Defining the Ethics of Educational Practice

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In Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education: Applying Theoretical Perspectives to Complex Dilemmas, authors Joan Shapiro and Jacqueline A. Stefkovich aim to provide educators with guidelines for determining the ethics that will guide their practice. Shapiro and Stefkovich describe the three paradigms that underlie traditional educational ethics: justice, or "rights and law" (11); critique, or the examination of democratic principles, the power structure, and social issues; and care, or nurturance and a student-centered focus. The ethical perspective to which they pay the most attention, however, is one they developed: the ethics of the professional educator. This view will be constructed on the stated ethics of professional organizations, educational institutions, and the personal ethics of educators, and its foundation is grounded in the "rights, responsibility, and respect" of students and teachers.

Individual Rights Versus Community Standards

Case 3.4, "The School of Hard Knocks," does not present as clear a picture of community standards as the other cases in this chapter do. For instance, the case about the teacher who is part owner of an adult gift shop states clearly that the community in which the school is located is conservative, and the case about artificial insemination takes place in a fundamentalist Christian community. The case of Ricky, the 1st grade bully, and Mr. Washington, the school security guard, is not so clearcut. The only information about the community is that Mr. Washington is popular and well-regarded by residents.

Therefore, if Ms. Henry, the principal, publicly condemns him for holding Ricky while another student punched him, she might face considerable resistance from the community for her decision, assuming she has no more evidence than she does now. She cannot really be certain that the incident occurred in the way that student witnesses described it. After all, they are young children and might have misinterpreted what they saw. And Mr. Washington has a 25 year record of good performance as a security guard. On the other hand, the call Mr. Green made to Ms. Henry is a little suspicious. He has no direct knowledge of what happened, so trying to influence Ms. Henry's actions is not only unethical, it also doesn't help Mr. Washington look innocent.

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: The ethics of justice call for Ms. Henry to follow local laws and school policies, which are surely to protect the child. However, since it is impossible to prove what happened without an impartial adult witness, this is difficult to accomplish. The ethics of care call for the best interests of the child to be pursued, but also for Mr. Washington's long record of good service to be considered. The ethics of critique apply to an analysis of who had the power in the situation-clearly, Mr. Washington, since he was the adult authority figure. Finally, Ms. Henry must examine her professional ethics. She has to decide whether "the good of the child" outweighs her responsibility to be fair to her employee in this instance.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: Ricky has the right to protection from the type of action Mr. Washington is accused of doing, but the other students have the right to be protected from Ricky, as well. Mr. Washington has the right to make the case that he has a good record in his job. But Mr. Green did not have the right to interfere on Mr. Washington's behalf. The adults have all the responsibility in this case: Mr. Washington for stopping fights (which he did), and Ms. Henry for making a decision regarding how to sanction Mr. Washington. It could also be said that Ricky's parents had an unfulfilled responsibility to teach self-control to their son, although the case doesn't mention that. Mr. Washington has earned respect as a good employee of the school district, and the students should respect his authority. The students should also be expected to respect each other, and the adults to respect the students as people.

Out of all the cases, this one seemed to me to be the least resolvable with the information supplied. With the information provided Ms. Henry, it is impossible to know if the incident occurred as the student witnesses described it. But Ms. Henry's primary responsibility is still to the students, so she may have to place the blame on Mr. Washington. I don't think he deserves to be fired, but he will have to be reprimanded, at the least. However, I think that Ricky's parents should be called on to take strong action to help their son's behavior problems.

Traditional Curriculum Versus Hidden Curriculum

Every teacher knows the terrible consequences budget cuts can have on school districts. The biggest losers in such cases are, of course, the students. The case concerning copyright illustrates how teachers have to struggle to get the materials their students need, and how questions can arise in the ethical justice are. An even more challenging case is presented in case study 4.5, "There's No Place Like School." Special education students, and students who are bordering on needing SE, are especially affected by budget cuts. While some students can get by with only moderate support from the regular classroom teacher, others need much more help. The elementary school depicted in the case study is in particular trouble: there are a high number of SE students and few regular teachers willing to welcome them into their classrooms. Mrs. Stell, the district's SE supervisor, must decide what to do.

