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Responsibility is a key concept in our lives with moral, social, financial and political aspects. It embraces two main forms – legal and moral – and takes different forms in relation to personal, professional, corporate and social dimensions. The concept refers to the state of being accountable or answerable for one’s actions and can also imply a sense of obligation or duty normally associated with being in a position of authority such as a parent, teacher or guardian being in authority over children. Loco parentis, a Latin phrase that means in place of the parent and originally derived from English Common Law, gives teachers, educational institutions and guardians legal responsibilities for specific functions as a parent to act in the best interests of students without infringing on the civil rights of students.

The concept was first adopted as a motto by the Manchester Warehousemen and Clerks’ Orphan Schools in 1855 and was applied for wards of the state. Its legal meaning in U.S. education was only tested during the 1960s when student conduct especially when materially affecting the rights of other students was not considered immune by constitutional guarantees of freedom. Teachers administering discipline were seen not merely as acting as parents but as representatives of the state. First amendment rights of students in public schools are not generally seen as coextensive with those of adults in other settings. The concept is still being refined: dress codes and lockers, cell phones or computer searches have not yet been tested in court. Student freedom of expression is considered by some judicial authorities to be significantly limited by loco parentis. Private institutions by contrast are generally given more authority over their student charges. Prior to the 1960s even students in higher education experienced many restrictions on their private lives including curfews’, and dress codes especially for women. The Student Free Speech Movement at Berkeley challenged many of these restrictions in the mid-1960s based on the students’ rights to free speech and academic freedom especially in relation to campus political activities. Generally, as the decades rolled on loco parentis has become more of an anachronism. The question of pastoral care is now open to greater scrutiny as the main agencies for the care of children, students and teenagers, both public and private, have been exposed as being based on a range of unacceptable punishments including solitary confinement, violence, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse.1

In this brief initial analysis already we can see that the concept of responsibility implies a notion of moral agency and accountability for one’s actions, often attached to a particular role. The etymology of the word suggests that it surfaces around the 1590s in French and Latin with the meaning of being answerable to someone or for something (from the Latin respons), and later in the 1640s for being accountable for one’s actions: two senses often conflated in modern discussions.

In terms of our moral vocabulary it is a concept that it relatively recent and one that springs from two quite different traditions. Garreth Williams (n.d.) maintains that the word only finds a home in the political debates on representative government in the eighteenth century and only later in twentieth century philosophy does it establish its own language game when the concept is introduced based on debates concerning free will, causation and determinism. This etymology suggests that the concept came into being at the same time that notions of autonomy, the individual and the subject began to form within the liberal network of rights and the citizen.

Professional responsibility emerged much later again with the development of professional ethics that while its origins date from the adoption of the Hippocratic oath by medical practitioners in the fifth century really only came in widespread use and adoption in the twentieth century. Increasingly when professionals utilize specialist knowledge and skills in the service of the public they are required to adhere to the norms of confidentiality, transparency, integrity, and honesty as formulated and regulated by a professional code of practice. It probably began in earnest with moral rules of professional conduct governing the conduct of lawyers in the court although the word professional has roots to ‘profess’ and is associated with the concept of confession made by a person entering a religious order and is therefore connected to the idea of a calling.

Official accounts of teacher responsibility tend to emphasise the behaviours that teachers ought to exhibit or model – ‘The teacher as a person’ – with an accent on vocational qualities like empathy, trust, confidence, high student expectations, equal treatment, good communication skills, ‘a professional manner’, ‘a sense of humour’. This constitutes a ‘personalogical’ approach to teacher responsibility and often involves the mere statement of these qualities as though they were self-evident and require no theoretical interpretation of justification. In other approaches teachers are seen as being responsible for ‘classroom management and organization’ with an accent on the ‘well-ordered’ classroom that is nevertheless arranged or ‘grouped’ in order to promote interaction and discussion with fair access to instruction and classroom teaching materials.

