Sunday, June 12, 2011

The case of Samantha Ardente, school secretary/porn actress

With Weinergate continuing to unfold (or, one might say, perhaps more appropriately, "extend itself") the question of the sexual habits of public figures is in the zeitgeist at the moment. I'm not particularly interested in what happens to Congressman Weiner after he is finished with "rehab" (maybe he will eventually earn big cash on the motivational speaker circuit: "How I recovered from my sex/sexting addiction."), but the storm of public condemnation around Weiner's actions indirectly highlights an important educational issue: the ways in which school personnel are judged for their sexual practices outside of schools. 

Specifically, I'm thinking about the recent case of Samantha Ardente. Up until March of this year, Ms. Ardente (not her real name) had been a low-profile office assistant at a Québec City secondary (grades 7-11) school.  She continued in this role without incident until a student discovered that Ms. Ardente had a sideline job: she had performed in several porn scenes.

Naturally, the student did not keep this information to himself. Word spread swiftly around the school, and Ms. Ardente's extra-curricular activities received media coverage throughout North America. (One of the real lowlights of this coverage was a terrible interview (see below) conducted by Sun TV news, the new Canadian right-wing "news channel.")

Unfortunately for Ms. Ardente, who enjoyed her job at the school and wanted to keep it, the school board, in a unanimous vote, decided to fire her. A school board spokesman commented, "We believe that that the acts leading up to the incident in question in this case are inappropriate, unacceptable, and incompatible not only with the mission, but also with the values of our organization."   

The spokesman also pointed out that the board had offered Ms. Ardente an administrative job, along with certain conditions: "I want to emphasize that the school board offered this employee...a transfer into an administrative job along with individual coaching (encadrement individuel) to avoid a similar situation happening again..."

Ms. Ardente, for her part, was upset by this decision. "I am completely shocked. I am going to fight for and defend my rights." She received some support from prominent Québec lawyer Julius Grey, who condemned the "disgusting moralizing" surrounding the case. Grey commented, "I find this completely crazy. It's an illustration of the new puritanism and conservatism of our era." He added, "She has done nothing illegal, and I don't see why we are trying to protect the students at the school when they already know about all this."

Notably, there have been other cases in Canada where teachers have been fired for their legal activities outside of school. In New Brunswick, teacher Malcolm Ross was removed from his teaching position due to his activities as a Holocaust denier. The Supreme Court of Canada accepted the argument that these activities had contributed to a poisoned school environment that had made Jewish students feel uncomfortable. 

However, in the case of Samantha Ardente, it is difficult to make a similar claim. Ms. Ardente might not be a moral exemplar in the eyes of many parents, but then again, she didn't have to be--she was never a teacher. She was only an office assistant who had, up until that time, performed her duties competently. One cannot plausibly claim that her actions had poisoned the school environment or would, indeed, have much meaningful effect on the school environment at all. As Julius Grey said, the students all knew about Ms. Ardente's activities anyway. In fact, the person most injured by Ms. Ardente's actions was Ms. Ardente herself.

This whole story reminds me of a shameful episode that happened in Southwest Nova Scotia (my home region) in the late 1980s. When it became publicly known in the small community of Cape Sable Island that Eric Smith, an elementary school teacher, was gay and had AIDS, parents demanded that he be removed from the classroom. After spending three years in an administrative position, he wished to return to teaching, but parents again objected to his return on the grounds that they didn't want to have a homosexual be a role-model for their children. Granted, there are significant differences between these two stories (Smith's story, which I will cover in more detail next month, is one of incredible prejudice and injustice). Yet the fact remains that twenty years ago, most people in Nova Scotia thought that Smith should be removed from the classroom. Like Ardente, he was swiftly condemned by parents and the school board.

There is no doubt that, in many cases, teaching staff are well advised to keep their private lives private. But does this mean that school staff should be subject to firing whenever (legal) activities come to light that earn them the moral disapprobation of the community? In any case, Samantha Ardente's case is especially clear. She was not hired to be a moral exemplar to anyone, and she should not have been fired for her supposed failure to live up to the school board's ideals.

1 comment:

jake said...

Personally, I think showing sex on the internet is relatively harmless. BUT, it is completely absurd to criticize schools for moralizing. Moralizing is a key role of schools. The status of women in society, of gays in society, of ethnic minorities in society were all supported by moralizing in schools.

Typically we complain about moralizing in schools when we object to a particular moral stand taken by a school.

So, the question here is not about schools moralizing, but whether their moral judgment in this case was sound.....and that, of course, is open for debate.