Should Not the Shepherds Feed the Flock and Not Themselves?

It is reported that Greta Callahan, head of the teacher’s union in Minneapolis, said of her union’s strike against the Minneapolis public school system was a fight “against patriarchy, against capitalism.”

This, to my mind, brings into focus a vital issue for stakeholders in our republic: what responsibilities do teachers have when working for the public?

Is not their duty to serve, not dictate thought reforms to young minds?

Indoctrination imposes their will on those under their power, a form of oppression, of exploitation of position for personal benefit, no?

Callahan’s commitment to a personal “fight” for her truth brought to mind the standard of justice in Ezekiel 34:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves!  Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.  The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep.  No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves.  I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

Under the Caux Round Table Principles for Government, a public office is a public trust and accordingly, being a public school teacher is a public office.

We’ve proposed an oath of office for teachers to take.

The proposed oath is:

General Principle

Teaching is an office of trust to serve society by improving human capitals and thus, contributing to the enhancement of social capital which sustains the common good of the community.  The office of teacher provides both public goods to society and private goods to individuals.  Faithfull execution of the office of teacher ethically guides the instructor.

The teacher is the overlap of two Venn circles – one is the individual, the student and the other is the community or communities in which the student lives and will live as an adult.  The teacher’s office is to keep a balance between the individual and the community.  Thus, the teacher should accurately identify and articulate the circumstances of the student and also accurately discern the context in which the student is placed.  The teacher participates in the ego-identity formation of the student, the student’s sense of self which serves as the foundation of a life well-lived and which simultaneously engages with the context, values, character and needs of the community.

As William James advised: “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual; the impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”

Principle No. 1: Educate, Not Indoctrinate

As a fiduciary, a teacher places service over self.  A teacher seeks to bring out the best in students and must put their interests in achieving intellectual and moral growth first, without confining their understandings to the teacher’s personal narratives.  The teacher as fiduciary separates role responsibility from personal prerogatives.  The duty of a teacher is, from the Latin educare to “bring up, rise up, train, mold or nourish.”  A cognate Latin word is educatus – to “bring out, lead out.”

Principle No. 2: Citizenship Formation

The office of teacher seeks to form the characters of students that they may become honorable and engaged citizens.  The teacher facilitates student experience of personal agency and acquisition of self-command and self-reliance, not subservience.

Principle No. 3: Searching for Truth

A teacher introduces students to realities – simple and complex, material and cultural, natural and social.  A teacher guides them to apprehend the environments in which they live and to internalize knowledge of those circumstances, their origins and potentials.  Detachment and objectivity are required for success in the search for more certain knowledge of reality.

Principles No. 4: Empowerment 

A teacher empowers students with skills and abilities – intellectual, ethical, athletic and emotional.  The trust responsibilities of a teacher are realized through the student’s accumulation of skill and effectiveness.  Three skills supporting robust personal agency are: awareness of values, ambiguity tolerance and mediation skills consistent with a resilient ego-identity incorporating honesty and honor.