Working through Ethics in Education and Leadership

Article excerpt

Working Through Ethics in Education and Leadership James Kent Donlevy and Keith D. Walker Sense Publishers, 168 pages 2011, $39.00

"It's all relative," and "justice is the will of the stronger," declared the Sophists of Ancient Greece. In order to combat such personal, subjective, and relativistic thinking, particularly by students, and especially in the areas of morality and ethics, the authors of Working Through Ethics in Education and Leadership have created a succinct, yet very substantive, well written and well organized primer that seeks to promote ethical thinking and acting, particularly in the fields of education and leadership. The authors are clearly followers of Socrates, the main opponent of the Sophists, who believed that there were universal, objective, and permanent truths in the areas of morality and ethics, and these truths could be discerned by reasoning, specifically by Socrates' inductive method of reasoning. "Goodness is real; and reality is good," Socrates asserted in opposition to the Sophists. The authors of this book, like Socrates, thus believe that there are universal ethical values and principles, and that morals and morality are based on reasoning from these universal values and principles. Accordingly, for the authors, morality is an exercise in synthesis, analysis, critical reflection and thinking, and reasoning, using deductive as well as inductive reasoning.

The book has seven chapters and an appendix. In the first chapter, "Ethics," the authors define and differentiate such key concepts as morality, ethics, philosophy, and the law. The authors, moreover, provide definitions and illustrations of ethical values and principles; and they posit such values and principles as "tools" for moral decision-making. The authors also raise and discuss the seminal question as to whether ethics can be taught. The authors come to the conclusion that ethics can be taught in the sense of inculcating students to ethical theories, values, and principles, assisting the students to think critically ethically and thereby to recognize moral issues and resolve them by reasoning from ethical principles, and encouraging the students to reflect on moral questions.

The second chapter is "Leadership and Ethics," wherein the authors stress the critical relationship of ethics to successful and sustainable leadership. Of particular interest in the chapter is the authors' attempt to refute the tendency of some leaders to equate acting legally with acting morally, and thus to "fall back" on the law for the standard of morality. A true leader must go "above and beyond" the law and strive for justice.

Although the book is certainly not a philosophical treatise on ethics, and the authors admit that it is not, the authors do examine several fundamental ethical schools of thought. Chapter 3, "Ethical Schools of Thought," therefore, supplies a brief explication of fundamental ethical schools of thought, together with recommended readings and reference to pertinent book appendices. The distinction between teleological ethics, wherein morality is based on consequences, and deontological ethics, wherein morality is based on duty, is addressed and delineated. Ethical relativism is also addressed; and there is an interesting discussion of what the authors call "post-modern ethics."

An interesting component of the book, and one that would certainly be engaging to students, is the "play," section, which consists of plays and related "scenarios." The plays are found in Chapter 4, called simply "The Plays." The plays are original creations of the authors; and they allow the students to participate in scripted dialogues in scenarios with "characters." These "plays," though short, reflect a variety of ethical beliefs and moral dilemmas, and consequently should attune the students as participants to be more cognizant of ethics as a branch of philosophy as well as the fact that there are many ethical belief systems and thus the possibility of differing moral conclusions. …