Biomedical ethics raises useful and interesting questions for the classroom. However, there is a certain cruelty in asking them. In the clinical situation, thinking with cases demonstrates an inventive epistemology and a supportive history and culture. The pain of disease is its shared imperative; the tradition of a practice community, its resource. Parallels are evident in the classroom: learning by doing, school as community, concern for students. Remedies—participation in and through a practice community, moral realism, improved social status, and so on—are obvious. Yet the obvious is not put into practice. The rhetoric of education—such as the talk of “community”—does not meet reality. Society only pretends to concern. Perhaps, then, the effort to put what we learn from biomedical ethics to work in the classroom is futile! But even if it only grounds a future critique, it is worth a look.
The absence of a practice community is felt. To be sure, there are professional associations, endless faculty meetings, codes of conduct. But the paraphernalia of institutions does not sum up as communities. In fact, the teacher as teacher is found alone and behind closed doors. The classroom is an isolated entity. The symbolism of this escapes us, although here and there efforts like team teaching and the “open classroom” try to take its meaning seriously. In the absence of a communal culture, however, these efforts cannot succeed. The relationship between biomedical ethics and the practice community is instructive. This problematic is addressed, imperfectly, to be sure. For the classroom, however, the language of address is hardly invented.