Ethics TRIPLE Dunces: Tramway Elementary Teacher Melanie Hawes and Lee County Board of Education Superintendant Jeff Moss


North Carolina state legislator Mike Stone is a budget hawk, and is supporting a budget-cutting proposal that could eliminate 9,300 positions in the public schools. It’s a contentious issue, and the representative has received many letters—including a plaintive one from his own third grader daughter, a student at Tramway Elementary, who was one of several students in her class directed by teacher Melanie Hawes to write to the  Republican and plead with him to save the jobs of their two teacher assistants.

“Our school doesn’t want to lose them,” she wrote. “Please put the budget higher, dad.”

Ugh. Ethics foul; in fact, three of them:

1. It is unethical for teachers to indoctrinate their students in political positions in which the teachers have a personal interest.

2. It is unethical to exploit children as lobbying tools, under the pretense of educating them.

3. It is extremely unethical to recruit a legislator’s 8-year-old daughter to carry a lobbying message.

Despicably and indefensibly, Lee County Board of Education Superintendent Jeff Moss defended the teacher’s actions, saying, “They wrote them to support public education. It was a writing activity in a class. We teach various forms of writing, so this was just an activity to teach kids writing and they used it as the subject matter.”

Liar. Unprofessional liar. Power-abusing, unethical, unprofessional liar.

Education is a profession with woefully inadequate ethics standards, non-existent ethics enforcement, and a critical mass of practitioners with the ethical judgment of safecrackers, welfare frauds and playground bullies. Nobody in their right mind should give more budget money to someone with the attitude and character of Jeff Moss, who would betray the trust of a parent who places his precious daughter in the charge of his teachers and schools by turning that daughter against her own father. According to Rep. Stone, his daughter and her classmates were given “talking points” that the children were to include in their letters, such as arguing that students won’t be safe in the cafeteria, won’t have field trips, won’t have assignments graded on time and will be undisciplined if the teaching assistants were let go. “They put all the ideas on the board and coached them through it,” Stone says. Now he is concerned that his daughter will be ostracized by the other students if the budget cuts go through. I wouldn’t doubt it. Maybe that’s what Moss will use as leverage next.

Superintendent Moss is Exhibit A for the proposition that giving more taxpayer money to the incompetently run public schools is like pouring it down a sewer. The school district should make a deal in which the two teaching assistants keep their jobs with the money saved by relieving Moss and Melanie Hawes of theirs.

Just imagine how much money could be saved if schools stopped paying Ethics Dunces.

7 thoughts on “Ethics TRIPLE Dunces: Tramway Elementary Teacher Melanie Hawes and Lee County Board of Education Superintendant Jeff Moss

  1. When I was a 5th grade teacher teacher at Clements school in North Alabama, the all-white Limestone County School Board voted to allow students the Martin Luther King holiday, but teachers would be required to work that day. So, partially in self interest and partially in empathy of the small percentage of black teachers, I got my 5th grade class to write letters to the board asking them to reconsider. Long story short, the board reversed position and everybody got a day off.

    Yes, I used this as a writing exercise, and I offer no excuses. You see, too many times teachers have students write a paper with no real purpose in mind. In this case, my students had a real purpose in penning a persuasive letter to the people who ran the schools (btw – no one was required to write the letter, but they all did). And boy, you should have seen the smiles and heard the whoops of joy the morning the Athens News Courier ran a story saying the board had reconsidered its position.

    So, I plead guilty to charges 1 and 2. I’d do it again. (In fact, I used this tactic several more times while teaching in Alabama.)

    Teachers are always having their kids write thank you letters to people and groups who benefit the class (field trips, guest speakers, etc.) Is that OK?

    Now, two questions for you, Jack. A few years ago I attended, along with students and staff at the elementary school I was teaching at in Las Cruces, NM, a flag raising ceremony honoring the military for their service in Iraq. A teacher I respect, whose brother served in Iraq and who had sent the school an American flag for the ceremony, was the impetus for the event. Personally, however, I was strongly against our involvement there. But, rather than refuse the pledge of allegiance, or better yet, refusing to leave my classroom, I did attend and went through all the motions like a good little soldier. I simply didn’t want to embarrass anyone.

