic inability of the teachers’ unions to protect their members.
The story of John Walsh is perhaps more complicated than that of Lynne Tziolas. Whereas she was a primary school teacher whose media appearance was seen by the parents of her students, Walsh was a high school teacher whose appearance was seen by his own students.
Furthermore, Walsh was seen in a sexual relationship with a woman who was a former student at the school where he worked. This is effectively irrelevant because she left school, went away for 2 years, then returned and sought out Walsh as a consenting adult, and this is how their ongoing relationship began. There is nothing inappropriate about it. Unusual perhaps, but we meet partners in many different ways.
Neither Tziolas nor Walsh drew attention to themselves as teachers in their sexually oriented media appearances, or identified their employers. In both cases, the connection between them and their employment was made by other people.
In the case of Walsh, the connection was made by teenage students viewing pornography on the internet. Walsh is not responsible for this – the parents of the students are. Parents are responsible for mediating their children’s consumption of media, including the internet, to ensure it is age appropriate. This is not the responsibility of media performers or creators.
If these children saw their teacher having sex in an online porn video, it is because their parents were negligent. If these parents are genuinely concerned about the consequences of their behaviour, they should all report to the nearest police station and asked to be charged with child negligence.
But that’s never going to happen. Today’s lazy, stupid, spoilt suburban parents expect the state to do everything for them. They expect schools to do far more than teach academic and vocational subjects. They expect teachers to be substitute parents even when in the privacy of their own homes and have no contact with students.
While this is a part of a teacher’s role while they are employed and when they are in contact with current students outside school hours or school property, such as at social or sporting events, they are not required to be ‘in loco parentis’ at all times to all teenagers. This is a ridiculous expectation.
They are not required to subvert their sexual identities or censor their lawful behaviour for fear of offending other people when living their own lives as private citizens. It is completely unreasonable for employers to expect this, but this is exactly what Walsh’s employer has done.
In many cases, full time employees need the permission of their employer to engage in further external employment. This is usually to regulate availability or genuine or perceived conflicts of interest. When I read this article, which claimed that the only breach of his contract that Walsh could be plausibly be considered to have made was to undertake outside employment without permission, I was skeptical.
In several reports about the case, it was not clear if the video featuring Walsh and his partner was a commercial product. Given the popularity of exhibitionists performing in and publishing still or moving images of themselves online for free, it was not reasonable to assume that this behaviour could be interpreted as ‘employment’. It may have simply been fun. Why did the media not clarify this?
This charge of unauthorised outside work also related to Walsh owning a business with his partner. Many of the articles, including this one, failed to identify whether the allegation of unauthorised outside work related to the video or the business. That’s very poor reporting. Only later was it confirmed by Channel 10 and repeated in the Age that the video was a commercial product.
It’s unlikely that a teacher would be dismissed if this was his only and first offense. A reprimand about accountability and transparency would suffice if his employment record was otherwise good. But this is not about outside employment, it’s about the vindictive moral punishment of someone who expresses a sex-positive worldview.
In a typically biased opinion piece, the Herald Scum stated:
I’ve read the code of conduct too, and I can find no relevant sections that Walsh has breached. Walsh has not had inappropriate relationships with students. His only offense is unauthorised outside employment.
The code is not very helpful in this new and complex situation. It states that it is not ‘a disciplinary tool’ and ‘will not cover every situation’. It acknowledges that ‘there is no definitive boundary between the personal and professional conduct of a teacher’.
It also states that:
This may be the case, but what responsibility does the school, the education department and the parents take to ensure that their students and children are not accessing pornography or doing other inappropriate things on the internet?
The Herald Scum declares that ‘Sexualisation of children on the internet is an increasing issue for parents and, while not every teenager at the school might have seen the video, it is readily accessible.’ This makes no sense. The video in question does not sexualise children. The ‘children’ in question sexualised themselves by looking for porn on the internet in the absence of parental supervision.
The Scum somehow twists this into an entirely incoherent argument that ‘parents… regard a teacher having sex with a former student… as failing to uphold the moral standards they are trying to impart to their children.’ The parents in this situation are responsible for their children’s moral lessons, not the teacher.
He’s a consenting adult fucking another consenting adult. If you don’t want to watch the video of them fucking, don’t. It’s really not difficult. The moral hysteria that is typical of News Ltd reporting obscures this fact. The style of reporting used in this entire case has been sloppy, unprofessional, biased and deliberately misleading and vindictive.
Early reports were measured and made reasonable statement like ‘There is no suggestion that the teacher broke any laws but he is under investigation for potentially breaching the teacher’s code of ethics.’ The longer it went on, however, the more hysterical and irrational the media reporting became.
The Bogan Advertiser encapsulated this pathetic passive parental negligence with the statement ‘parents said they were shocked by the video and hoped their children had not viewed it.’ So all these parents watched the video? But did nothing other than ‘hope’ that their children did not see it? If they are incapable of using the internet responsibly perhaps it should be taken from them.
The code of conduct also states that teachers must ‘respect the rule of law and provide a positive example in the performance of civil obligations’. The school, the education department and the parents don’t seem to think they have any responsibility to uphold the rule of law. They are making decisions based on the moronic mob mentality of the moral minority. Where’s the accountability and legality in that?
Here’s where things get really interesting. It is illegal in Victoria to discriminate against someone for their lawful sexual activity. This is what Walsh’s employer seems to have done. They don’t have to like, or agree with, his personal life choices, but these choices had no impact on his ability to teach. Being persecuted by hypocritical bullies is what interfered with his ability to teach.
His union seems to have no understanding of the law and no interest in supporting this teacher. According to the Bogan Advertiser, ‘Australian Education Union Victoria branch president Mary Bluett said, despite the situation falling into a “grey area”, the teacher faced the sack.‘
If it has been reported accurately that some of Walsh’s colleagues refused to continue to work with him, these people should be ashamed. Their behaviour is effectively a form of exclusion that amounts to bullying and discrimination in the workplace, and that is also illegal. He could sue the education department for failing to address this.
What next? Some of those bully teachers should be concerned, as should the union if any of its leaders had half a brain. What if they are seen by a student snogging someone in a nightclub, or playing the pokies, or participating in some other lawful adult behaviour that is not appropriate for high school students to witness, but which they nonetheless do due to teenage curiosity?
What other lawful behaviour could teachers, or any other employee, be summarily and unlawfully dismissed for because it is considered by some boring prudes to be embarrassing to witness, inappropriate or distasteful? You don’t have the right not to be offended, but you do have the right to shut the fuck up and mind your own fucking business.
Audiences don’t have the right to not discover unexpected things about people they know socially or professionally through the media. Many people enjoy being exhibitionists on the internet. If you don’t want to see it, stop being a voyeur and take responsibility for your own participation in the situation.
Our employers do not own us, and the lawful behaviour we engage in as private citizens is none of their business. If we obey the law we also have the right to be protected by it. John Walsh has been bullied and discriminated against by his employer, the education department, which is an agency of the state, and he deserves redress and compensation. His rights as a citizen have been trampled by the state and it must be held accountable for its crimes.
Walsh has been too nice and considerate throughout his terrible ordeal. He should not have resigned. He should have forced the school to dismiss him so he could then sue for unfair dismissal. I hope he finds a good lawyer and successfully sues the school, the education department, the state government, the union and his former colleagues for all of the reasons I have outlined.