In the light of recent high profile court cases related to extremist religious acts, the European Immigration debate and a brewing election campaign – how should we react to teachers who express strong political opinions in school? How do you deal with colleagues who hold and espouse intolerant or anti-social views? Are there acceptable limits to teacher values and ethics? I believe some views are unacceptable and proposes a Pedagogical Oath to match the Hippocratic Oath for medical doctors. Would you swear it?
Politics and Polemics in School
Early in my career, the comprehensive school in which I taught became the target of a campaign by an extremist organisation. Unsavoury characters lobbied students as they left the premises. Later, I worked with a teacher colleague who began expressing crudely racist views. He would hold forth in the staffroom, assuming all agreed with him. On another occasion in a different school, I referred an example of physical, possibly sexual abuse, to the head to be told, “We know it happens, we know the family… there is nothing we can do.” I also witnessed both sexist and homophobic behaviour. These are just some examples where I felt my (good?) values were being undermined by those with different (extreme, unacceptable?) views. I’m happy to say that, on each occasion above, the individuals and their ideas were challenged.
Have you met colleagues with extreme and unacceptable views? What did you do? Should bigots, racists and deviants have an equal opportunity to express themselves? Is there an acceptable range or set of “acceptable” political, religious and philosophical beliefs?
At this point I must stress, colleagues holding extreme views are a tiny minority, but they can become a significant minority when unchallenged and they can have a disproportionate effect on students.
The Pedagogical Oath
I promise to fulfil this professional oath to the best of my ability and preserve the finest traditions of my calling.
- I accept my responsibility in loco parentis and will always act in the ways of a good and thoughtful parent or guardian.
- My vision is for learners of all ages to reach their full potential and work interdependently for the common good of others.
- I will create the best learning experiences I am able to, believing education to be enjoyment in discovering the knowledge, understanding and skills we need to be confident citizens in the global community.
- I will uphold and disseminate the articles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Whilst I may work with groups, I know learning takes place in the minds of individuals and so my care, best efforts and respect will be given equally and unconditionally to all within my charge.
- I recognise there is an art to working with learners and that warmth, sympathy and understanding must always balance the important pressures to impart information, deliver programmes, pursue academic excellence and expect high standards of behaviour.
- I will encourage learners to challenge injustice, reduce harm, protect the vulnerable and isolated, sustain and improve the natural world.
- I will respect the confidentiality of my students, within the limits of the law.
- I will draw from the wisdom of those in whose steps I walk and gladly share such learning as is mine with those who follow. I will not be ashamed to say “I don’t know”, or fail to call on colleagues when their help is needed.
- I will study the effect and impact of all I do in order to do it better next time.