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: The justice paradigm presents no real dilemmas, since IDEA is very clear about mainstreaming students. The care paradigm calls for the best interests of the students to be addressed. This means that the SE students must have teachers who are not only able to teach them effectively, but also willing to do so. Mrs. Clay does not meet this paradigm, since she holds the same expectations for achievement for all students, regardless of their needs. Her solution for SE students is to get them out of her classroom, since they can't meet the inflexible standards she has set. (And she does this under the guise of caring about her "regular" students.) Mrs. Clay's motivations and attitudes could certainly be called into question under the critique paradigm, since it may be that she is more interested in high standardized test scores than in teaching all students. Mrs. Stell will have to investigate this further before deciding how to proceed with Mrs. Clay's class. As for the professional paradigm, Mrs. Stell has the teachers' ethics to consider as well as her own. She fears that SE students assigned to Mrs. Clay's class may be damaged-and unless Mrs. Clay can be convinced that SE students belong in her classroom, Mrs. Stell's fears may come true.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: All of the students have the right to the best possible education in the most inclusive setting. The teachers have the responsibility to provide it to the best of their abilities, and Mrs. Stell has the responsibility of deciding how this will best be accomplished. Mrs. Stell must listen respectfully to the teachers' opinions and concerns, and the teachers must ultimately respect the decision she makes. And all the educators must respect the SE students' need to be taught as individuals.

I don't think Mrs. Stell should capitulate to Mrs. Clay. But she must make sure Mrs. Clay has the support of the SE teacher until Mrs. Clay is able to teach SE students as she needs to. Ideally, Mrs. Clay will see that co-teaching and individualizing students' lessons will work to her advantage as well as theirs. If Mrs. Clay refuses to do so, it may be time for her to consider another occupation, since mainstreaming is not likely to disappear any time soon. Mrs. Stell must be fair to the other teachers; she cannot make an exception for one teacher. Mrs. Clay must be carefully supervised, however, to prevent damage to her students.

Personal Codes Versus Professional Codes

All of the cases in this chapter present such pertinent ethical dilemmas, it was hard for me to pick which one to analyze. Teachers are certainly entitled to private lives, but they must keep in mind that, like it or not, they are seen as role models for their students. Each case involved that concept. They all had something else in common: teachers who were in trouble because they showed a lack of judgment, sometimes bordering on stupidity. I decided to focus on Case 5.1, "Drunkenness or Disease?" because it presents a situation that many administrators will have to face.

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: The law applies in this case, within the justice paradigm. The teacher, Mr. Kidder, broke the law by driving while intoxicated-not once, but three times. He rationalized his behavior, and failed to even consider that he might have injured or killed innocent people while he was drunk behind the wheel, which he should have done under the paradigm of care. In addition, as a teacher, he should have cared about the example he set for his students. Dr. Wang, the assistant superintendant who must decide what to do with him, has the same ethic of care to consider. She also cares about Mr. Kidder, who seems to want to reform, but the students need to be her first priority. If her personal code of ethics enables her to feel compassion for Mr. Kidder, since she sees alcoholism as a disease, she can support him in his efforts to get help. But she must also insist that he obey the law and take his position as a role model seriously. That is part of teachers' professional code of ethics.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: Respect for others would mean that both Mr. Kidder and Dr. Wang put the safety of others first. Mr. Kidder has no right to endanger others by his behavior during his time off. Responsibility is the most important consideration here, though. Both educators have a responsibility to the students, and no matter how effective Mr. Kidder is as a teacher, he must sincerely deal with his alcoholism if he is to remain a teacher-and never, ever get behind the wheel of a car if he is impaired. If Dr. Wang allows him to follow the program he outlined and retain his job, she has the responsibility to make sure he adheres to his promises. I would give him one chance-that is all.

The American Melting Pot Versus the Chinese Hot Pot

I have a unique perspective on the description of "real Americans" that opens this chapter, since I am from another country. To me, the description sounds very accurate (and amusing), although I also see how immigrants retain a lot of their own culture-the hot pot analogy. Sometimes it is hard for me to understand how and why things happen in the United States, although my American husband helps me with this. In any case, I recognized a lot of the issues in this chapter. I chose to analyze Case 6.3, "Lost in Translation," because like Pablo Guzman, I have a learning disability and English is my second language. (However, those are the only things I have in common with Pablo. I have had a much, much better family and school situation.)

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: Like the other case involving a parent spanking a child, the educators must decide whether or not to report the incidents as possible child abuse, and whether the consequences of reporting would be worse for the child than keeping silent. However, in this case, the teacher did not actually witness the spanking, so there is a little more gray area than in the other case. While there is a law to be considered under the justice ethic, the decision depends partly on whether the reported spanking is really child abuse, especially since the Spanish teacher who talked to Pablo knows that spanking is a common cultural practice in Ecuador. In addition, she knows that Pablo might be sent back to Ecuador, where he has been the victim of far worse abuse. In this case, strictly following the justice ethic is in direct conflict with the care ethic, and the professional ethic as well. Since Pablo has been making noticeable improvements in his new school, risking sending him back to Ecuador would not be beneficial to him, from either an educational or a caring standpoint. The Spanish teacher seems to have consulted her professional and personal code of freelance working ethics in deciding that talking to Pablo's father would be the best course of action. I agree with her, although she (and other school personnel) need to monitor the situation in the future.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: The question of whether the father has the right to discipline his child as he sees fit, especially within his own home, is at issue here. Although I disagree with spanking, if it is common in Pablo's culture, his father may not know that it is not acceptable to many Americans, and that the school must watch out for potential abuse. It would be best to inform him of that before making quick judgments. It is the responsibility of the school to look out for Pablo's best interests, and there is a conflict here about what those interests are. But out of respect for the learning that he is undergoing at the school, and the likelihood of abuse if he is sent back to his mother's home, the school must proceed with caution. Talking to the father would also respect his cultural beliefs.

