Thursday, March 08, 2012

Mike Allen's Bigoted Attack on Teachers

Was it just me, or was anyone else bothered by Catholic Diocese Director Mike Allen's choice to deflect the abuse of children by some Catholic priests by asserting that public school teachers are worse?

In his Herald-Leader Op-Ed, Allen was criticizing editorial cartoonist Joel Pett for what he called an "intellectually lazy, bigoted, straw-man caricature of Catholicism" as presented in a recent political cartoon. Then, for some reason, he launched an intellectually lazy, bigoted, straw-man attack on public school teachers - not similarly affected Catholic school teachers, mind you - just public school teachers.

This from Mike Allen in the Herald-Leader 

Ky. Voices: Pett cartoon a bigoted attack on Catholicism

Read more here:
As a Catholic, I'm quite used to my church being criticized. And because the church is comprised of sinful people like me, I'm sure some of it is deserved. But I can handle an honest critique, not the intellectually lazy, bigoted, straw-man caricature of Catholicism that Joel Pett chose to draw and the paper's editorial staff chose to publish Feb. 15. The cartoon depicted a Catholic bishop condemning a woman for her "evil desire" for birth control while simultaneously leering at her young son....

I suppose Pett was intending to illumine the bankruptcy of the Catholic Church's moral witness because of the sexual scandals of recent vintage. I will not minimize the ugliness of how some Catholics behaved, whether in perpetuating abuse or covering it up, but the connection between Catholic moral teaching regarding contraception and the clergy sex scandals is a colossal non-sequitur.

Truth is truth, whether we fail to live up to it or not. I doubt Pett would condemn the collective virtue of public school teachers because of the abuse that far outnumbers Catholic crimes, or devalue the work of journalists based on public cases of plagiarism, deceit or bias. And yet he uses human weakness as a reason to smugly and irrationally dismiss in toto the 2,000-year-old moral teaching of the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, Allen's assertion that the abuse of children at the hands of some public school teachers "far outnumbers Catholic crimes" is hard to know, isn't it? The church effectively swept some amount of abuse under the rug by various means including transferring priests to keep them in service, while crimes perpetuated by public employees are rarely, if ever, defended by public school administrators and always seem to make it into the press - as all such abuses should. No wonder Allen believes public school teachers' crimes far outnumber those of Catholics. But is that truth?

The difference between the church's defense and protection of its sinners and the public schools' insistence that abusers of children receive the full punishment under the law is an important difference, and any fair assessment ought to consider that.


Richard Day said...

I received the following message from Mr Allen by email this morning. The comments function in Blogger was indeed not working properly for some reason.

This from Mike Allen:

Mr. Day,

I happened upon your blog commentary of my article.
I tried to post this on your blog but it didn't work.

Your point is noted about attacking public school teachers.
I myself am a product of public schools in Fayette County,
and am quite grateful for the service of those who worked
so hard to teach me (especially in my teenage years!).

I also appreciate your obviously sincere commitment to public education. In my frustration with Pett I was probably a little too harsh in my words.

My claim, however, is not entirely without merit. See this
2004 study from Hoftstra U. professor Charol Shakeshaft:

And as for public school administration always seeking justice for the abused, there have been many cases of coverup, including the Carol Lynne Maner case here in Fayette County.

All abuse is despicable, and I'll agree that abuse from a Catholic
priest is especially evil. But in my view, the media is not nearly as
relentless in the systemic implications regarding public schools as they are the Catholic Church.

Grace and peace,

Mike Allen

Richard Day said...

Thanks for your message. I suspect we would find much to agree upon including the fact that a small percentage of perpetrators can make everyone look bad.

I appreciate your public school roots. In a similar vein, I was schooled at a fine Jesuit institution, obtaining my Master’s degree at Xavier University.

If I said public school administration always seeks justice – I take it back. I don’t believe much in “always.” Your reference to the Maner case is on point. But we did not shy away from covering the story (from the late 1970s and early 1980s) when it broke in 2007. Maner went on to win a $3.7 million judgment against the district and Allen is correct, the district defended against the suit.

For KSN&C readers, the Hofstra study Allen refers to is a research summary by Carol Shakeshaft outlining data on the instance of child sexual abuse by American educators.

Data are not available for private institutions.

Shakeshaft reports that about half of the child sexual abuse is perpetrated by parents (or parent substitutes), and the balance by non-parents. It is clear from news reporting that on a national scale, abuse is a daily event.

