Extremist views are in the news again… tragically.
Should teachers be allowed to members of extreme political parties or even hold extreme political or religious views?
Recently a student teacher was discussing this issue with me. She said she couldn’t see how anyone with extreme political views could be relied upon to uphold the values that were expected from a profession that had a duty to promote equality and respect diversity.
I have often challenged students to consider whether they can separate personal beliefs from professional values. Most readily accept that they can and should, especially where those beliefs are kept private and not brought in to the professional domain. Theoretically at least.
So I challenged her.
She responded: “I just don’t think that someone who for example, denies the evidence of the Jewish Holocaust is suitable to teach a subject like history. For that matter, can someone who believes the world was created in seven days be suitable to teach science? I don’t think so.”
While other students have expressed similar reservations many times before, what struck me here was the use of the word suitable.
Professional misconduct and incompetence can be defined and specified but it struck me that unsuitability is a very much more a value judgment.
Obviously, some people are not suitable to be teachers – those deemed to be unsafe to work with children are indisputably in that category.
There are a lot of people who would not be suitable as teachers for perfectly forgivable reasons. Not everyone has a personality robust enough to meet the emotional and psychological challenges of working with children. Teaching especially in very challenging contexts, is not for the faint hearted.
But to say someone is unsuitable to be a teacher because the belief they hold privately may be at odds with the content of a syllabus or the subject matter of a curriculum came as a strong challenge to my thinking.
And now I’m wondering where this logic might lead. A ‘fat’ teacher unsuitable to teach PE? A smoking teacher unsuitable to teach about health? A teacher with a ‘minor conviction’ unsuitable to teach citizenship?
Misconduct – yes. Incompetence – yes. But unsuitability…?
How do you define that?
My thanks to Sarah at the University of Winchester for the challenge she has set me and for inspiring the writing of this blog.