Kant would be appalled

By Reza Ghahremanzadeh. Reza, 26, graduated from Queen's University Belfast in 2011.

Let me begin by saying that schools and universities – and more specifically, the teachers within these institutions – have the potential to mould and shape the students that they will encounter over the course of their teaching careers. With that being said, I think that when it comes to social behaviour, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual to conduct themselves – both in and out of school – in a respectful and courteous manner.

It is significant to examine one of the words found in the question at hand. The word I’m referring to is “responsibility.” This particular word, in my view, conveys a strong sense of subjectivity. We know that teachers aren’t contractually obligated to teach their students about social behaviour. Their responsibilities are to educate them and to provide a safe environment whilst they are in their care. Therefore, even if it were the general consensus that it is the responsibility of academic institutions and their staff to inform their students about social behaviour, there would be no concrete way of implementing that consensus. (It is also worth noting that teachers are generally overworked and underpaid. It seems a little unfair to burden them with yet more responsibility. A great number of teachers are also parents themselves. Therefore, their greatest responsibility outside of the workplace is to imbue strong morals and ethics into their own children.)

The question refers to “schools.” However, it doesn’t specify exactly what type of school. The point being, if it’s referring to a high school, then the idea of teaching students about social behaviour seems a tad redundant. If, however, it’s referring to primary schools and kindergartens, then you could argue that teachers already do, to some extent, teach their pupils about appropriate social behaviour and conduct. In primary schools, children are taught to share, to take turns, to show regard for the safety of others, to respect their classmates and to respect their teachers. Therefore, you could make the case that by the time students get to high school, a solid foundation has already been laid. To quote noted feminist and author Germaine Greer: “If you get the early stages of education right, the rest is plain sailing.” In essence, I would put forth the argument that by the time individuals reach their secondary education, all the fundamental components of responsible behaviour would have already been instilled in them, thus rendering further social education superfluous.

My initial response to this particular question – as I’m sure was the case for most people – was that surely it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children about social behaviour. It is my belief that if you choose to become a parent, you must dedicate time to instil, to the best of your ability, all the virtues and values that a decent human being should possess: tolerance, respect, integrity and open-mindedness. We all know, of course, that even when parents take the time and care to do this, the results aren’t always positive. The world’s most evil dictators and tyrants weren’t taught by their parents to exercise the atrocious behaviour that they did so unabashedly later on in their lives. However, just because there’s a chance that this home-learning won’t be successful doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be carried out.

Kant, one of the world’s most distinguished philosophers, is probably turning in his grave at the thought of schools and universities being responsible for educating people about social behaviour. One of Kant’s fundamental beliefs was that of innate morality. Kant vehemently believed that every human being is born with an ability to know right from wrong. Kant would most likely argue that it is completely immaterial for an educational establishment to tell students that things such as binge-drinking, the consumption of drugs, racketeering and rape are wrong. They already know it’s wrong! But unfortunately they continue to carry out these morally reprehensible actions. American universities, in particular, are rampant with these sorts of unsavoury activities. You can emphasise and preach the importance of good morals and ethics until the cows come home, but when you’re dealing with misogynistic, dick-driven, binge-drinking frat boys, your words, more often than not, are going to fall on deaf ears.

I strongly believe that Kant would also be infuriated at our society’s “blame culture.” When a person acts in an appalling manner, we automatically search for some Freudian reasons (aka excuses) that may have caused them to act like this. We blame their backgrounds, we blame their lack of resources, we blame video games, we blame alcohol etc. Are we going to start blaming teachers for the actions of juvenile delinquents? Are they going to have to endure countless lawsuits from litigious parents? At the end of the day, we have to realise that humans are autonomous creatures. We can’t – or rather, we shouldn’t – always blame bad behaviour on external factors.

To summarise, it’s clear that those who choose teaching as a vocation have the opportunity to change the lives of their students for the better. I believe that educating students about social behaviour should occur early on in a student’s educational journey. If a student cannot recognise the difference between right and wrong by the time they reach high school – and especially by the time they reach university – they probably never will. I believe that teachers in the later stages of education should be free to depart knowledge and wisdom about social behaviour as they see fit. It certainly shouldn’t be a legal requirement. And they certainly shouldn’t receive any criticism if they choose not to do so. Ultimately, it is the duty of our early teachers and our parents to lay a strong moral and ethical foundation. After that foundation has been laid, I believe that every individual -whether a student or not – has a responsibility to themselves to be an honest, dignified, law–abiding citizen.

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