Nice is different than good

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a song in their hymn book called Do what is Right. The chorus reminds us to “do what is right, let the consequence follow.” Four years ago I tried to do what is right and boy, did the consequences follow. I naively believed if I advocated for what is right that other people would understand and also champion what was right.

Four years ago my now adult daughter was in an Adult Roles class in high school. The point of the required class is to help prepare teenagers to become adults. Her teacher had been teaching the same curriculum for 30ish years. In class she had the teenagers fill out a “Dear Abby” survey from 1981 that had questions it on that are against state and federal laws to ask students.

My daughter’s friend refused to fill it out and turn it in, and instead brought it home to her mother who complained to the principal. It escalated to the superintendent and the local news got ahold of it. The teacher was given a week off work while the situation was investigated by the school district (her job was reinstated at the end of the week). After talking to the principal, I tweeted about it when the local paper published the story. Because of this my daughter and I were asked to be interviewed by a local Fox news station. I regret that now because they only used soundbites that did not accurately convey our concerns.

My biggest issue with the survey is that each question had a point value and were calculated a final score at it’s completion. The survey then assigned a classification to a student based on their final score. The highest number of points relegated students to the “hopeless and condemned category.” In a state with a very high teen suicide rate, why would any teacher give an assignment that told a student they were “hopeless and condemned”? Other classifications were ranked as “indecent.” On the other end with the low points, one of the classifications is “pure as ivory soap, you must be a fruitcake.” For those of you not familiar with slang from 1981, a fruitcake is a slur for a gay person.

The Salt Lake Tribune published a copy of the survey:

By alerting the principal and superintendent to what was being given as assignments in this Adult Roles class (I remind you that these questions are against state and federal laws to ask a student) my daughter and I were bullied and harassed because this teacher is “nice.” I kept questioning myself over and over again, since when do nice people get to get away with breaking the law? I kept thinking of the kids in class who had been sexually assaulted, molested, or grew up in families of addiction who were now being told in a high school class that they didn’t have much worth as a person.

My daughter was threatened with physical violence on school property. I was sent dozens of nasty, of course anonymous, messages on Facebook and Twitter. My daughter and I stood up for what was right. This teacher was giving out an assignment that violated the law. It designated certain students as hopeless and condemned while others were called gay slurs. Over and over again I was told how dare I call for this teacher’s firing (I only ever asked that she stop giving out this survey) when she is so “nice.” I live in a predominantly LDS community. This teacher was LDS and so were most of her supporters. What I learned the most about my community was that doing what is right is wrong if the person breaking the law is “nice.” Niceness was praised over goodness. I’m not ashamed of standing up for what was right. I’m ashamed for my community.

As Steven Sondheim wrote in “Into the Woods” – Nice is different than good.


Risa has a Masters and Bachelors degree in Social Work. She is an Associate Therapist who has worked in child abuse prevention, adoption, and volunteers as a CASA . She is a mother of 4 and in her spare time she is a voracious reader, snarker, and subversive cross-stitcher.

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5 Responses

  1. Katie Rich says:

    So frustrating to have your comments misrepresented on the news and to have so many members of your community go after you and your daughter rather than address the problem. Good on your daughter’s friend for recognizing the problem in class and saying something to her mother. That takes courage. And good on you for standing up the students in the class most likely to be hurt by this survey.

  2. Thank you for advocating for kids. I am sorry about how your community reacted.

  3. allyall says:

    What a horrible survey to give to students. So many better options exist too!

  4. Di says:

    It’s shocking that this ‘nice’ teacher didn’t know better than to give this survey to her students – what on earth was she thinking? And I’m sorry you paid the price for doing the right thing.

  5. Risa says:

    Thank you for all your supportive comments. I literally felt gaslighted and ostracized by my community at the time. It’s nice to hear that the survey was as bad as I thought it was.

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