Comment of the Day on “Ethics Triple Dunces…”

[In his Comment of the Day, Jeffrey Field endorses the actions of both the teacher and the superintendent that I labeled “ethics triple dunces” for making students write letters lobbying for more money in school budgets, raises some other provocative ethics issues related to teacher and student conduct, and questions my indictment of the ethics of the teaching profession. I think he’s wrong on every count (you can read my response with my original post), but it’s a terrific comment.]

“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…”

2 thoughts on “Comment of the Day on “Ethics Triple Dunces…”

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

    Religion is nothing but an indoctrination, but it has a positive enough effect on many of its adherents that I do not consider a Mass unethical. (My late grandmother admittedly colors this perspective. She was a devout Catholic with a shrine to the Virgin Mary in her house. She drew a great deal of strength from her faith.) Patriotic garble like the Pledge of Allegiance and your flag-raising are the same way. (Though as a recently graduated high-school student, who really gives a damn about the Pledge? The only reason people say it is peer pressure.) All things in moderation.

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

    Not at all. You can honor the military without condoning the war because the military has no choice but to fight it, you can support them while still condemning their masters. And if people know you feel strongly about the war, they will see the distinction.

  2. As a teacher for twenty-five years, the wife of a teacher and the mother of two teachers, I thank you for your comments. I agree that the vast majority of teachers have ethical standards equal to any other profession if not higher. The teachers I worked with labored under restrictions and expectations that would tempt anyone, but they did not fail to live up to high standards. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never taught in a public school or spent much time in one lately. The influence of No Child Left Behind has been devastating and has resulted in a laser focus on test scores and impossible demands of teachers. Is it possible for all students to make progress? Yes. Is it possible for all students to be proficient? No. And the expectation of that only results in the lowering of standards, which we have seen since the law was enacted. Believe me, teachers are not any more happy with this than anyone else.

    The antipathy toward public schools and public school teachers is a mystery to me. A report of a teacher having sex with a student EVERY WEEK? Boy, I’m going to have to put out a Google alert on that one. Most teachers I know barely have time to have sex with their spouse. The present attitude of starving the schools of resources is, I’m afraid, only going to make things worse. Both my daughters are getting out of public school teaching, and it is not because they are unhappy with the ethics of the profession. It is because monetary issues have forced their schools into creating overcrowded, dangerous, inadequately resourced schools. If the goal of these policies is to end public education, they are succeeding spectacularly.

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