Connecting the Ethics of Teaching and Moral Education

Article excerpt

Increasing societal concern about the perceived decline of moral and ethical values in contemporary life is promoting renewed interest in moral education or character education (Beck, 1990; Chazan, 1985; Cohen, 1995; Jarrett, 1991; Kelsey, 1993; Lickona, 1991; Nucci, 1989; Ryan & McLean, 1987; Spiecker & Straughan, 1988; Wynne & Ryan, 1993). Some argue that the current educational climate has contributed to a culture in which many do not know what a genuinely moral standard is (Delattre & Russell, 1993, p. 24); they believe that by removing such words as right and wrong from the school vocabulary, schools have been values-neutral for so long that our ability to engage students in conversations about moral issues had become rusty. We were not even sure what our role was in the moral education of our students (Gecan & Mulholland-Glaze, 1993, p. 46). Others, exploring the moral and ethical dimensions of schools, claim schooling is a moral endeavor by its very nature (Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990; Jackson, Boostrom, & Hansen, 1993; Kirschenbaum, 1994; Sergiovanni, 1992, 1996; Sockett, 1993).

Both groups acknowledge the growing public demand that schools more directly stand for, reflect, and impart valued principles (Cohen, 1995; Lickona, 1991; Wynne & Ryan, 1993). This recognition, accompanied by support for formal character education or not, has been fueled in part by the greater acceptance of the belief that--regardless of our diversity--at root we share a basic morality that includes such virtues as responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and civic virtue (Sergiovanni, 1996, p. 123).

Strike and Ternasky (1993) identify three areas in education to which ethics apply: deliberation and reflection on educational policy, moral education, and professional ethics. The last area, which Strike and Ternasky describe as the most neglected until recently, provides the focus for the following discussion.

In this article, I connect conceptually the professional ethics of teaching and moral education by exploring the function of teacher education to prepare teachers to understand the moral and ethical complexities of their role and thus enable them to reflect ethical actions and decisions in their professional practice. Teachers' practice inevitably has a strong influence on the moral lessons students directly and indirectly acquire in the classroom (Jackson et al., 1993). To be guides for the young in morality and ethics, teachers must understand the complex moral role that they occupy as ethical professionals and appreciate the significance of their own actions and decisions on the students in their care. Moral education is a term applicable to the preparation of future teachers, as much as to children and adolescent students (Bricker, 1993). The recognition that enhanced awareness of teachers of their own ethical practice can be a powerful force on moral education as it evolves in schools.

In the following sections, I review briefly recent theoretical attention to the concept of the teacher as moral agent and exemplar; consider the implications of this concept for teacher education, specifically related to a reconceptualization of foundations courses in educational philosophy and policy; explore the case study method to the teaching of applied ethics; and, using examples from my own practice, provide an overview of potential moral and ethical dilemmas in teaching that some preservice teachers identified in their interpretations of professional and practical experiences.

The Teacher as Moral Agent and Exemplar

Recent educational literature has focused on the teacher's role as fundamentally concerned with the state of moral agency (Fullan, 1993; Grace, 1995; Sergiovanni, 1992, 1996; Sockett, 1990, 1993; Strike & Ternasky, 1993; Strom, 1989). Some argue that the components of teaching as a knowledge endeavor and as a moral enterprise are essentially inseparable and that recognition of this fusion must be central to the conception of the teacher's role (Ball & Wilson, 1996). …