    Question 1 – Was it unethical for the school to conduct this ceremony? (I feel it was nothing but an indoctrination.)

    Question 2 – Am I guilty of unethical conduct because I went along with the whole thing as if I condoned our country’s involvement?

    Finally, Jack, your post indicates a strong antipathy toward the teaching profession. You write, “Education is a profession with woefully inadequate ethics standards, non-existent ethics enforcement, and a critical mass of practitioners with the ethical judgment of safecrackers, welfare frauds and playground bullies.” I suspect that, somewhere in your personal experience, you were wronged in some way. Your wholesale assault, however, is misguided. Sorry about that. Just get over it, ok? I taught for twenty some years and I will tell you this – yes, there is a minority of teachers, principals, and entire boards of education who, indeed, lack ethical standards. My educated guess puts this group at, say, 5 percent. That leaves us with 95 percent of ethical, caring folk.

    Now, as for lawyers…

    (I’m placing your post and my comment on Facebook so that my teacher friends and others can draw their own conclusions as to your scurrilous accusations. But, don’t worry, I still love you, Jack.)

    • 1. I love you too, Jeffrey.
      2. I would have fired you. Your students are not your servants, surrogates or personal resources; they are not there to bolster your personal interests or points of view; they are not yours to make march in gay rights parades, picket the Wisconsin legislature, or carry protest signs. Teach them all about Dr. King, by all means, but public policy advocacy on any topic unless they are allowed to choose it themselves without any suggestions or pressure from teachers (in other words, if your students were told they could also write a letter approving of the decision to make the teachers work) is absolutely, no doubt about it, no argument, unethical, unprofessional and an abuse of power.
      3. The fact that it was “voluntary” is irrelevant and laughable. No student in his or her right mind would fail to do what was being asked, which was to send the teacher’s sentiments about not getting a holiday.
      4. The fact that the unethical use of your students “worked” is nothing but an end justifies the means argument, which in this case is especially weak. Your argument would have the kids marching in pro-abortion or anti-abortion rallies, writing letters to support open borders or against gay marriage (or vice-versa), and forced advocacy in whatever pet controversies students’ teachers felt fattened their wallets, increased their job security, or assuaged their sense of social justice. Wrong. Clearly wrong. Not even “there are two sides to this question” wrong. Absolutely wrong.
      5. Teaching citizenship, including patriotism, respect for the military and honor to fallen soldiers is not only an appropriate part of studies but an essential one. Teaching respect for one’s own country and its military is not “indoctrination,” but cultural education. Loving and honoring one’s country is a legitimate starting point for any child; if they choose to come to another conclusion on their own, that’s their right.
      6. I think refusing to salute the flag of the nation that protects you, builds and maintains your roads, maintains social and financial safety nets and enforces the law, not to mention that it is the symbol of human freedom and rights and the nation’s enduring mission to advance them, is short-sighted, misguided and wrong, but if someone wants to do that in a school setting, that is a) courageous b) principled and c) in my view, unnecessarily disruptive of the mood and purpose of the event. It also conveys disrespect for brave soldiers who were doing their professional duties. A protest wouldn’t have been unethical, but neither is making the correct choice that this is neither the time or the place to take a stand. You did the right thing. You then could have made your students write letters protesting the Iraq War to Congress and the President…. : )
      7. Were you ever required to read a teaching Code of Ethics? Ever tested on it? Do you know the national code for your profession (trick question…there isn’t one.)? I have read many, and they are general, without specifics, mostly badly written and useless. The profession has no commitment to ethics, as a profession, which is why it generates conduct like using “writing assignments” for teachers’ interests (which would be permitted, or is at least not covered, in every ethics code I have checked) and why the unions protect incompetent members, to the detriment of students. There are reports of teachers having sex with students every week. The profession both erects bars to entry for qualified professionals, and tolerates weak standards for themselves. I had a lot of superb teachers growing up, one of my college roommates is a principal after many years teaching, and there are few professions that I think are more important and noble. There are also many, many dedicated teachers whose own standards of ethics and professionalism serve them well in the absence of adequate regulation and guidance from the profession itself. I have no quarrel with ethical teachers, but the education profession at all levels is an ethical mess.
      8. Lawyers spend more effort teaching, reviewing, learning and thinking about their ethical standards than any other profession, in part because the ethical dilemmas they face are both common and difficult. As someone who trains lawyers in legal ethics, I am very impressed with the ethical orientation of the vast majority of lawyers, and the commitment to ethics of the profession.
      9. Congratulations! You have the Comment of the Day!

