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Integrity Among Educators

A relative, who is a retired educator, sent this link to today’s post by a blogger with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It covers a breaking scandal in the Atlanta public school district where, from the superintendent on down, there was a culture of corruption to cheat on the state-mandated standardized tests, including intimidating teachers who failed to do what it took to raise scores or who objected to the unethical practices.

Higher Ed is not immune to these types of pressures, especially in the current economy. Believe it or not, many schools have funding models where students who fail classes cost the university money and the higher the graduation rate, the better the financial picture. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, reality can be very different.

The problem is that it can lead to administrators pressuring faculty to allow grade inflation to improve passing rates, and to pass problem students so that the college/university doesn’t have to deal with them anymore. This means that future employers have to deal with underprepared or problem hires because someone earlier in the food chain failed to filter them out.

In short, all of us in education, and even all of us, regardless of occupation, need to be aware of how policies that demand accountability and transparency can be perverted to make the problems worse instead of better.

As Christian educators, at any level, we have to decide ahead of time what lines we are willing to cross and which ones we will stand firm on, even at cost to ourselves. This is not a simple idealistic stand, it is reality. It will often take creativity and cunning to find other options that maintain our integrity while still achieving goals others may impose, expecting ethical lines to be crossed without question. It may take being willing to sacrifice one career and begin looking for another. There will be real pressure to go along. Much of it will be subtle, and the initial lines we are commanded to cross even more so.

The hardest part of this is that these are our students that ultimately suffer, and because of that, the culture as a whole, as underprepared and ethically immature students are allowed to make decisions in both the public and private sectors. This will be a ‘trickle up’ catastrophe if it becomes more universal than it already is. Atlanta public schools’ problem is just the latest and biggest to reach the media.

Christ calls us to be salt and light—a preservative and a beacon. He also warns us what happens if we fail to hold to those roles. As a faculty mentor once advised me, “if we cannot be effective in a strategic position, we may have to choose a less strategic position where we can be more effective.” If the pressure to surrender our integrity forces us out of one area of culture, then we can and should find other areas where we can continue to be salt and light.

As an area falls to that corruption, the other areas will shine by contrast, and can lead to reform. This is why there are several times in Scripture where God abandons various groups of people to their sin. His warnings and encouragements were not effective in deterring them, so only by seeing the disastrous natural consequences of their actions could they have the possibility of repentance.

I have no doubt that there are Christians involved in the Atlanta scandal. It is possible that even the superintendent is a believer who got blinded by something that slowly led her to abandon the path of integrity. (Perhaps this is what Paul means in Philippians when he says that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling—it is God who saves, and we who need to listen and obey, comparing our behaviour with Scripture and the voice of His Spirit.) Assuming that Christian employees of the school district did compromise and contribute to the corruption, what would have happened if they had stood firm? Yes, many would have probably lost their jobs. But if waves of folks started suddenly losing their jobs because they opposed cheating the state and the citizens, the scandal would likely have been exposed sooner and with less damage. That doesn’t make it easier for those who were sacrificed. But, the question in my mind is, how many of them are now wishing they had?

It is a tough decision to choose between leaving a corrupt system and staying within to try to reform it. It is easy to become myopic either way. That is where prayer and wise counsel are invaluable.

I pray that none of us has to face these choices.

But I also know that prayer’s answer is “no” for at least some. Therefore, since we do not know what tomorrow holds, we must prepare, and trust the One who guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)


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