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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Indecent Exposure?

An Ohio state legislator found himself in hot water last week when a nude photo stored on his flash drive popped up on screen while giving a talk to a group of students. It didn’t take long for people to email me and contrast the situation with the Julie Amero case. But are the two situations really similar?

On October 2, Ohio state representative Matt Barrett was preparing to give a presentation to a government class at Norwalk High School. He plugged a portable flash drive into a computer so he could pull up his Powerpoint presentation. Instead, a dialog box popped up on the screen, featuring a photo of a topless woman. Barrett then closed the laptop before most students were able to realize what was going on, apologized and then gave his talk without using the computer.

“I was shocked,” he told the local Sandusky Register. “I didn’t know where it was coming from, if it was coming from the flash drive or what…. There was just a handful of students that noticed it. It was up for less than three seconds.”

Nonetheless, school officials called the police to investigate. After the presentation, they had discovered that the flash drive contained an entire directory of adult-oriented images. Barrett cooperated throughout the process, saying he was unaware that the flash drive contained the images and that he had received the drive as a gift from one of his aides. “I thought, ‘I have nothing to hide here - bring everyone in and let’s figure it out,’” he said.

Meanwhile, both the school and the police appeared to reserve judgment.

“It was an unfortunate incident, and I believe it was unintended,” district school superintendent Wayne Babcanec said. “I think we’re just going to have to be more careful in the future. Our staff members will have to inspect what is shown to our students.” The school principal also telephoned the parents of each student who was in the class at the time. “They were very appreciative that he called instead of having to read it in the newspapers or see it on the television.”

“There is no specific individual we’re looking at. At this time, we’re trying to figure out what is on the [flash] drive and how it got there,” said Lt. Tony Bradshaw of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Within 24 hours of the incident, Rep. Barrett’s office issued a statement that seems to put to rest what happened. According to the statement, Barrett believed the images were actually put on the flash drive by one of his children.

“We want to put this behind us,” said Barrett’s communications director. “From what we have learned thus far, this is an internal family matter. We would appreciate respect for our privacy as we deal with this situation.”

The police are still investigating the incident, but it appears the school is trying to move on. School officials said they would adopt a policy of reviewing materials to be presented to students prior to any presentation.

As soon as I heard about the incident, my mind immediately raced to the aftermath of the Julie Amero case, the Connecticut substitute teacher who was arrested and convicted of exposing students to pornography after the computer in her classroom displayed a series of adult images. After the convinction, a groundswell of computer security experts protested that the incident was a result of spyware and malfunctioning Internet filters, rather than anything purposeful by Amero. Eventually, a judge set aside her conviction.

How similar are the two incidents? First, both Amero and Barrett were surprised by the images. Neither of them intended to display the content, nor were they apparently aware of its existence before it was too late. The content came from very different sources, though. In Amero’s case, it was malicious software accidentally installed on the computer, whereas in Barrett’s case, it would seem that it was done on purpose, though not by him.

Their initial response to the images was also different. Barrett didn’t hesitate to close his laptop, immediately shutting down the display of the images. It was also his own personal laptop, so he knew that shutting it would deactivate the display. Amero, on the other hand, panicked. She had been told not to shut the computer, since she was just a substitute, and the school didn’t want her messing with it too much. So rather than shut it down, she tried to close the images, which only led to more images appearing.

But the most striking difference in the case is how it was handled by officials. Yes, in both situations, authorities were called to investigate. So far, though, Barrett is being treated as a victim of circumstance, someone who never intended to show nude photos to the students. Even if the photos were his, no one involved in the case seems to be suggesting that he purposely exposed the students to them. For Amero, though, she was treated quite differently, with investigators taking the position that there was actual intention on her part. Police would not give her the benefit of the doubt, but then again, it’s their job to be skeptical and investigate. But in her situation, the school didn’t give her any support, either, perhaps because they didn’t want anyone to dwell on the fact that their Internet filters weren’t working.

So while the Barrett case isn’t necessarily closed yet, it’s certainly being portrayed in the media as just an embarrassing matter that’ll soon pass. No one in their right mind would show up to a class and expose the students to adult materials on purpose, right? That seems to be the conventional wisdom in Ohio, at least. But why wasn’t that the case a year ago in Connecticut? -andy

Filed under : Policy


As an educator with over thirty years of high school teaching I do believe nude photos have no place in the classroom. Can it be any clearer? That said, it happened—breasts should not be so offensive, they are a fact of human anatomy. Any high school male attending movies, watching television, or surfing the net has already seen his share of breasts and his female friends own them.
The idea that either of these stories is newsworthy or worthy of using time, energy and funds of our otherwise overloaded legal systems should be unbelievable. Sadly instead of a meaningful discussion of society’s fixation with breasts as sex objects and the media’s relentless use of them in commercials and sporting events, etc., we feign shock and horror that our almost adult youth have been exposed to such perversity in school. (To really be accurate it isn’t the breast that offends it is the female nipple-bikini shots wouldn’t have been nearly so “offensive”.)

We passively approve of exposing our teenagers to this type of “adult material” across our culture by not even addressing it. The outrage is disingenuous. We ignore smut TV, are entertained by advertisers selling anything they can to teenage males with well endowed, scantily clad nubile women and indoctrinate our young women to subconsciously believe they are never attractive enough while we suppress dialogue in the classroom about America’s conflicting commercial messages to our youth about sex. Somewhere in the high school curriculum there should be room for frank and open discussion of emerging sexuality and cultural male and female images. There is a teachable moment!

While this story is “shocking”, as a society, when are we going to realize that pornography is a major part of the Internet?

While I’m not endorsing sharing it in public with the youth of America, be assured, they’ve voluntarily seen it online.

To me this appears to be an example of a double-standard: one for politicians, the other for the rest of us. Let’s suppose for a minute that this presentation was conducted by a teacher at the school. Do you think this teacher would have been disciplined, or even fired by the school, if the teacher offered the same excuse as the state representative? I’m just cynical enough to think they would have.

I think this is not a big deal after all we have health class in high school. But Barrett should have reviewed the powerpoint. Amero is just unlucky.

Its very unfortunate that this incident occured but then again if it was not intentional I find no real problem with the incident. If perhaps the students wouldve been much younger, and not exposed to pornography I feel the situation wouldve been far more grim. Its good they put it behind them.

I don’t see the big deal if a topless image might appear in a high school classroom accidentally. Most if not all male high school students have seen at one time or another, a nude photo/person/ect. I think that we are way too up tight about our body being bad and how nudity is a crime. In European countries they have topless commercials and beaches and don’t think as much about nudity as we do here in the U.S. In their society it’s not a shock to see someone nude or topless. After all it is just a part of our body that should not be ashamed of or hidden for the most part. After all, we are all nude under our clothes and in olden times we were completely nude for the entire world to see.

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