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The troubling case of James Hooker

POSTED April 24, 2012 10:20 p.m.

Americans have a fixation on sex scandals. A short list includes: Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, Rev. Jimmy Swaggart and Ceres' own Gary Condit. So it comes as no surprise that James Hooker seized the nation's interest.
Hooker, the 41-year-old Modesto teacher who shacked up with Jordan Powers - one of his students - got his 15 minutes of fame alright but is now out of work, minus a wife and family and his teenage love. What he does have is charges unrelated to his relationship to Powers: That he had illegal and inappropriate sexual relations with a 17-year-old high school student 14 years ago. Apparently, the arrest shocked Powers into the realization that Hooker has a habit of going after young girls within his sphere.
There are so many troubling aspects of the case. First and foremost is that a teacher could cross ethical lines and become romantically involved with a teenage student and give it all up for her. A teacher is in the classroom to help educate impressionable minds, not seduce young bodies. It's against teacher ethics.
More troubling was his eagerness to share with newspaper and TV audiences a maturity level rivaling his young lover. He didn't hang his head in shame, and we were left scratching our heads with the in-our-face cavalier attitude he had about his newfound love. What was he hoping to accomplish in openly talking about his unorthodox relationship - with the giggly girl at his side - to the likes of Dr. Phil on national TV? Hooker didn't win any fans in the court of public opinion. Most were nauseated that he threw his entire family under the bus as he played senior prom.
He also seemed to throw caution to the wind when quizzed by media personalities on how long he expected his relationship would last with a girl who is the same age as his daughter. His answers to the 'did-you-think-this-thing-through?' line of questioning always seemed loose-ended. How was he planning to make a living with his teen honey after he lost his employment in early February? No school district in California would ever hire this guy.
Did anyone really believe Hooker when he said the relationship didn't start until Powers turned 18? Tammie Powers - Jordan's mom who publicly denounced Hooker first on Facebook and then in the media - is the hero in this story. She stood up for her daughter who lacked common sense in her decision to hook up with Hooker. She insisted the romance started when Jordan was 17. Her cage rattling drew media attention and ultimately Hooker's prosecution in the other case.
Now for the victims - the children, among them the students of Enochs High School who won't know if they can trust another male teacher until James Hooker fades into a forgotten bad dream.
Then there's Jordan. I don't know much about the family of Jordan Powers but the fact that there was no father who spoke up on her behalf makes me think there is no father in her life. If I am right, it stands to reason that perhaps Jordan saw in Hooker - who is certainly no chick magnet - more of a father figure than a lover. Many young girls will accept sexual advances of an older man - even seeking them out - to fulfill the desire for male affection missing in their lives. I suspect that's the answer to the question nagging many as they asked, "What does she see in this guy?"
Then there are the Hooker children who have lost a dad in their home. Indeed, a pervading sense of fatherlessness is perhaps the root of this entire scandal. Many psychologists understand the deep affects an absent father has on a child. The OSU Tour's Armed Forces Fathering Initiative speaks as to the reality of 24 million fatherless kids and presents these sobering facts.

Fatherless children account for:

• 70 percent of kids incarcerated;

• 72 percent of adolescents charged with murder;

• 62 percent of repeat rapists, 70 percent of long-term prison inmates, and 80 percent of gang members;

• Three out of four teen suicides.

Also, children who grow up without a dad are a tenth as likely to get As in school, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 32 times more likely to become runaways, 20 times more likely to have behavioral problems, and five times more likely to commit suicide.
While it's admirable that state Assemblyman Kristen Olsen wants to legislate things like this from happening, as a Republican she should know better. Her AB 1861 would make it illegal for any teacher to have a relationship with any student, even if they are 18. If someone like Hooker abandons common sense and a code of ethics, what's to make him obey a law like Olsen's? Government already makes it illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor, as it should. But should it seek to add a law outlawing a "legal" relationship between an adult student and a teacher? It's not that I condone such relationships, but I just see government trying to get more of its meat hooks in our lives (which could be curbed by having a part-time Legislature since the full-time one seeks legislative solutions to every problem in the human experience).
How about the Legislature instead bend over backwards to strengthen families? How about scaling back on government and its cost and reducing families' tax burdens to alleviate financial pressures since money is the number one issue in most divorces?
This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.


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