I’m reading a short book that reviews what one might call the virtues of teaching: learning, authority, ethics, order, imagination, compassion, patience, character, and pleasure. Each virtue (which might be though of as an aspect of the character of an ideal teacher) is reviewed in its own chapter. The ethics chapter suggested an interesting question to me: Is there an LDS ethics of teaching that differs in any particulars from a Christian or secular ethics of teaching?
Ethics falls somewhere between considerations of morality and criminality, and concerns primarily duties and conduct. The authors glossed it as “consideration of our moral duties and behavior toward other in a complex and imperfect world.” For teaching, “ethics means putting the satisfaction of the needs and goods of students before those of anyone else.” From these general considerations, the authors then move on to several rules of ethical teaching. For example, do no harm to students is the first rule, listing prejudice, favoritism, and intimacy as examples of conduct that does harm students. The tricky part comes when the institutional context of teaching intrudes. Here are a couple of quotes that highlight the problem.
“Teachers are therefore obliged, as professionals, to defend their students’ interests — among the chief of which is a search for truth — against intrusion, sometimes even against school and community authorities who have it in their power to endanger teachers’ employment.” The problem I see here is that some LDS professional teachers (those employed by the CES, which includes the several BYU campuses) would say that their primary responsibility is to their employer, not to their students. On the other hand, one should also recall Dallin Oaks, as President of BYU, defending the teaching of evolution at BYU (in the interest of both the students and the institution) against the desire of some members of the Board of Trustees to eliminate it from the curriculum.
Here’s a longer quote:
[Teachers] must distinguish facts from fiction, hypotheses from theories, the possible from the probable …. [T]hey must not offer their own opinions or beliefs as established facts or as truth. … Teachers must present a wide range of possible interpretations and viewpoints while scrupulously refraining from introducing their own preferences and views.
And later: “It is the duty of all teachers to encourage the flowering and strengthening of their students’ thoughts, not to proselytize for their own.” The point here is not to encourage anecdotes of bad teaching examples in the comments, but to consider whether there is an argument that an LDS ethics of teaching would take a different view. I don’t know that it would have teachers blur these distinctions or advocate the teaching of opinions and beliefs as facts or truths, but some LDS teaching almost requires proselyting, which is necessarily in tension with encouraging the independent ideas or arguments of students.
I think a starting point for considering whether there is a distinct LDS ethics of teaching might consider whether teaching religion raises moral duties not present in teaching secular subjects, and whether teaching adults or college students modifies duties that might apply to teaching younger students.