When students balk at trying harder or when they seem stuck and unable to learn more, teachers must not react by lowering their expectations. They must instead discover ways to transmit to their students their own hopes about them, to have students internalize their teachers' aspirations for them. "We won't give up," should be the motto. "I find it hard to teach about this; you don't like learning it. But we can't let you get away without learning it. So let's find another way to go at it. We're going to keep trying together."
Ethical teaching means embodying the principles of teaching. All teachers teach by example as well as by instruction; they are followed and emulated as well as understood. Students are always inclined to emulate the behavior and attitudes of those whom they see as models or who are held up to them as models, especially when those figures, the teachers, may be the adults with whom students spend the most time outside their families and who thus serve as surrogates for their parents. In fact, teachers are sometimes students' only models of good behavior and thought; always they are among young students' most significant guides to personal and occupational life. If knowledge is to be, as it must be, more than book-learning, and if other people, other institutions, fail, as they too often do, to guide students toward their own good or to offer mature examples of behavior, then teachers bear an even heavier responsibility to do what is right. Teachers must therefore exemplify mature behavior actions, as always, speak louder than words-and thus avoid the moral arrogance and self-righteousness that often seems to come from teaching good behavior directly.
Ethical teaching means teaching ethics. Beyond setting examples, teaching requires active efforts to teach about and instill good character.
To be sure, in an age of relativism, when rival camps battle over the teaching of virtues and values, it is not easy to know how to teach ethics to students; and teachers are often confused and uncertain even about whether they should attempt to do so. But that decision is already made when they exemplify the worth and use of knowledge, service to others, or compassion. They must therefore be conscious of the moral qualities and dimensions of their work and not hesitate to teach about ethics and character.
For example, teachers must iterate and reiterate the priorities of truth, honesty, and fairness; they must instruct their students about the costs of plagiarism and cheating, including the self-injury such acts inflict upon students' developing intellect; they must apply just penalties for all breaches of ethical behavior. Teachers must also, by way of evidence amply provided in the study of history and literature (to name only the richest sources), offer instruction about good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice, truth and error. They must introduce their students to the sometimes agonizing ethical quandaries of life. These lessons can be taught anywhere-in classrooms, at laboratory benches, and on the playing fields. They permeate all disciplines. To dismiss such instruction as dangerous, intrusive, or coercive is a kind of cowardice. Of course there are risks in teaching ethics and character.
But if classroom work lacked such challenges, who would choose to be a teacher?
Ethical teaching means acknowledging students' minds, ways, and beliefs. Teachers must elicit from their students their own, if only faintly understood, views even while infusing in students the teachers' own more mature thinking; they must ask their students to explain their behavior and convictions, as well as lead them to explore those convictions' appropriateness and strength. While all teaching is meant to develop students' thinking by adding to their knowledge,
the purpose of teaching is to enlarge, not to manipulate, their minds and spirits. What students bring to the classroom of their own experiences and of their families' lives and situations is the raw material that teaching seeks to enlarge and deepen, perhaps to refashion, but never to present as illegitimate or to obliterate. This may be teachers' most delicate task. While listening with an open heart and mind, they must try to lead their students to see and understand things afresh without injuring the better convictions and traditions the students bring to class. At the same time, however, they are bound to try to alter any baser ways and convictions they may encounter-such as violence or racism. Precisely because of their ethical freight, neither of these tasks is easy.
Classes that contain students of different racial and ethnic groups or of different ages present particular challenges. It is in such situations that the relevant experiences of students, related and discussed with care, can help others learn; and no good teacher ought to discourage such contributions when they bear on the subject being discussed.
Ethical teaching requires consideration of students' differing but tenable viewpoints. Teachers who have full command of their subjects can present them in many aspects and distinguish established facts and findings from areas of doubt and uncertainty. In fact,
they must distinguish facts from fiction, hypotheses from theories, the possible from the probable, and the wise from the imprudent. Yet they must always do so with fidelity to what is known and not known; they must not offer their own opinions or beliefs as established facts or as truth. Thus in order to excite rather than suppress discussion, in order to give students' ideas full consideration, teachers must present a wide range of possible interpretations and viewpoints while scrupulously refraining from introducing their own preferences and views.
In fact, teachers cannot responsibly seek to impose their own views upon their students; to do so only inhibits the students' own thinking and discourages them from exploring new thoughts and deepening their own understanding of knowledge of proven worth. Teachers must actively encourage their students to discover and justify their own views -views that will often differ from those of their teachers and fellow students if only as exercises in learning. It is the duty of all teachers to encourage the flowering and strengthening of their students' thoughts, not to proselytize for their own.
Yet to acknowledge students' views must not mean the avoidance of rigor or debate; teachers who let their students off easily are only patronizing them. Students should not be allowed to explain and support what is no more than their personal opinions or the expression of "the way things are" as solid and tested convictions or statements of proven fact; nor should they be allowed to claim as known or true what is mere opinion. Teachers must ask of their students that, among other things, they cite known evidence, employ conventional logic, and assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position they take; and teachers must not shrink from pointing out and explaining the relative merits and power of all arguments. Teachers' respect for their students makes itself known in the insistence that students arrive at their personal convictions only after having ventured into the struggle to test them against the world's current stock of knowledge.
The ethical dimensions of teaching, more than any others of its elements, require, like all ethical life, difficult choices between our own desires and the good of others. No one ought to minimize these difficulties or consider any of the choices teachers must make as being clear-cut. Sometimes all we can ask of ourselves is an awareness of the ethical dilemmas of our work, knowing that we may not find a solution to them and probably never an escape from them. In spite of our best intentions,
we are only human and so will sometimes fail to be as ethical as we should be; being human, we will ourselves often be confused, just like our students, about the just and ethical course to take. Even with our best efforts, we will inadvertently ignore or hurt a student. And who is going to be so selfless as always to surrender personal interests to those of others?
Nevertheless, the ethics of teaching gains a certain clarity by virtue of its unwavering focus on students' welfare. Rather than appearing as sanctimony, teachers' ethical responsibilities ought to be broadening, bracing, and enhancing. They ought to indicate not righteousness but firmness of heart. By holding to the long view of what is in their students' best interests- their learning, their moral development, the creation in them of an aspiration always to try to surpass what they have previously known and achieved - teachers see to it that all teaching justifies itself.