The data suggest that “most educators do not sexually abuse children. The small percentage of those who do almost always have targeted many children throughout their careers, which means that the number of teachers who abuse is many fewer than the number of students who are abused.”

Thanks again for the comment.


Anonymous said...

Dear Richard,

I think that Mr. Allen's comments in his op-ed piece are quite embarrassing. He starts out so well in his piece, and then, out from left field comes the attack on public teachers. To call it illogical is simply being nice, and I don't want the censor to get me.

In all honesty, the comments about teachers made absolutely no sense to me. Did I read that Mr. Allen is a graduate of an accredited university? If so, he need to take a class in rhetoric.Was his point being that teachers have inappropriate relationships with students? I guess he was making reference to sexual abuse in the schools.

Nevertheless, I do have some sympathy for Mr. Allen and Catholics who are loyal to the church. What launched Mr. Allen's diatribe in the first place was Joel Pett's tasteless cartoon. I regret it was published because I do not see Catholic priests or bishops as pedophiles, and clearly Mr. Pett was trying to inflame. It was a cruel blow to teh Church and those priests and bishops who would not hurt a child.

Some advice for Mr. Allen: I have learned to live with the Herald-Leader. It's a mediocre daily that plays favorites (Stu Silberman over the head of the public library, Obama over Bush)and its columnists seldom have much that is enlightening to say --- whether they be Cheryl Truman or Merlene Davis. Best advice for us all: simply avoid the opinion page. Best adavice for a newspaper that is so liberal? Hire a conservative columnist and cartoonist and keep some readers.

Mike Allen said...

While I'll agree that my comments on public school teachers were on the harsh side, I'm not sure I see how my comments are illogial, never mind embarrassing. I was simply pointing out Pett's inconsistency in disparaging one group(i.e. the Catholic clergy ) because of the corruption of a few, while ignoring other groups (i.e. public school teachers, or even the media themselves) that also have some bad apples. Pett is able to recognize that the vast majority of public school teachers are noble servants, despite the corruption of a few--why not extend that same perspective toward Catholic clergy. Only for one reason: bigotry. And it's a bigotry rooted in one reality--he despises the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.

Richard Day said...


If I'm not mistaken, the original issue in the Herald-Leader was about the Catholic Church's stance on birth control amid the recent political flap. Fairly or unfairly, Pett was juxtaposing a couple of different issues related to the church. It's what political cartoonists do. It's "gotcha politics" and we tend to like the cartoons we agree with. Whether or not that means that Pett despises the moral teaching of the church is not for me to say.

Pett would not have been expected to include some comment on public school teachers in his cartoon because the topic didn't fit the debate.

I could certainly see why you responded to Pett. But I simply did not see why it was helpful to your case that teachers (and specifically public school teachers) were brought into the issue. It was as though you thought the public would naturally associate child sexual abuse with school teachers - and I couldn't let that pass.

As an aside - Pett was one of the first public figures I met when I moved to Lexington in the mid 80s. I invited him to chat with my Meadowthorpe fifth graders about the work of political cartoonists during National Library Week. It was enlightening. He told the kids (rather honestly, I thought) that he was a "professional jerk" - the guy the paper hires to say things in pictures and words that will upset some people. To illustrate, he did an on-the-spot caricature of their principal - me. He poked fun telling the kids that principals, because of their nature (or words to that effect), should be drawn with little beady weasel eyes. So he did. At the time, as I recall, he was doing the very same for (or to) Wallace Wilkinson. He finished me off with a big nose (no doubt deserved) skinny neck (not) and a few more jokes. I always thought I gained a small bit of perspective on how he sees his work.

I am less insightful about how church administrators see their work, but surely defending the organization is part of the deal. I simply wish you had stayed on point.

It seems to me that we are left with a few take-aways:
* Good and evil are distributed throughout human endeavor.
* Good people (in simple terms) are in the majority but can be made to appear bad through the evil acts of others.
* While we have some data on child sexual abuse in public settings, we don't know the relative incidence of child sexual abuse in public and private settings because data are not available.
* Any comparison related to the relative percentages of Catholic priests and public school teachers who are child sexual abusers is pure speculation.


Mike Allen said...

Fair enough, sir. Have a nice weekend.

Richard Day said...

Thanks Mike. You too.