Do We Need Teacher Ethics Legislation in MA?

Marisol Minich, Contributing Writer

In recent years, many states have created and debated teacher ethics and loyalty codes across the US. Some legislators argue that the codes will prevent student indoctrination into certain political ideologies, while others critique the codes for preventing education on America’s history. The subject quickly became extremely politically polarizing, often turning from debates on indoctrination to arguments over racial politics. While some believe legislation creating a teacher ethics code in Massachusetts would prevent the indoctrination of students, in reality, it is unnecessary: This type of legislation would put more pressure on educators and lower the quality of public school education in Massachusetts.

On paper, teacher ethics codes seem to make a lot of sense. They could standardize education state-wide and prevent teachers from preaching their own political views. However, a closer look at the legislation reveals it is unnecessary and impractical. The creator of the New Hampshire teacher ethics code, Representative Alicia Lekas, was unable to “cite a specific example” of teachers abusing their power to indoctrinate children. With parent-teacher conferences, department heads, and regular department and schoolwide meetings, it’s unrealistic to believe any teacher would be able to, or would even be interested in promoting ideas like Communism or Marxism in the classroom. Beyond that, the codes would be very difficult to implement. Creating a system to report teachers would be extremely difficult to do, and it would likely be abused by students, or even parents, once created. The code is not a necessity in Massachusetts, and the enforcement of it would only be a drain on resources that could be used to enrich students’ education.

In addition, ethics codes would put unneeded pressure on already overworked and underpaid teachers. In New Hampshire, many teachers admitted they would be afraid to teach certain topics in US history for fear of being reprimanded. When it comes to educating students on slavery or the Civil Rights Movement, many felt they would be “at risk of professional discipline or lawsuits” for simply doing their jobs. In some cases, teachers who are already juggling hundreds of students on a weekly basis are required to create lesson plans for the following school year so parents can review them. This task is monumental in itself for educators who are already working well beyond the regular 9-to-5 to help students, plan lessons, and grade papers. It could also result in conflict between parents and teachers and debates over curriculum. The system could have a severe effect on the mental health of teachers across the state. Educators have incredibly demanding jobs already, and the work of speaking to parents and planning out curriculum only adds to that issue, not to mention the pressure added on by the possible punishments for breaking the ethics code. 

These circumstances lead to a third issue with the implementation of an ethics code in MA: it would decrease the quality of education for students. With a downturn in teachers’ mental health, the quality of classes will be affected. Educators will have less time and patience for students. Students may even miss learning about vital parts of US history, as the code could affect the way teachers educate on racially charged issues such as civil rights and slavery. A full understanding of all the dark history of America is absolutely necessary to understand how our society is affected by those events today. Lacking crucial puzzle pieces from America’s past, future generations may not learn or grow from these mistakes, stunting us as a society.

Finally, ethics legislation could prevent political debates and historical simulations that I have personally found to be some of the most engaging parts of my education. These specific assignments help students improve their argumentative and rhetorical skills, and aid them in understanding unique points of view from around the globe. These are life-long skills, more important than simple biology facts or mathematical equations. They are absolutely vital to personal advancement and success outside of school. Implementing a teacher ethics code could take that away for an imaginary fear of indoctrination.

As a high school student who has seen many classroom discussions get too personal and too political, I would never vote for a teacher ethics code in Massachusetts. It’s completely unnecessary and impractical: with department chairs and regular school-wide meetings, teachers could never get away with teaching anarchy in the classroom. The code would add to the already incredibly demanding job of being a teacher, potentially exacerbating the shortage of teachers our country is currently facing. And most importantly, teacher ethics legislation will worsen the education of Massachusetts students, affecting an entire generation.