      • Like many other people in my profession, I started off hired to teach in my own discipline, but ultimately being called upon to teach elsewhere. In addition to the courses in the field where my degrees are, I’ve taught mythology and journalism (there are those who would consider those to be the same subject), persuasion, as well as variations on the theme on English composition. (Among others.)

        I’d argue that there is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring students to write letters like the ones described. That is a useful classroom exercise. It was always a feature of my public speaking courses to have student deliver speeches on opposite sides of a controversial issue: it develops rhetorical and critical thinking skills, encourages a recognition that there is still validity to opposing views, etc. I did similar exercises as writing assignments in composition classes.

        But there are three differences: I was working with college students, legally adults, and presumably more capable of making individual decisions. I never sought to influence student opinion or even to find out what a student really believed (although sometimes it was obvious from the relative strength of the arguments). And I certainly wouldn’t expect a student to “go public” in any sense of that term unless s/he chose to do so: the thought that a student would be expected to advocate for a cause just because I believe in it is simply unconscionable.

        More to the point, there were two types of assignments: the one in which a student knew in advance that s/he’d be expected to argue both sides (and therefore presumably pick an issue where the student could really see both sides of an argument), and the one in which the student argued exclusively in favor of his/her own viewpoint.

        Insisting students argue a particular point of view without either balance or personal conviction is problematic but possibly no worse than that. Requiring them to send the letters is what really crossed the line.

        • Thanks, Rick, for clarifying my point. Writing the letters to be sent, under their names, under teacher coercion is the issue. Letter writing on any topic is a fair assignment.

      • Well put all the way, Jack. Child exploitation is just that; regardless of cause, circumstance or means. And it’s so prevalent today and to such a degree (now to include actual or implied perversity) that its become a national shame and tragedy. NO child should be used as a tool of an adult’s agenda. When they’re allowed to be, they lose their inherent worth AS children… which is paramount to any nation or society worthy of the name.

  2. Nothing like using kids to help save your job… Before we pulled our son out of his private elementary school, his 5th grade teacher (who, because we were lied to, had been a gym teacher and this was her first year in the classroom), had a bunch of 10 year old boys use construction paper cut-out shirts to write little essays on “their favorite person.” Guess who won? The suck-up who said the teacher herself was her fave. To my son’s credit, he refused to do the assignment, saying it was juvenile, served no purpose, and wasn’t worthy of a 5th grade assignment. He was out of there before the end of the year — our choice.

    But imagine this happening in the private sector…

    Supervisor: “I want you all to write the CEO and ask him to stop the cutbacks coming at the middle management level.”

    Employee: “Cutbacks? If I don’t write the letter either (1) I myself run the risk of being riffed, and (2) If I don’t write the letter my supervisor will probably fire me anyway.”

    In the City of Alexandria we pay enormous property taxes, and our public schools are among the worst in the state. This is a fairly wealthy jurisdiction (not Fairfax County, but the City of Alexandria which celebrated its 450th anniversary not too long ago). The ONE high school in the entire city is a multi-multi million dollar citadel of poor spending, horrible teaching, and crime. There are eight entrances which are kept locked during the school day , with police cars at every door. Why? Because there is no control there and because every single family who can afford it sends their kids to private schools or home school them. The school I’m talking about is TC Williams, our only high school and it ranks 5th FROM THE BOTTOM in the entire state on test scores and the percentage of those going on to college. Who’s to blame here? I say fire ’em all and start anew.

    PS Only one of the myriad of reasons we pulled our son out was his constant complaining that he got in trouble for correcting the teachers’ grammar! Impolite to an adult, and risky, but he just couldn’t stand it.

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