Another feature of teacher responsibility is responsibility for determining content of lessons under curriculum guidelines to promote high-quality instruction that progressively develops a syllabus and observes the national curriculum guidelines. This is surely an aspect of teacher professionalism that is based on subject knowledge on the one hand and teaching experience and understanding on the other. It is a form of professional preparation and preparedness that leads on naturally to teaching itself and to the act of instruction including all the criteria concerning logical structuring of material that encourages higher thinking skills, student questioning, assessment and different forms of learning. Sometimes teacher education programs lay down subject specific responsibilities such as that of the English teacher who for instance should provide good listening behaviours, or offer opportunities for different kinds of speech acts, class discussion or experience of written genres. A science teacher might be reminded about special lab safety conditions, or the means of progressing in science through ‘discoveries’ and ‘investigations’ that highlights the collection and analysis of facts. Assessment in particular has become a large part of professional responsibility of teachers including all aspects of monitoring and managing student progress and its effective record often in relation to national standards. These can be regarded as ‘compliance’ forms of responsibility where the teacher is required to abide by standards laid down by statutory authority.

In addition to these tasks focused on the act of teaching, authorities often specify certain administrative, community, and parental responsibilities as well as the capacity to respond to certain groups of students labelled as ‘at-risk’ or ‘high-ability’ students. Many accounts of teacher responsibilities highlight the relationship and treatment of learners such as the need to ‘[t] reat learners fairly, respectfully, and without bias related to their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin’.2 Many authorities also discuss ‘Responsibility in Professional Relationships’ and ‘Responsibility in Relationships with Patients and Families’. In addition, not only do teacher authorities mention teacher responsibilities in relation to different groups of students including increasingly those with disabilities, or those with special health needs, or ‘drug problems’ but they also differentiate among the teaching profession to emphasise different responsibilities of the ‘classroom teacher’, ‘curriculum team leader’, ‘head of department’ or ‘head teacher’.

Seen in this light teaching is considered a ‘calling’ that implies a commitment of care. This includes responsibilities, duties and obligations often to minors and to children on whose behalf teachers, as professionals, must act, but also to those adults who are deemed incapable or unable to act in their own self interests. Professionals in this sense are seen as occupying a place between the state and the public based on a relationship of trust and good faith. They are presumed to act in the service of the public for the common good on behalf of the community to undertake specific functions based on their knowledge and skills.

Fani Lauermann (2013, p. 1) in her thesis ‘Teacher Responsibility: Its Meaning, Measure, and Educational Implications’ writes:

Teachers’ personal sense of responsibility potentially influences their instructional practices, psychological well-being, and ultimately their students’ learning and performance. Various conceptualizations of teacher responsibility have been linked to such outcomes as positive attitudes toward teaching and professional dedication (Halvorsen, Lee, & Andrade, 2009), job satisfaction (Winter, Brenner, & Petrosko, 2006), positive affect toward teaching (Guskey, 1984), teachers’ beliefs in their ability to influence students, teachers’ willingness to implement new instructional practices (Guskey, 1988), and with student achievement (Lee & Smith, 1996, 1997). Furthermore, the assumption that teachers are personally responsible, or that they should assume personal responsibility for their students’ educational outcomes – primarily test performance – is at the core of high-impact educational policies such as the implementation of accountability systems in American schools. (Linn, 2006, 2010; Schraw, 2010)

Her analysis of the extant literature on teacher responsibility demonstrates conceptual and operational ambiguity: ‘the term responsibility has been used interchangeably with related constructs such as internal locus of control and teacher efficacy, measurement instruments have incorporated items originally designed to assess other constructs such as efficacy, and have generally failed to acknowledge the multidimensional nature of teacher responsibility, and the literature lacks a comprehensive and consistent definition of the term’ (Lauerman, 2013, p. 1). She adopts Lenk’s (1992) six-component framework of teacher responsibility: (a) Who is responsible? (b) For what? (c) For/to whom? (d) Who is the judge? (e) In relation to what criteria? and (f ) In what realm? Her analysis of different conceptualizations of responsibility suggests that it reflects ‘a sense of internal obligation and commitment to produce or prevent designated outcomes or that these outcomes should have been produced or prevented’ (p. 42). But this is a literature based analysis and synthesis from an educational psychological view rather than a philosophical, political or historical analysis of a changing concept.

