Watch out for state gift police

Published 1:40 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It is that wonderful time of year, the time of giving and receiving gifts — unless you are a teacher in Alabama or a student wishing to give something to your teacher. If you fall into either of those categories, be careful because the gift police are watching.

We now have pages in an Ethics Commission ruling, notice I said pages plural, discussing allowable gifts for teachers. I shook my head in disbelief when I heard this story in the news.

As I understand it, the reasoning behind this is to prevent any kind of bribery because we all know how teachers are open to being bribed by a big old gift card to Walmart or Captain D’s, right? I mean you want an A+ on your test, just slip that English teacher a card for a Big Mac and you are set.

Now I know the ethics ruling came about in an effort to limit the influence of lobbyists on elected officials and I guess on government employees. Teachers are in the middle of this because they are public employees, but come on is there really an issue here or are we inventing one.

At the heart of all this is indeed a deeper issue, an issue of trust and judgment. And, apparently there is no trust and lots of judging alive and well in our world. We do not trust our teachers’ integrity and we are ready to judge them in advance. I mean why else do we need rulings and laws like this if it isn’t about trust and judgment.

Take that a step further. If politicians, elected officials and government employees simply said no to lobbyists’ offers if they are not ethical or lawful, we would not need an Ethics Commission to write extensive opinions about what is right and wrong.

So it basically comes down to personal ethics, to people doing what is right and not doing what is wrong. And people on a gut level know if something is not the right thing, and that includes lobbyists and those they seek to influence.

We can pass all kinds of laws and have a million ethics rulings, but things won’t truly change until people change on a personal level. Of course, laws may deter actions, but only for those who choose to obey them and don’t figure out clever ways around them.

All righty, let me climb off my soapbox and return to my original train of thought — teachers’ Christmas gifts.

Apparently, there is not another state Ethics Commission meeting until February when they will clarify their ruling on this teacher gift crisis. Also, there isn’t enough time before the holidays for individual school boards to decide what gifts are OK for their teachers this year.

So I say forget the scented Christmas candles, the cute candy-filled mugs emblazoned with “World’s Best Teacher,” and the I “heart” my teacher ornaments.” Go big this year while you can. Give those $10 fast food gift cards. Let the students get together and buy some big splashy thing like a ham or maybe a fat turkey. Give dangerously one last Christmas season.

After all, the gift police are probably too busy this year chasing Alabama’s illegal immigrants to go after teachers and their unapproved holiday stash.