Let Us Prey; Teacher Sex Scandals to Top Priests'

The Arizona Republic [Arizona]
March 29, 2003

Hardly a day goes by that we don't read about another reported incident of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse by teachers, coaches and others in our school systems.

Equally disturbing are the alleged accounts of superintendents, principals and school boards attempting to cover up such incidents, preferring to deal with them as "internal matters."

My dire prediction is that sexual abuse scandals in our public schools will soon replace the Catholic Church as front page news.

As a management consultant, I have been studying organizational behavior for over 30 years.

I can tell you that there are strong parallels between the institutional characteristics of education and organized religion, all of which suggest that we had better become extremely vigilant about monitoring student-teacher relationships and what school administrators are doing to protect the well-being of our children.

Among the institutional characteristics that education and organized religion have in common are the following:
  • A circle the wagons mentality that is designed to keep "outsiders" at a distance and in the dark.
  • A policy that sexual abuse by teachers/priests is an internal matter and is not subject to laws that apply to the rest of society; i.e., education's equivalent to canon law.
  • A strategy to deny, or at least delay, access to public records and claim that all internal communication is privileged. Administrators do not want (what they consider to be) private affairs of the institution to see the light of day.
  • Conscious decisions to protect the institution at all cost, even though those decisions may put children last in terms of priority and, more importantly, in harms way.
  • The sheer arrogance repeatedly demonstrated by the bureaucratic hierarchy that they are best equipped to take care of all matters that, by their definition, fall within their domain.
  • A long history of not being able or willing to change/reform from within and to vigorously resist recommended changes from outside the institution.
Sadly, the growing body of evidence suggests that it is na´ve these days to assume that all teachers and school administrators have the best interests of our children in mind when making decisions, particularly if those decisions are intended to protect themselves and/or the reputation of the institution.

We must insist that the educational bureaucracy obeys state laws that are designed to protect our children and to prosecute offenders to the letter of the law.

Sexual misconduct and sexual abuse are not internal matters. - William E. Reef


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