Scott & Sarah Kennedy

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Response to the draft document ‘Towards a Code of Ethics’ circulated by the NZ Teachers Council

That the NZ Teachers Council now deems a code of ethics necessary is symptomatic of our society today where trust and professionalism are lacking. In a climate of moral relativism where – ‘you have your values and I have mine’ codifying values is seen as a solution. Imposed codes of ethics, however, have the capacity to create an environment where more and more restrictions are required. Real freedom comes out of a voluntary acceptance of a shared and universally accepted ethic not imposed codes of ethics and conduct.

As a Christian school we would find it morally offensive, culturally insensitive, and professionally unacceptable to be in a position where Christian teachers in our school were required to sign such a code of ethics.

There are three main grounds for our strongly held objections: -

1. Commitment to Truth.

At the heart of any code of ethics is a concern with ‘what is right, fair, just or good.’ 1. The draft document correctly points out that ‘sets of values or principles…. may or may not be the same as those of each individual in the profession.’ 2 As Christians and as a Christian school we are committed to a Biblical worldview where God is Truth and He has laid down absolutes and precepts that are not negotiable. In teaching a Christian worldview we believe that any instruction that does not begin with the fear of the Lord, and the centrality of Jesus Christ as the basis for understanding all of life, cannot properly be said to impart truth, wisdom or true knowledge.

Secular schools (the vast majority of schools in NZ) by their very nature exclude God as the author of truth, instead place man at the centre where he becomes the meaning maker of truth and the arbiter of what is right and wrong. In other words a humanist worldview prevails in most of our schools where truth is viewed as evolving and ever changing according to what pleases man. In the draft code of ethics under the heading ‘The principle of truth’ it states that teachers are to be ‘committed to the quest for truth however elusive and provisional that might be..’ 3. For the Christian teacher this is religiously offensive and competes with our God’s claim that He is Truth. Man does not define or construct truth he only discovers what God has already declared as true.

A commitment to God’s truth as revealed in His Word is very much a part of what it means to be a Christian teacher in our school. To have to adhere to or sign any code of ethics that does not acknowledge this would be both culturally and religiously offensive to us.

Paul Rishworth, associate professor of law at Auckland University, correctly highlights some of the dangers by asking the question ‘where does the freedom of belief and expression for teachers intersect with legitimate interests of the school?’ 4. I would add another question – whose view of truth is being upheld?

Rishworth presents a number of possible scenarios; one in particular of topical interest, regarding a teacher who outside of class is a Moslem spokesman making statements in support of Al Qaeda. Applying a code of ethics becomes problematic. The dilemma of cultural pluralism is whose truth is being promoted and whose worldview is acceptable.

Each teacher in our school signs a Statement of Faith where they unreservedly accept and promise to uphold the precepts detailed in the document as a testimony of their belief, and a declaration of a personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, Lord and God. Every teacher, is, if you like, bound by God’s Word (code) and His declaration that He is Truth.

2. Morally Offensive

Your attached abridged article by Hall and Bishop ‘Teacher Ethics, Professionalism and Cultural Diversity’ states that ‘effective teaching requires both technical skill and a moral purpose.’ 5.

Here is a statement that, I like most people, am readily able to endorse. Where the difficulty and offence lies is with the presumption that the ‘moral purpose’ of all schools is the same. To imply that our Christian School has the same moral purpose, as any state school, is to ignore the very reason why private schools like ours were set up in the first place. We do not teach the state school curriculum; rather we teach a curriculum based on a Christian biblical worldview. A common code of ethics seeks to suggest that we have the same moral and religious purpose as all other schools. This is incorrect as well as being both morally and religiously offensive to us.

3. Professionally Unacceptable

The draft code of ethics is professionally unacceptable to our Christian teachers on at least two counts. As alluded to above, our primary aim in Christian education is fundamentally different from that of secular schools. Under the heading ‘Learner Identity’ in the attached paper by Hall and Bishop, the primary goal of education is stated as ‘the achievement of rational autonomy and self determination’. 6. Our goals are very different. As a Christian school we aim to honour God as we help parents nurture and teach their children within a biblical framework. Our primary goal is to prepare a new generation of effective, strong, mature Christians able to give godly leadership influencing our culture and society for Christ.

Secondly for our Christian school to be bound by a code of ethics that sets out to ‘define the boundaries of professional obligation’ within a secular framework is again culturally and religiously offensive to us. I suggest that we have a totally different understanding as to the role and function of a Christian teacher in our school.

The Christian teacher is first and foremost to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. In his capacity as a teacher his service to God is paramount. The teacher is to serve the parents of pupils who under God have been entrusted to him. He is to love and serve the pupils being a Christ-like example to them in all his instruction and teaching.

4. Conclusion.

While acknowledging the sincerity of purpose of the NZ Teachers Council in wanting to produce a code of ethics that is an ‘aspirational and living document’ we have grave concerns and reservations regarding its impact on Christian teachers and our school. The failure to recognize that not all schools have the same moral purpose is a fundamental weakness that undermines any attempt to obtain consensus on a code of ethics.

As Christian teachers the document ‘Towards a Code of Ethics’ lacks credibility because it fails to address the dilemma of diversity. It is offensive to us both philosophically and religiously. The draft code is a concept at war with itself as it seeks to do the impossible – that is to declare a set of ethical principles as a ‘one size fits all.’ Clearly some schools and teachers operate on a philosophical and religious basis that is not supported or expressed in the draft document.

5. Recommendation

That if the NZ Teachers Council is committed to a Code of Ethics it becomes binding and applicable only to state schools. (as defined in the education act)

Thank you again for the opportunity to respond to this document and to be part of the consultation process.

Yours sincerely

Shane Kennedy 18 May 2004


St Andrews Christian School



(Footnotes Attached)


All footnotes relate to material issued by the NZ Teachers Council entitled ‘Towards a Code of Ethics’ – contents of a workshop kit.

1. (1) What is a Code of Ethics paragraph 3?

2. (2) Professional Values and Principles paragraph 2.

3. p1. ‘A Code of Ethics for NZ Registered Teachers’

4. (8) ‘The Code of Ethics as Shield, Sword, and Guide’

Paul Rishworth Associate Professor of Law Auckland University.

5. (9) ‘Teacher Ethics, Professionalism and Cultural Diversity p2 under the heading ‘ Cultural

Diversity and Moral Purpose’ paragraph 1. Alan Hall and Russell Bishop.

6. (9) ‘Teacher Ethics, Professionalism and Cultural Diversity’ Hall and Bishop


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