Religion Versus Culture

Religion is a touchy subject, especially in American education. People's religious beliefs, or lack of beliefs, are a part of their identities. So challenging a person's beliefs is like challenging who they are. That is the problem covered in case 7.4, "Religion and Social/Personal Contradictions." The Muslim university student, Fatmah, feels that her religious beliefs are not being respected because the professor, Diane, requires discussion of social issues involving homosexuality, and Islam prohibits talking about the subject. If she is to be truly tolerant, Diane must figure out how to respect both Fatmah's beliefs and her own.

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: The only law that I can think of that applies to this situation is that of freedom of religion; Fatmah is free to have her Islamic beliefs and to talk about them. The care ethic is fulfilled by Diane's determination to do her best to accommodate Fatmah, while also providing the full educational intent of her class to the rest of the students. The critique ethic is important in this case, since the focus of the class is to challenge the students beliefs and attitudes toward social issues involving women's rights and struggles (and social justice in general), and this involves critiquing existing power structures. Diane's professional code of ethics calls for her to put the needs of her students-Fatmah and everyone else-before her own personal beliefs. From the description of the case, it sounds like Diane would like to open the students' minds to the liberal views of tolerance she herself holds, and which are meaningful to her on a personal level. But she tries to make those beliefs secondary to the academic good of her students, even though this is hard for her.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: Fatmah has the right to practice her religion and the right to bring it to Diane's attention when her beliefs conflict with those of the professor. Fatmah also seems to feel a responsibility to make her views about the discussion of homosexuality known to Diane, not only on her own behalf but also because other students might have the same concerns. At the same time, Diane has the responsibility to listen to these concerns and try to address them. She also has the responsibility to put her students' needs ahead of her own agenda. To do so is to show the respect her students are due. Fatmah also shows respect to Diane by meeting with her privately to try to resolve the situation. The way their meeting goes shows respect from both of them toward each other; both of them listen and try to understand the other's point of view, even though it is evident they cannot agree.

Diane's solution of a modified assignment seems to be a good one, and I would probably do something like that myself. If Fatmah still decides to drop the course, that would be her own decision. She has every right to make her religious beliefs her first priority. It would not be fair, however, for her to demand that Diane take out an important element of the course to accommodate Fatmah's beliefs, especially when another solution has been offered. But Diane should consider letting her students know, right at the beginning of the semester, the topics that will be under discussion (assuming she doesn't already do that). That way, students who simply cannot participate in those discussions can drop the class. Diane could create accommodations for other students as she did for Fatmah, but that could become unwieldy, and it would damage her intent for the class.

Equality Versus Equity

Since moving to the United States, I have observed the differences between the concepts of equality and equity, which the textbook describes very well. I know that equality is a founding principle of this country, but also that several groups that have been discriminated against in the past often receive special treatment in the name of equity. From what I have seen, equity seems to be a way of balancing the scales of justice (or trying to). But deciding how to reconcile these two concepts can be very difficult, as this chapter illustrates. All of the cases raise good questions, but I chose to focus on case 8/1, "When All Means All," since I regularly deal with SE students.

The case of Cody, the highly disruptive, emotionally disturbed 4th grader in an inclusive classroom, is a classic example of equality versus equity. In this case, the school has chosen to prioritize equality, believing that all children can be educated in the regular classroom. Equity is part of the equation, since SE students are given the support they need. The problem comes when Cody's support cannot address his disability, making the other students and the teachers suffer. The entire premise of mainstreaming all students is put in jeopardy as a result.

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: IDEA requires that SE students be placed in the least restrictive environment, so it would be considered under the justice ethic. The school's policy is in agreement with the philosophy of IDEA, so they would be inclined to follow this paradigm even without the law, fulfilling the paradigm of caring. However, both the justice and caring paradigms call for providing quality education to all students, and this means that Cody's classmates must be considered. The critique ethic needs to be applied to this situation. Jim Martin, the SE director, need to re-evaluate his professional code of ethics to determine whether, in implementing his beliefs of inclusiveness without exception, he is doing a disservice to the students who cannot learn when Cody acts out.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: All of the students, including Cody, have the right to the best possible education. It is the school's responsibility to make this possible, however difficult the circumstances maybe. It is also the parents' responsibility to cooperate, and they are doing so. Even Cody has a responsibility to control his behavior, although his disability seems to be keeping him from doing so. Finally, all parties have an obligation to respect each other and the students.

