The professionalization of education involves a modern, capitalist move toward securing a public market for schools and developing social status for educators. As a process that has produced knowledge, rationalized relationships, and controlled markets, professionalization of education has also defined an ethical discourse. Articulated in language, inscribed in state law, and embodied in conduct, professional ethics have been codified formally in “codes of ethics” and informally in professional identity and ways of thinking. The popular discourse of professional ethics in education narrows and constrains ethical possibility in practice. Because of similar forms of codes of ethics across professions, interdisciplinary scholarship from education, social work, psychiatry, and medicine informs a critical examination of professional ethics. The codes, discourse, and standards of professional ethics are historically grounded in the framework of modern rationalism. As the field of education has developed to include a more diverse knowledge-base and new forms of empirical research, the rational order of prescriptive ethics has begun to slip. While regulatory codes of ethics continue to undergird public trust and provide legal insurance against malfeasance, educational scholars and practitioners engage a wider constellation of ethical perspectives and possibilities. Feminist care ethics, post-modern ethics, and phenomenological descriptive ethics present a few possibilities within emergent fields. As the ongoing effects of professionalization are critiqued and the possibilities of professional ethics are re-imagined, schools of education should look beyond the disciplinary enclosures of education to respond to an increasingly diffuse understanding of professional ethics.
Troy A. Martin
Doris A. Santoro
Teachers often characterize their interest in and commitment to the profession as moral: a desire to support students, serve their communities, or uphold civic ideals embedded in the promise of public education. These initial and sustaining moral impulses are well documented in research on teaching and teacher education. However, moral commitments can also be a source of teachers’ dissatisfaction and resistance, especially in the age of the market-based Global Education Reform Movement. This article explores the phenomenon of conscientious objection in teaching as an enactment of professional ethics. Conscientious objection describes teachers’ actions when they take a stand against job expectations that contradict or compromise their professional ethics. Teachers who refuse to enact policies and practices may be represented by popular media, school leaders, policymakers, and educational researchers as merely recalcitrant or insubordinate. This perspective misses the moral dimensions of resistance. Teachers may refuse to engage in practices or follow mandates from the standpoint of professional conscience. This article also highlights varieties of conscientious objection that are drawn from global examples of teacher resistance. Finally, the article explores the role of teachers unions as potential catalysts for collective forms of conscientious objection.