“All human beings tend to have moral senses, which is the categorical imperative for them to act.” — Immanuel Kant

A fog of reform is created obscuring issues and deflecting our focus from the real mission of schools. We need to emphasize ideals and principles in providing an education for our children in a caring and creative way.

Schools are supposed to be ‘good’ places, not pressure cookers. Goodness has to do with virtue, a word rarely used when describing or discussing schools. Along with ethics, virtue has been buried and does not show up in many discussions on reform. Shouldn’t virtue be a primary focus when dealing with children?

Education should be a virtuous process, and schools should be paragons of principled goals and ethics. Virtue in education means conforming to a standard of right, which has a moral dimension to it and has to do with efficacy. Education is empowering and carries with it efficacy and strength. Right action and thinking based on values and standards are prerequisites for professional practice.

Virtuous schools teach children to question, challenge, and seek answers. Intellectual curiosity is seen as strength not a nuisance. Mistakes are perceived as opportunities not as failures. Teachers help children understand that their fulfillment and happiness depend, in part, on the full use of their intellectual capacities, thinking abilities, and enthusiasm and drive.

Historically, public schools had the moral imperative to educate children. They served children but were also a positive unifying institution for communities, tied to the community’s identity and a source of pride serving children. They exemplified the American dream.

Because of public education’s moral imperative, we must question the thinking behind practices and reforms. We must challenge special interest perspectives, programs, profit, and propaganda. Today, reforms focus on markets with emphasis on competition both internally within the schools and externally with competitors. Education is too important to be diminished through simplistic platitudes and special interests.

Teaching is a moral and ethical undertaking that involves providing a standard of care for children of all ages and backgrounds and being responsible for doing so. Ethics are essential because they involve questions of right and wrong, duties and obligations, and rights and responsibilities.

Teachers are responsible for raising questions and fulfilling the moral imperative for schools to be true to the principles of justice, fairness, liberty, honesty, respect, dignity and truth. The integrity and credibility of schools depend on if and how they meet these principles.