We argue that the conceptual and operational ambiguity is the result of a profound change in the concept of responsibility that reflects the shift of a notion from liberalism based in individual and professional autonomy and moral agency to neoliberalism based on a thin concept of market accountability. Increasingly this shift has resulted in the collapse of moral and legal responsibility and the promotion of a form of regulation under accountability. In the analytic tradition responsibility is defined as a duty or obligation to fulfil or complete a task related to a profession, to universally accepted moral obligation or to a majority or group of people as a form of political accountability. Accountability and the rise of audit cultures have accompanied neoliberalism and new managerialism in the public sector. As Michael Power (1994, p. 47) argues: ‘Audit is an emerging principle of social organization [that] … constitutes a major shift of power: from the public to the professional, and from teachers, engineers and managers to overseers’.

There are, roughly speaking four different contemporary forms that ‘accountability’ takes. We might call them accountability regimes. They are not mutually exclusive and may exist as hybrids. First, there is the state-mandated agency form that regulates activity or performance according to standards or criteria laid down at state or federal level. Typically, this form is often associated with devolution of management (though not necessarily governance) and the development of parallel privatization and/or the quasi market in the delivery of public services. Second, there is professional accountability which tends to operate through the control of entry and codes of practice that are struck by professional associations, most often in occupations like law, accountancy, dentistry, doctoring. This professional self regulation often does not include occupations like teaching and nursing, although it may include counselling. Third, there is consumer accountability, that is, accountability through the market, especially where consumer organizations have been strengthened in relation to the development of public services delivered through markets or market-like arrangements. Fourth, there is a form of democratic accountability that has its home in democratic theory and is premised on the demand for both internal and external accountability, that is, typically accountability of a politician to parliament or governing organization and accountability to his/her electorate. The second form or professional accountability may be seen, in reality, to be a form of the fourth or democratic form. Both proceed from Kantian-like assumptions about autonomy, self-regulation, duty and responsibility for one’s actions whether this be considered in institutional (e.g., parliament, university) or individual terms.

There has been an observable tendency in Western liberal states to emphasize both agency and consumer forms at the expense of professional and democratic forms, especially where countries are involved in large-scale shifts from traditional Keynesian welfare state regimes to more market-oriented and consumer-driven systems. Indeed, it could be argued that there are natural affinities by way of shared concepts, understandings and operational procedures between these two couplets. One of the main criticisms to have emerged is that the agency/consumer couplet instrumentalizes, individualizes, standardizes, marketizes and externalizes accountability relationships at the expense of democratic values such as participation, self-regulation, collegiality, and collective deliberation that are said to enhance and thicken the relationships involved.

We would argue also in a society where power is no longer based on prohibitions but is normalised then teachers ought to teach students how to be free based on the distinction between the ‘account-ability’ demanded by neoliberals and the ‘response-ability’ based on an ethics of caring for others – the response-ability towards others. One is a thin narrow accounting notion and the other is expansive and ecological. The first is to be associated with a passive project of the subject, and ‘subjectification’ in relation to social institutions; the other, is an account of self in critical relations to others and the environment based on ethike or ‘care of the self ’ extended to others. These are two different forms of fashioning the self: the first observes power in a process of normalization; the second provides a potential basis for resistance to power that is inherent in Foucault’s later works The Hermeneutics of the Subject (2005), The Government of the Self and Others (2010) and The Courage of the Truth (2011) that together sketch a subject of responsibility for others.

Since Ancient Greek times, citizens, political leaders and philosophers have argued about the wellbeing of youth, their education, their morality and how best to mould youth as responsible citizens. At the same time, education has been identified with a range of different ways of enhancing or inflaming youth passions – as a means to incite or prevent revolution, violence and terrorism. Education may be considered a form of indoctrination or political socialization especially when particular regimes set out to politicize notions of culture, religion and national identity. Moreover, teachers and their ideas can have considerable impact on student attitudes and actions as exemplified by the famous charges of corrupting youth and impiety against Socrates in Ancient Greece.

Charges of the corruption of youth and incitement to rebellion have been levelled at teachers in the context of Nazism, the Cold War, the Vietnam era, Christian fundamentalism and Jihadism. One of the principal concerns of this book is the question of teacher responsibility and student action in relation to this history and these examples. It asks the question: Are teachers responsible for their students’ actions? And it provides a political context in which to deliberate on this question by investigation the Western tradition of pedagogy, politics and philosophy, the history of free speech, and the development of citizenship and human rights education.

