We Are All Guilty

The day we become an educator we accept upon ourselves a responsibility towards children, arguably the most defenceless and vulnerable members of our society and the key to our future. We say to society – I am prepared to step up and take this responsibility and acknowledge its importance, significance and that it is not to be taken lightly.

I’ve suggested in the past that there is a very strong case for a Hippocratic oath for educators, along the lines of that recited by doctors – “First, do no harm.”

What disturbs me is that all around we are confronted by the evidence that our profession has been infested by too many who don’t take this responsibility seriously, who have motives that are neither in the interests of children or even compatible with their needs.

Part of this responsibility includes the duty to put ourselves on a never ending quest to know more, learn more, understand more about children and their needs so that we can serve them best.

A school owner, charter holder or promoter making a reasonable profit isn’t incompatible with children’s needs per se. Not at all. After all – that surplus can go to build and create more schools, over the long term to enhance the existing ones and over the really long term to replace the existing infrastructure when it gets old and dysfunctional. However, when we see the kind of ‘business’ they are owning, what’s a reasonable margin? After all, in good or bad economic times if you run high quality schools providing great education you’ll never lack pupils. A business with such inelastic demand doesn’t need to make big margins, nor should it.

A person who becomes a teacher solely because the short working hours in the school are convenient and compatible with her home and household chores (provided she doesn’t do anything beyond the basic school hours, succumb to pressure to invest time and effort in professional development etc.) is in the wrong place if she doesn’t really feel any affinity with children – or worse, really doesn’t like them or ave the patience, tolerance or disposition the role requires.

A person who becomes a teacher, teaches poorly (or worse, even leaves out critical material) and trebles their income by providing out of hours tuitions to children who failed to learn what they needed to know in school has no place in the profession, but we’ve all met them.

The person who aspires to be a leader in the education environment in order to revel in the pomp and status trips, to have control and power over people whose subservience will make them compliant, obedient and pleasing. Schools don’t exist to provide status driven trips for egomaniacs who get to belittle teachers and children. But, we’ve all met them.

At the leadership level it’s also imperative that skill levels are developed in critical thinking, communication, creativity and all the other key skills of leadership. We have to develop the ability to see the broader impacts of decisions. Nowhere do we see this more than when teachers are incentivised, pressured, cajoled and coerced to treat children’s performance on standardised tests as the be all and end all of education.

Here are two examples of what happens in such circumstances. These are somewhat shocking and sickening, but more so because we all know in our hearts that they are just two examples of many in a vast problem:

New York Times – The Angry Teacher

Curmudgucation Blog Post – No Excuses

Both these examples represent tyranny meted out on children at a very young and impressionable age that anyone would find it hard to condone. I don’t know the people responsible, so I cannot simply judge them, declare them to be bad people. However, I can say that, whatever their motives and whatever is driving them to their actions they are doing wrong by children.

So, why do I say we’re all guilty? Through our silence, through our tolerance and acceptance of wrongdoing in schools and in education, we make ourselves part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Too often, there is an attitude in education of teachers looking the other way even though they know colleagues are doing wrong. Each chooses to operate in a bubble. For example, on one occasion i had to deal with a teacher who was in the habit of calling children ‘donkey’ when they got questions wrong. When I probed a bit, I discovered that a number of her colleagues were aware of this, but made choices to look the other way.

In the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


One Response

  1. Dear Mark,

    I find your posts absolutely relevant and to-the-point. About 3 years ago I interviewed you for a story on alternative education for the magazine careers360. Since then I have been reading your enriching posts on education.

    Am sure your writing is helping educators and parents alike. I enjoy them immensely.

    Best regards


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