For anyone who does not already know, Ethics is one of my favourite topics. I studied Philosophy in university and this remains one of my favourite subjects to this day.
However, does my background uniquely prepare me for the ethical challenges in teaching and business? In a word, no. If anything, I think it’s a disadvantage as I over analyze problems, so there is no such thing as a quick decision.
When it comes to ethics in my practise, there is one issue that makes me lose sleep at night. Power!
As instructors, we make decisions about learning goals and these influence and shape our learners goals. We are also authority figures. No matter how much we try to personalize and show vulnerability, we will always be viewed by our students as having power. We have the power to evaluate. We have the power to limit autonomy, rights, freedoms ( at least within the confines of our classroom). This is something we should take seriously! We know the bad results and uses of power–we fight the bad memories of our learners everyday!
Ok so power–what exactly does this have to do with ethics? As adult educators, we understand that our learners are self-determining and autonomous. Almost all of Knowle’s assumptions of the adult learner is based on this. So we have an obligation to exercise our power legitimately. What does it mean to exercise legitimate power? To put it simply, we must ensure we have a very good reason for interfering with our learners rights, freedoms, and autonomy.
How can we accomplish this? Much of the guidance in Brookfield’s book applies here. Being an aware and reflective practitioner is a good start. We need to put ourselves in our learner’s shoes and think how we would feel or respond to our classroom activity decisions.
But there is an even better idea! This one is right up my alley as it applies Political Philosophy to the classroom (and can even be used to teach a particular theory). Social Contract theories vary by theories, but the aim is that power originates when individuals implicitly agree to the conditions of society. Depending on the theory implicitly could mean voting or even just existing in society. (we could justify that students implicitly agree to our power by enrolling in the class but I’m not going to go there!).
We can apply the social contract to the classroom by working with the class to create a classroom contract. Here’s a short and sweet article on this:
Brookfield suggests very similar strategies as well. I really like this idea as we are working together with our learners to develop rules (and legitimate uses of our power) of the classroom. Definitely something I will be looking to implement.