During the First World War, the European powers (particularly in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire) succeeded in glorifying nationalism and manipulating young minds toward self-sacrifice for nationalistic ideals. A short two decades later Germany again demonstrated even more convincingly how powerful a role educators play in shaping young minds. The Nazi phenomenon that absorbed German society in the decade preceding the outbreak of World War Two provides an even more dramatic and horrible illustration of both the power of educators and the reason that this power comes with a profound ethical responsibility (Einstein, 1954; Einstein in Rooney, 2006; Russell, 1961).
The sheer power of the role of teachers in influencing young minds gives rise to a set of tremendous ethical responsibilities. Among the most important is respect for the boundaries between personal beliefs of the teacher and the autonomous rights of parents to determine what ideas they wish to instill in their children.
Nevertheless, those rights are not absolute and the teacher also has a responsibility to society and to the best objective interests of children that trumps even the autonomous rights of their parents. For example, a teacher has an ethical responsibility to address a situation where it becomes apparent that children are being taught racial intolerance. Otherwise, the primary ethical responsibility of educators that arises in connection with their role as promotion of social order is to provide moral guidance while simultaneously nurturing intellectual independence.
Einstein, a. (1954). Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown
Feldman, N. (2005). Divided by God: Americas Church and State Problem and What
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Mooney, C. (2005). The Republican War on Science. New York: Basic Books.
Rooney, a. (2006). Einstein: In His Own Words. New York: Random House.
Russell, B. (1961). The Basic Writings of Bertrand.