This is a reflection of a book and two articles that I’ve read:
Fedler (2006) discusses many models of ethical theories including egoism, deontology, utilitarianism, and virtue, and discusses different aspects of these models including how they relate to Christianity. As educators we are a in a position to influence children in many ways, whether it is a positive or negative influence depends greatly on ourselves. If we were military leaders, or in the medical field, there could be a different answer in being the best advocate for ethical thinking, and there are arguments to that statement as well, but in these fields I see a lot of opportunities for consequentialist or utilitarianism method of thinking, or as Felder puts it, “Does the Ends Justify the Means?” (p. 30). Many of us have been in these fields before, but taking the perspective of a teacher is a unique opportunity, and I feel the model of virtue ethics is the most fitting to instill an honorable ethic. What better idea to shape a young mind than, “Not only do our actions reflect our character, but our actions determine our character” (2006, p. 39). Though as a child grows to adolescents walking the walk isn’t always enough, which Fedler states, “a person does not just perform the right action; she does what is right with the right motive or intention” (2006, p. 39).
That raises the question whether ethics are instilled early or are they an ongoing process, such as a lifelong learner? I believe there is a mix of beliefs, but there is no doubt that the more a child grows up with positive ethical and moral influences the better chance they will grow with a moral belief that, “Focuses on the whole person, now just particular actions” (p. 35).
In regard to the thought of a teacher being a moral agent, I believe that it is imperative that we try, and the fact that we teach in a public system is no reason to shy away from teaching ethics. Dr. Sheuerman would remind us that our goal as educators is to create good citizens, which is reflected in our state mandated approval standards (P3: Informed by legal and ethical responsibilities: students benefit from a safe & respectful learning environment). One of the most influential people in my life was my youth pastor, David Dawson, when I was in high school (quite awhile ago). While he wasn’t a public school educator he was definitely a teacher to me. He was a successful collegiate wrestler, and he started helping with our high school team and became an assistant coach so I met him through our school system. I still think back to the positive influence he had on my way of thinking, and this largely due to his virtue as much as his religious beliefs. The one word that I come up with when I think about him is sincerity, and it was his earnest belief and ethic that radiated from him. I have had my struggles in life and faith, but that ethical imprint has always stayed with me. In this world of at-risk kids and negative role models I hope to influence children half as much as my friend David.
“formulating a coherent ethical framework they are confused about how to use the Bible responsibly” (Fedler, 2006, p. ix).
One of the resources that I read was Can We Be Good Without God? On the political meaning of Christianity because I couldn’t resist such an intriguing title, which reminded me of the cover story for TIME magazine last year entitled, “What if there is no Hell?” (Meacham, 2011). That article is a discussion for another day, but one underlying implication is common, what is our motivation to do the right thing? In the case of Can We Be Good Without God, Tinder (1989) starts with and continues his comparison of politics and religious ideology, but I found his writing a bit chaotic as he jumps from topic to topic. The author has many insights, “The principle that a human being is sacred yet morally degraded is hard for common sense to grasp” (1989, p. 3), but his political analysis is so interwoven that it becomes hard to distinguish his point at times. I suppose a lot of my confusion stems from my misconception of the article, while I expected a more philosophical perspective (there were some references) it was the political outlook that made me think Tinder needed to write a book, which he may have, rather than just an article. While it was a decent length article I feel he was trying to compact too much into the space, and it wasn’t until the very end that he made an emotional connection with me. He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Give me the hope that will deliver me from fear and faintheartedness,” which was an excellent example of moral courage, but can we as teachers impress this fact on our students? Can we give them the building blocks of courage to do the right thing without fanfare and when no one is looking? That is the goal, and maybe one of them will grow up to be uncorrupted politician.
Moral imperatives seem to align themselves with virtuous ethics, and one that has far reaching ramifications is honesty. This value does not always ensure a child will behave appropriately, but in the end if they remain honest there is hope. I expect children to occasionally make the wrong decisions, especially with very young children, but I emphasize telling the truth and taking responsibility for their actions. It seems a good indicator that honestly shows a moral conscience, and whether it’s based on doctrine or a role model it can be a step in the right direction.
Fedler, K.D. (2006). Exploring Christian Ethics. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.
Meacham, J. (2011, April 25). What if there’s no Hell? TIME, pp. 38-43.
Tinder, G. (1989, December). Can we be good without God? On the political meaning of Christianity. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1989/12/can-we-be-good-without-god/6721?step=0