Jim Martin is clearly committed to his inclusiveness policies, and he is justifiably proud of its success. But he must not let it blind him to the reality of the situation with Cody. Not only are Cody's classmates not receiving a quality education, neither is Cody. While the school tries to find a solution for modifying his disruptive behavior, he needs to placed in a program that will provide him greater support. This is in the best interest of Cody and the other students, even if it takes a little of the shine off Mr. Martin's award-winning program. He will not be failing Cody by getting him additional support, he will be helping him. And if Cody shows improvement, he can rejoin the regular classroom.

Accountability Versus Responsibility

High stakes testing makes many educators feel that they are trapped in a system that unfairly uses tests of questionable value to make life and death decisions for the schools. While most teachers and administrators take seriously their responsibility to provide a quality education to their students, they don't think that standardized tests are the best way to measure their success. That is what case 9.2, "Whose Best Interest? A Testing Dilemma" is about. Ethical paradigms: The justice paradigm says that laws and regulations must be followed, but the rules have been changed to make success more difficult.

There seems to be little justification for toughening the standards, but they are stricter, nonetheless, putting the school in jeopardy for losing funding. The administrator feels he has no choice but to tell his teachers to change their curricula and teach to the test. The teachers, under the caring paradigm, think this would do a disservice to their students. The critique paradigm is badly needed here, since the entire question of standardized testing needs to be critically examined, especially as it relates to demographic groups who have, historically, been at a disadvantage. The wisdom of cutting funding to schools that already experience hardship should also be evaluated. The teachers and the administration need to consider their professional code of ethics and decide whether the measures they consider best for teaching are at odds with submitting quietly to the demands of standardized testing.

I applaud the teachers for standing up for what they think is best for the students, and especially for speaking out against tracking. I think the idea of bringing their concerns to the school board is a good one. The board no doubt has worries about funding, but their primary concern should be about the education of the district's students. That is their most important ethical consideration.

Privacy Versus Safety

The cases in this chapter illustrate not only the complex events and technology that confront students today, but also how ill-equipped they are to deal with them. Nor are educators much better able to navigate through 21st century challenges. Technology-related issues are some of the most difficult, so I chose case 10.3, "School Discipline, Criminal Complaint, or Compassionate Intervention" to examine.

ETHICAL PARADIGMS: Laws and policies against sexting and cyber-bullying are relevant to this case, and the principal and assistant principal must decide if they apply when the incident took place off of school grounds. The care ethic calls for them to do whatever is best for the three students involved-which may conflict with the justice ethic. The professional ethics of the administrators may provide some guidance to their decision-making, although the issues they face are so new they may not have much experience or guidance, other than student anti-bullying codes. However, this particular case is somewhat different from the other case of bullying in the chapter in that it seems to have been done recklessly (stupidly, really) rather than maliciously.

Rights, responsibilities, and respect: By the time this incident was reported, it was too late to change the violation of Bob's right to privacy. He had more or less given up that right when he texted the picture to Grace. Rachel thoroughly violated that right, and Grace's privacy right as well, when she distributed the photo to other students. Respect was the last thing on the minds of the students who participated in this act (with the possible exception of Grace, who did not intend for the picture to be widely distributed). Certainly, Bob did not respect Grace, and in fact was engaging in sexual harassment. The administrators fulfilled their responsibility to Grace by talking to her and her mother, and to the other two students by talking to them about why their act was wrong. Now they must struggle with whether or not they have a further responsibility to report the incident to the authorities, or whether their responsibility to the students and the school as a whole would be better addressed by not reporting, since negative publicity would not be good for any of them.

I would not report what happened. I think that handling the situation within the school would be best for the students, and can be used as a "teachable moment." If more such incidents occur, I would re-evaluate reporting, but only if it would benefit the students. But I would also make sure that Bob understood the implications of what he did, how much trouble it could cause him, and how hurtful it was to Grace. I would also make sure that Rachel understood that distributing the picture was harmful to Bob, Grace, herself, and the entire school. I don't envy the administrators; putting out the fires that teenagers' immaturity can start seems like an impossible task in the digital age!

Work Cited

Free Student Help. Writing and College World. Online.

Shapiro, Joan, and Jacqueline A. Stefkovich. Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education: Applying Theoretical Perspectives to Complex Dilemmas. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge. Print.