Academic journal article Adult Learning

Developing Ethical Adult Educators: A Re-Examination of the Need for a Code of Ethics

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Developing Ethical Adult Educators: A Re-Examination of the Need for a Code of Ethics

Article excerpt

Consider the following fictitious scenarios involving adult educators:

* Nancy just found out her literacy student's husband is stealing money from the church where he is employed. Nancy could choose to turn him in, but instead she encourages her student to talk with him and get him to turn himself in.

* Under contract Bing is interviewing workers in a small manufacturing firm to identify specific skills and knowledge. The firm's owner requests that he share with her which employees are 'negative' and which are 'positive.' Bing suspects she will use this information during anticipated layoffs. He decides not to share this information because he believes he has a responsibility to the employees to treat their feedback as confidential.

* Pat is the only volunteer qualified to teach English to a group of Hispanic women working in the maid service at a local motel. One week before the training is scheduled to begin she finds out the only time they can meet with her is on the weekends. Pat decides she cannot give up her weekends and so tells the volunteer agency she must decline to help.

* Professor Big from Reputable University responds to a request for proposals distributed by a company headquartered in Saudi Arabia. The compensation from the contract will help to fund the adult education and human resource development programs. The Saudi company awards the proposal to Professor Big, who begins the long-term process of working for the 'client' and the money flows into Reputable University's program. Both adult education students and human resource development students begin to reap the benefits through graduate assistantships and research opportunities. However, because the company is headquartered in Saudi Arabia, Professor Big is able to send male colleagues and students to work for the company, but is not able to send female colleagues and students.

Each of the adult educators in the above scenarios made a decision that impacted learners based on individual morals and ethics. The decisions were not made based on a professional code of ethics, however defined; nor were they necessarily made on the grounds of teaching or program development skills. Each individual was left to navigate the ethical terrain given their own level of ethical competence. We argue here that we can do more to develop shared understandings of ethics in the profession of adult education.

As a profession, we need to answer several questions: How did these adult educators come to make these decisions? How do adult educators develop the kinds of moral character and ethical behaviors so that learners benefit from their relationship with them? How do we ensure that adult educators are not doing harm? Are we content to leave the possibility of harm to individuals who have little or no understanding of ethics or what is expected of them as a moral adult educator?

This issue of Adult Learning is about best practices: best advising, best facilitation, best planning, best administrative strategies, and best ethical practice. We know what makes a program good or bad, and we know what makes instruction excellent or poor and planning a success or a failure. We know these things because we have learned what excellence in these areas looks like through our experience and through formal or informal education. In other words, as we develop competencies and we have taken on the persona of an adult educator, we possess the skills and knowledge to know what to do and how to do it when faced with problems related to adult learning.

But when it comes to ethical dilemmas like those described above, what skills or competencies should we use? Where do we go for help when we are faced with the complexity and perplexing consequences of our moral decisions? How do we even know when to frame a situation in ethical terms? Even if we have a sound character, how can we have the best ethical practice if we don't know what it means to be an ethical adult educator? …

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