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From whom little is asked, little can be expected

By July 6, 2015December 20th, 2015No Comments

Berlatsky makes a crucial point about “cheating scandals” in public schools:  we can’t treat teachers like janitors and secretaries while expecting them to have the ethics of doctors and lawyers.

I know, I know, lawyers.  But you follow the point.

“Teachers are treated like children, not professionals,” he writes at The Atlantic:

Professions with social respect and social capital, like doctors and lawyers, collaborate in the creation of their own standards. The assumption is that those standards are intrinsic to the profession’s goals, and that, therefore, professionals themselves are best equipped to establish and monitor them. Teachers’ standards, though, are imposed from outside — as if teachers are children, or as if teaching is a game.


We have reached a point where we can only talk about the ethics of the profession in terms of cheating or not cheating, as if teachers’ main ethical duty is to make sure that scantron bubbles get filled in correctly. Teachers, like journalists, should have a commitment to truth; like doctors, they have a duty of care. Translating those commitments and duties into a bureaucratized measure of cheating-or-not-cheating diminishes ethics; it turns it into a game. For teachers it is, literally, demoralizing. It severs the moral experience of teaching from the moral evaluation of teaching, which makes it almost impossible for good teachers (in all the senses of “good”) to stay in the system.

It’s a bad thing for teachers to cheat on tests. But the fact that badness for teachers has come to be defined in large part as cheating on tests is even worse. If we want better schools, we don’t just need more ethical teachers. We need better ethics for teachers — ethics that treat them as adults and professionals, not like children playing games.

Bravo.  The long-slide reduction of teachers inevitably followed the long-slide reduction of education itself:  the more we said that education should be measured by Scantron sheets and standardized tests, the less students had to “know” in the sense of “understanding” – they had to memorize, but it’s easy to do that without “understanding.”

Once student learning became reduced to a matter of regurgitation, teacher understanding became expendable.  We weren’t looking for people with a sense of learning or a meaningful understanding of the subject matter:  we were looking for technicians capable of getting the students to sit still and fill out their forms.

What the hell did we think was going to happen?