Teachers should be moral exemplars

John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) is considered to be the “father of modern education.” This passage from his best known work, the Great Didactic, shows exactly why he is so highly regarded and remains ahead of this time, after so many centuries.
“The sun in the heavens teaches us the best form of discipline, since to all things that grow it ministers (i) light and heat, continuously; (2) rain and wind, frequently; (3) lightning and thunder, but seldom; although these latter are not wholly without their use. It is by imitating this that the master should try to keep his pupils up to their work. (i) He should give them frequent examples of the conduct that they should try to imitate, and should point to himself as a living example. Unless he does this, all his work will be in vain.

“He may employ advice, exhortation, and sometimes blame, but should take great care to make his motive clear and to show unmistakably that his actions are based on paternal affection, and are destined to build up the characters of his pupils and not to crush them. Unless the pupil understands this and is fully persuaded of it, he will despise all discipline and will deliberately resist it.” (John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, p. 252)

Here, Comenius shows up the fatal flaw in our present educational system, the fact that teachers are chosen for purely intellectual attainment, and not moral distinction. As a rule, teachers today do not even try to hold themselves up as moral exemplars; the result is disaster. As students enter into High School, they “catch attitude,” that is, they become rebellious and lose respect for authority. The disease is especially evident among boys.

I was talking to a father of a young child recently who was reluctant to send his child to public school for fear that this would happen to his son. Unfortunately, the private school option is not a choice at all, since the same criteria apply for the choice of teachers there. Private schools just breed a different sort of attitude, one tinged with elitism. Such a haughtiness is perhaps more pernicious than the blind rebelliousness instilled in public schools.

Until you find schools poaching the private sector for its most ethical leaders and workers, teachers and the teaching profession will continue to be held in contempt by students, parents and the public at large, and all the ideals that they stand for will continue to be ignored.



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