September 21, 2010

Turned in my paper on Thomas More tonight, attempted to tighten up the writing and to not write as much “stream of conscientiousness” stuff as i did in the Socrates paper. Some how it was easier to relate Socrates to a high school, and form parallels to the structures of the departments, or our course of study, or method for tracking students  than to write this paper. I think there were plenty of loose ends “here and there” that related to educational practices, but the over-arching element in the More piece, that a leader would want something that was “immoral” etc. and would cause a man to lose his life because he did not support this desire was a stretch for me.

Perhaps I am jaded  and incapable of feeling shock and disbelief, or pursuing  “moral outrage” over such a leader?  There have been several person’s in key “power” positions over the past several years, nationally and locally, who have made personal decisions and choices which would not be considered appropriate, or “moral’ by some. And yet, they still have, or are earning six-figure incomes. Sigh.

Reading Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons” gave me reason to consider if the personal behaviors of school leaders has any effect or implication for their decision-making at school, as well  as affecting their scope of influence with others. Thomas More found himself facing the choice between violating his personal code of morality and ethics or agreeing to do what the King wanted him to do, and to endorse the King’s decision/desire to ask for a divorce so that he could marry his current mistress.

The typical classroom teacher may work an entire career and never face a moral or ethical challenge from a superior.

A teacher might find herself taking on more responsibility at school, perhaps in the form of a new teaching assignment where part of her job is to collect large amounts of money for charitable causes the student body deems worthy of assistance. Such a job might be rather open-ended in its specific job descriptors, as it is a problem-solving assignment, which requires the teacher to think and problem-solve on-the-job.” Since every task is not delineated for the teacher, and district policy may actually grant the teacher the scope of influence to make decisions deemed appropriate in terms of money collection. In such a situation the teacher will need to rely upon her personal code of ethics, the ethical and moral precedents set by her two predecessors in the position, and personal judgment regarding appropriate procedures for collection, and more importantly “disbursement”  of collected funds for charity. A superior who harasses (verbally, personally, in email) the teacher requesting that a set amount of cash should be turned over from her collection,  to him to use in a manner he deems appropriate to “replace something a student had reported as stolen,” (details were missing, and inconsistent, and the amount varied from $100-$150)  MIGHT be such construed as such a situation for the teacher which is similar to More facing the King’s wrath for not approving of his desire for divorce and request for special dispensation from the pope. Like More, the teacher may find herself faced with either reporting the harassment by the superior to a person in the district, (  perhaps the district’s treasurer?) who has the power to redirect the superior’s attentions better than the teacher is able to do.

Reporting on a superior, much like telling King Henry, “no,” carries with it a feeling similar to the initial symptoms of stomach flu.

The teacher is powerless in a sense and is acting on a faith in the “system” that she will be heard and her complaint will be acted upon justly. Unlike the outcome for More, the teacher in our example was supported by the District Treasurer, who informed the teacher’s superior that he was to stop requesting that ANY cash amount be given to him personally, and that the General Accounting Procedures employed by the teacher were in fact correct and in accordance with Ohio Revised Code and the protocol of the district treasurer’s office. To do differently, the superior was reminded that he could lose his job if he actually did do anything as  inappropriate as to take cash without an audit trail, using school funds. The teacher did not lose her head on a platform in front of the school, but only because the superior was unable to do so without incurring more negative, ultimately public attention.

In his post-disciplined, and still-furious state, he did in fact choose to confront the  teacher privately in her office. His argument was simply a question of “did (the teacher)really ‘understand’ that the superior could get into trouble because (the teacher) contacted the district treasurer?” As this was not the first time the teacher had been bullied, nor would it be the last, her response to him was simply,

“Am I the first person in  your life who has ever told you ‘No’ ?”

To which the superior fumed; turned red in the face; and abruptly got up from his chair and left her office, he almost walked into the door as he did so. Some memories retain their sweetness for a long, long time.

Key points to consider when looking at the power structures in schools:

  1. Not all power is equal or equally dispersed in an organization.
  2. Not all leaders are morally, ethically, legally correct in their decision-making.
  3. A teacher must be willing to “go through channels” or to address issues as they arise.
  4. Sometimes a teacher will be compelled morally, ethically, and or legally to take a stand and defend it.
  5. Not all those who take such  a stand will end up beheaded.

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