At the same time, the question of teacher responsibility has been narrowed as a professional concept closely related to a duty of care in an increasingly legally complex environment that reflects historically the growing involvement of parents and parental organizations, teacher associations, state agencies, and the raft of new private and public sector organizations like business roundtables that make pronouncement on the role and responsibilities of teachers. It is also the case that the movement of students’ rights has advanced considerably in the last half century. Student constitutional and civil rights developed during the 1960s especially after the free speech movement at Berkeley. The 1960s was the decade of the growth of student power and student protest not only associated with an emphasis on greater democratization of universities and schools but also the growth of civil rights, the New Left, feminism and variously motivated new political groups based around anti-Vietnam and anti-war movements. Much of the action in the U.S. was against segregation in education and for the Black student constitutional right to a basic education.

By comparison today there has been narrowing to consumer rights as the user-pays policies and forms of privatization in education have been established by neoliberals. In a consumer-driven system the emphasis has changed to consumer sovereignty and consumer rights with increasing shifts to issues of security and privacy. The question of access and equality has dropped off the political agenda and now across the Western world the issue of student poverty has become a huge problem along with student indebtedness. Securitization has led to the expression of freedom of expression and freedom of movement. The history of student rights is a relatively recent phenomenon.3 Traditionally children were not regarded as bearers of rights because they were not considered adults and parents were held to act in their self-interest while teachers acted in loco parentis. Paradoxically, loco parentis permitted and justified the legal administration of corporal punishment until the 1980s and while most of the West no longer accepts corporal punishment in schools, it is still permitted in Singapore, some Australian and U.S. states, where the corporal punishment legacy lives on in the institutional ethos.

Today many countries hold teachers responsible for providing appropriate moral training and education. Increasingly, accountability extends beyond achievement results to questions of moral and political influence. As a social activity, depending on many factors including the degree of relationship between teacher and student, the teachers charisma, intelligence, knowledge, powers of persuasion, and other influences on a young person (e.g. family, politics, religion), the teacher can have a profound and influential effect on the ethical and political self-constitution of youth for good or for bad.

This book explores the intersection of philosophy, education and the influence of teaching on youth, beginning with the Ancient Athenian democracy, reviewing historical evidence about the intersection between a teachers influence and how Socrates’ contemporary Athenians might have viewed him and his students’ actions. Philosophy so often presents a de-contextualized and ahistorical picture. Socrates and his teachings must be seen within the historical and political context of his time, when his teachings can be seen as subversively anti-democratic and implicated in three uprisings led by his students against Athenian democracy for which he accepted little or no responsibility. This re-evaluation runs somewhat against the dominant philosophical account of Socrates as one of the great teachers in the Western tradition.

The book then brings the issue of teaching, dissent and democracies into the current era by briefly examining Foucault on free speech (parrhesia), education for democracy, citizenship education, the famous case of Heidegger and Nazism, McCarthyism and free speech in the Cold War, student protests of the Vietnam era, and threats from Islamist jihadists. The concern from ancient times to the present about the influence of teachers, education and indoctrination on youth poses a vital question: to what extent is it reasonable to hold a teacher responsible for a student’s subsequent actions?

The book also investigates and poses problems for teacher responsibility over contentious issues concerning a range of issues that demonstrate problems of interculturalism, globalization, Jihadism, terrorism, the massive growth of refugees worldwide, and environmentalism in the period that bridges the end of liberal internationalism under Obama and the beginning of national populism and the rise of the alt-right under Trump. In general the books focuses on the new complexity of responsibility of teachers in an era when intercultural issues challenge traditional liberal policies and disrupts borders of the nation state. To the issues of classism, racism and sexism we can add a welter of new questions concerning mass immigration and the movement of peoples across borders as a result of conflict, war and poverty. The paradigm of the migrant as the Other highlights anew problems and paradoxes of ethnocentrism that beset the liberal state with many European nations and the U.S. turning their back on the plight of migrants to reinforce borders, erect fences, and rekindle forms of national populism that acerbate ‘we-they’ prejudices.


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