“Everything’s bigger in Texas,” the old adage goes. But setting records for teacher sex scandals is likely not something Texans want to be known for. Alas, recent news headlines have put improper relations between teachers and students in the spotlight.
CBS News claims that an alarming number of Texas teacher sex scandals this year is putting the state on its way towards setting a record.
The Texas Education Agency reports it has launched 162 investigations of reported inappropriate teacher-student relationships between Sept. 1 and May 31. The Amarillo Globe-News reports that the agency had 188 investigations last fiscal year, marking at least the fifth year of growth in a row.
Although Texas is a very large state (and the state of Alabama still has the highest rate of teacher-student sex per capita), Texas officials and experts are still in an uproar. So where do they put the blame for this rise in inappropriate teacher-student relationships? On social media!
Kathy Tortoreo, director of crisis services at Family Support Services in Amarillo told reporters:
“In the past, you might not have had students choosing to interact socially with a teacher. Now they’ll friend them on Facebook or they’ll reach out to them on Snapchat. The adult is supposed to understand the boundary, and the adult is supposed to uphold the boundary.”
That’s interesting, but…is that the only theory a major news outlet like CBS News can come up with?
Meet the man behind the “research” on Texas teacher sex scandals.
So who’s behind this sudden wave of news reports on a record-setting year for Texas teacher sex scandals? ABC13 informs us that Terry Abbot, a former administrator at Harris County Independent School District (HCISD), been “tracking similar cases across the country.”
ABC13’s video voiceover grimly intones:
“His research shows no state has more teacher-student sex cases than Texas. Not even close.”
Then the camera pans in on Terry Abbot, who looks terribly concerned as he declares:
“I don’t want that to happen to my son or anybody else, and if it does happen, that teacher ought to pay the penalty.”
But it turns out that Terry Abbot isn’t just some former school administrator. He’s the chairman of Drive West Communications, a public relations firm that promises to “generate compelling stories” — like the one about Texas teacher sex scandals! — and “drive information to the public.”
At Drive West Communications, we serve as enterprising reporters for our clients to help generate compelling stories and drive information to the public. We work with Fortune 100 companies, large government agencies and other prominent clients across the country—all with awesome causes to promote.
In other words, Terry Abbott’s PR firm places stories in the media for their clients. We don’t know who these clients are because Drive West keeps their client list confidential. But Abbott’s profile on Linked In may shed some light on the types of clients who sign on with him.
As it turns out, the bulk of Abbott’s career has been spent in journalism and PR, not in public education. He has also managed campaigns for the ultra-conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and the Democrat-turned-Republican Charles Graddick, now a judge on the 13th Circuit Court. Terry Abbot also worked for the George W. Bush administration as Chief of Staff for the US Dept. of Education (2001) and as Deputy Commissioner for Communications for the Social Security administration (2001-2003).
Terry Abbott’s “Texas teacher scandal” survey has no scientific basis whatsoever, as the Texas Monthly aptly points out:
Abbott admitted that his survey is based on published media reports rather than official crime data, hence the unscientific nature of the survey. He also admitted that his survey makes no distinction between two different Texas crimes: various degrees of statutory rape and improper relationship between an educator and a student.
In other words: (1) The reports include a wide range of school staffers ranging from teachers to the janitors and lunch servers; (2) Some of these “improper relations” involved students who were already of the age of consent and not enrolled at the same school; (3) Some of those accused were never proven guilty; and (4) 188 investigations sounds like a lot, but Texas has the second-largest population of any state in the US (next to California) with an estimated 27.61 million people in 2016.
If Terry Abbott really cares about education, why is he obsessed with Texas teacher sex scandals?
The above sounds like a rhetorical question, but I’m also dead serious. After all, anyone who cares about education in Texas knows that students, families and educators face far more serious challenges than teacher-student sex scandals. The following are just four examples:
- In 2011, Texas cut $5.4 billion in school funding. Despite an increase of 83,000 students throughout the state, schools were forced to lay off more than 10,000 teachers.
- The schools in Texas are shockingly overcrowded. The situation is so dire that at on day one of the 2015-2016 school year, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) had to turn students away as they scrambled to find places for them.
- Four years after the budget cuts hit, Texas faces a growing teacher shortage due to the lack of recent state school graduates with teaching degrees. Despite recent increases in pay, fewer students are choosing careers in education.
- Texas is one of 19 states that still allows corporal punishment in schools. That’s right. In the state of Texas, it’s against the law for wardens to beat prisoners but perfectly legal for teachers and staff to pop, spank, swat and paddle their students.
As this “Texas teacher sex scandals setting records” story takes off, consider what the legendary social critic Noam Chomsky once aptly said: Distraction by the media has long proven a highly effective weapon of social control.
The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, by the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.
I sure hope I’m wrong, but it really does look an awful lot like some right-wing organization seeks to once again vilify teachers (and teachers’ unions) so they can further undermine the state’s already threadbare public education system.
Watch: ABC’s lurid “reporting” on the so-called Texas teacher sex scandal.
Photo: Public Domain via Pixabay.