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What does it mean to be a Morally Responsible Teacher in a Social and Political

Democracy?
Democratic education requires ideals over standards where teachers must
understand their students purposes and interests. Teachers who encourage democratic
education help students understand their problems and help them to discover democratic
resolutions. Unfortunately, this only happens sporadically because issues of bias,
prejudice, sexism, racism and discrimination stand in the way. Although some education
professionals believe radical social changes must occur to achieve full democratic
education, progress towards this goal begins with each individual teacher. As one of the
most influential role models students will ever look up to, teaching responsibly will foster
students into participating within our current social and political democracy by allowing
them to create and follow laws. Therefore, morally responsible teachers will take a
stance against the ideas and actions encouraging bias, prejudice, sexism, racism and
discrimination.
Preventing bias in the classroom can be addressed with a modification of the
golden rule provided by Mark R. OShea who states teachers can assess and evaluate
others as we would like to be assessed and evaluated ourselves (Assessment Throughout
the Year, pg. 29). Its important for new teachers to grasp this concept because they tend
to display unfair treatment towards their students through poor assessment practices and
loose grading policies. Unbeknownst to them, this is a form of bias and can lead to
prejudice if the new teacher is not careful. Bias, according to Dictionary.reference.com is
a particular tendency or inclination that prevents unprejudiced consideration, or in

other words, to cause partiality or favoritism towards a person


unfairly (dictionary.reference.com). Prejudice includes a preconceived unfavorable
opinion or feeling that is formed without knowledge, thought, or reason that tends to be
hostile in nature (dictionary.reference.com). Throughout the general public, bias is
rampant with blonde jokes that assert negative attributes towards women. When these
women are overlooked for job promotions, bias transforms into prejudice. Inside the
classroom, bias can be present when a teacher upholds negative stereotypes about their
students. Such instances can include when a teacher believes minority students are less
capable of achieving positive learning outcomes. Unfortunately, this form of bias
transforms into prejudice once the teacher gives a minority student unjustified low
grades. Bias and prejudice can also be present with a particular school or school district.
If a school or school district focuses their learning objectives mainly towards their
students achieving high Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, then it can be argued that
the school or school district is practicing a bias towards women. The SAT has been an
indicator for universities to determine academic success of future attendants. This test
has been discovered to favor male applicants concerning the math portion of the test,
whereas, female applicants tend to have lower scores. The controversy concerns
contemporary research indicating that female students are performing better in college
than their male counterparts (Assessment Throughout the Year, pg. 30). Therefore, this
bias towards female students assumes they will be less successful then male students and
transforms into and act of prejudice once the female student is actually denied acceptance
into college. Although this type of gender bias is not particularly prevalent within many

school districts it can happen when a school or school district adopts a high stakes
testing mentality. This type of teach to the test policy overlooks what knowledge a
student has acquired as well as other skills and abilities unfairly. Therefore, to truly be a
morally responsible teacher in a social and political democracy, new teachers must
consider providing all students with an equal opportunity to perform well and provide
them with the skills and knowledge to do so.
Sexism is a form of discrimination on the basis of sex, usually involving
oppression of women by men who uphold attitudes or behavior based on traditional
stereotypes of sexual roles (dictionary.reference.com). In the general public, sexist
discrimination prevents women from obtaining important leadership roles in politics,
economics, business, and in other social spheres because it is unfairly perceived that
males are superior to females. According to Myra and David Sadker, sexism in the
classroom is characterized when male students receive more attention from teachers and
given more time to talk (Sexism in the Classroom: From Grade School to Graduate
School). This is an unfair practice because neither male nor female students are receiving
an unbiased education, which ultimately affects their self-esteem and overall educational
performance. Public school administrators can also fall into a sexist mentality through
the construction and implementation of dress code policies. Soraya Chemaly believes
while everyone is in theory affected by dress codes, girls are disproportionately affected
by them (Huffington Post). As an example, she describes how some administrators
perform rigorous visual inspections that can have harmful effects upon female students.
Under such scrutiny they may begin to feel objectified and therefore, become distracted

from their studies and overall performance. This form of bias undermines educational
equity and it is important for all teachers to avoid sexism in order to be morally
responsible in a social and political democracy.
Racism is a belief that inherent differences among the various human races
determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that ones own
race is superior and has the right to rule others (dictionary.reference.com). Historically,
one example of racism includes the arrest of Rosa Parks, an African American woman
who sat in the wrong section on the bus. Although, in todays society, racisms does not
manifest itself like it did during the 1950s and 1960s, it still exists as a prominent force
in many public school systems. In an age when good jobs require higher levels of skills
and knowledge than ever before in history, children are denied the education to acquire
them, simply because of their parents skin color or income (Teachers College Columbia
University). Research has uncovered trends where teachers are punishing minority
students at a much higher rate than that of white students. In addition, minority students
attending public schools receive less access to veteran teachers and are often forced into
learning from teachers without proper certification or even a license. Racist behavior
greatly reduces academic performance of minority students and it places them at risk of
dropping out of school. Morally responsible teachers must continuously fight the
pervasive nature of racism and teach with an attitude of educational equality.
According to dictionary.reference.com, discrimination includes the treatment or
consideration of making a distinction in favor of (or against), a person based on the
group, class, or category to which that person belongs rather than on individual merit.

Discrimination can be committed by a student, teacher, administrator, or from a school


policy. Teachers, for example, at fault for discrimination either discipline or grade
students differently based on their race, sex, religion, ancestry, national origin or
disability. Schools at fault for discrimination do not provide reasonable accommodation
for a students disability like providing an American Sign Language Interpreter for deaf
students. Or in the most severe examples, places like St. Louise and other cities sprinkled
along the Mississippi River have been known to discriminate against black students by
preventing them from attending public schools located where mainly white students live.
A students classmates are also at fault of discrimination when they harass or bully them
because of their race, sex, religion, etc. One testimonial expressed how, I have had to
deal with this all my life Only one other student in my class was black. They [the
other students] wouldnt play with me [and] one day I got a note: Go back to
Africa (Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol). Morally responsible teachers will
understand a students right to live, work, and receive an education free from illegal
discrimination and will also strive towards creating and maintaining educational equity
within their diverse public school institution. Anything else is simply counterproductive
towards helping students achieve their fullest potential.
Almost everyone has high expectations for the public school system that include
both social and educational ideas as the true nature and purpose of this institution. Since
any given individual will spend a large portion of their time working, it is more important
for schools to focus on the educational aspects such as intellectual development and
mastery of basic skills. However, since we live in a complex society, attending school

requires enculturation. Therefore, in order to maintain autonomy for each student


attending the public school system, teachers must facilitate an environment where each
student can develop a positive self-concept. This involvess avoiding the damaging
affects of bias, prejudice, sexism, racism, and discrimination in every form.

Bibliography
Dictionary.com www.dictionary.reference.com accessed Dec. 3, 2014
Chemaly, Soraya. Dress Codes or How Schools Skirt Around Sexism and Homophobia.
Huffington Post (2013): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/schooldress-code_b_2711533.html
Why Should I Worry About Schools My Children Wont Attend? TeachersCollege
Columbia University. Published 2005. http://www.tc.columbia.edu accessed Dec.
6, 2014.

Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities.


Third_World_US/SI_Kozol_StLouis.html

http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/

OShea, Mark, R. Assessment Throughout the Year. New Jersey: Pearson, 2009.
Sadker, David and Myra. Sexism in the Classroom: From Grade School Graduate to
Graduate School Vol. 67, No. 7. Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa International, 1986.

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Zephyr K. Caladrius
12/8/14