Topic: Professions & Institutions

Refining the Naked Teacher Principle

Anyone who studies ethics knows that a seemingly secure ethics position can be weakened or destroyed by the introduction of a slight change in the fact pattern when it reveals the point at which the principle being proposed no longer seems fair or logical. Then a choice must be made. Was the original position erroneous, or have we discovered the place to draw the line—the exact point at which right becomes wrong, or vice-versa? A current controversy has brought the Scoreboard to this murky territory in its controversial “naked teacher” verdicts.

In the cases of art teachers Tamara Hoover, whose roommate posted dozens of naked pictures of her on a website, and Steven Murmer, whose web-advertised talent of painting with his naked posterior (among other things), the Scoreboard sided with the school administrators who ruled that the teachers’ extreme exposure undermined their ability to serve as role models and instructors. Now comes the tale of Jason Brenner, part-time music teacher at Lemon Bay High School in Englewood, Florida.

An aspiring actor, Brenner is appearing in a community theater production of the Broadway musical based on the hit British filmcomedy “The Full Monty,” in which a bunch of working class guys put on a strip act to raise money. Bremer plays one of the guys, which means that he shows the audience, briefly, the part of his anatomy that Steven Murmer regards as a paint brush. The school has told him that he must either leave the show or lose his job, citing concerns similar to those that made ex-teachers out of Murmer and Hoover.

But unlike the employers of those naked teachers, Lemon Bay High School is wrong.

“The Full Monty,” as anyone who has seen the show or the film knows, is hardly “Oh, Calcutta!” The nudity in the show is not gratuitous but symbolic and humorous, and it is hardly titillating. Brenner is playing a part, and the nudity involves his character, not Jason Brenner. What he wears or does not wear in his dramatic role is no more relevant to his teaching persona than the moral values of the individual he is portraying. Would the school have a legitimate objection if Scott Brenner was starring as Pontius Pilate in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the serial killer title role in “Sweeney Todd,” or Chino, the gang member who kills the hero in “West Side Story”? Absolutely not; who Brenner plays as an actor in his private life is none of the school’s business. If portraying a maniac who kills people and has them baked into pies isn’t justification for dismissing a teacher, how can portraying a laborer who strips for charity?

Brenner’s brief nudity is not a legitimate issue. The other teachers allowed their images to appear on the internet, where they could be downloaded, copied, saved, savored or drooled over by any student. Brenner is appearing naked for a few seconds in a live stage performance that can only be accessed with a ticket. His appearance is controlled, not salacious in any way, responsible, and a matter of acting, not personal exhibition. The school has no legitimate interest in his avocation, which is not that of a stripper, web exhibitionist or shock artist.

The school needs to back off. This naked teacher has ethics on his side.

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