Ethical Leadership: Supporting Human Rights and Diversity in Rural Communities

Article excerpt

Abstract

The influence of ethical leadership is examined from the perspective of advancing the conditions of human rights and diversity within schools in rural America. The study of ethics is concerned with values and morals that society deems appropriate and/or desirable. The determination of what is "right/wrong" or "good/bad" in the context of rural education settings provides a challenge for all educators who seek to make a difference in the lives of all learners in public education and their families. The authors provide an analysis of the challenges and a set of strategies that guide the development of ethical leadership on behalf of all learners, including those who are significantly disenfranchised from the mainstream of educational systems. The context of rural special education provides significant challenges and promising opportunities to change the conditions of educational practices based on the tenets of transformational leadership.

Have you ever wondered why our technical knowledge is so advanced that we can send people to outer space, while our ability to care for one another and our interpersonal communication skills are so underutilized? Have you thought about how we might wage peace instead of war? Do you question how you might make a more meaningful difference in the lives of the children and adults with whom you work? Has there ever been more need for ethical leadership supporting human rights and diversity? We believe that ethical leadership provides great promise for supporting the unique contributions of each person and the potential to contribute to the connectedness that comes when we join in association to create an inclusive world (McKnight, 1995).

Our purpose in writing this paper is to provide a multidimensional, holistic approach (Nash, 1996, 2002) to thinking about ethics in a way that is both emancipatory and empowering (Manning, 2003). It is our hope that this article will serve as a guide (Northouse, 2004) for responding to ethical issues that arise in educational situations. The rights and responsibilities associated with ethical leadership can and should be used to support human rights and diversity. Obviously, our work is not value-neutral. We admit to being products of our experiences, and therefore biased in many ways. We also proudly acknowledge that we embrace human rights and diversity. We hope that our paper will inspire readers to identify ways (both large and small) in which they can collaborate with others in support of schools and communities grounded in moral purpose that advances the case for human rights and learner diversity.

The Importance of Ethics in Education

The Dalai Lama (1999) reminds us that education is much more than imparting knowledge and skills; it is opening the eyes of students to the needs and rights of others. We believe that human rights can be utilized as a conceptual guide in teaching values. It is imperative that educators at all levels identify and utilize materials about human rights as a foundation for what and how they teach. The development of ethical theory originated with the work of the ancient Greek philosophers Plato (427 B.C.-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384 B.C-322 B.C), both of whom were concerned with values and principles that guide individuals and society in determining what is right and wrong (Northouse, 2004).

Ethics play a central role in supporting human rights and diversity. A critical re-examination of professional ethics is increasingly important, as the riches that diversity bestows on rural communities also present challenging ethical dilemmas. The landscape of rural America is changing. As growing numbers of refugees and immigrants and other peoples of color have chosen to make their homes in previously and predominantly "white" rural schools and communities, the "world out there" in a global sense has become the "world right here," with extremely complex ethical ambiguity. Many of the ethical beliefs of these new neighbors are groupbased. …