Friday, January 24, 2014

Values in the Classroom

Just read a thought-provoking post at k.liz's blog Just a Word. She asked:

"What is our role, as educators, in teaching/encouraging/fostering values and/or morals in our students?"

Little Egret
I started asking myself questions about my values while I was still working at my last (non-teaching) job. The reason was that my company had a set of "core principles" that employees were supposed to adhere to. When we submitted our annual performance reports, they were to be written in terms of these principles. For example: in what concrete ways did I demonstrate integrity with my customer and fellow workers? As is true in any company, I guess, lots of people don't take the annual reports very seriously. But I took it as an opportunity to ask myself, "What does it mean to have integrity and do I actually have it?"

Frankly, lots of us believe what we wish were true rather than what is actually true ... and I didn't have as much integrity as I imagined I did. I say this with kindness toward the me that I was. I wasn't, and am not, a bad person. I had worries and fears that I allowed to drive some of my choices and I needed to develop some courage. Let it be noted that this self-examination was an example of honesty ... a good value that I was exercising quite well!

One of four!
Anyway, I set off on an exploration of values in general. What ARE my values?  Are they ethical/moral values?  How do I know?  How do I live them (or do I live them)?  I'm not going to post any Grand Answers here!  I will say that one of the most interesting things to ponder isn't about what to do when there is a clash between right and wrong, but what to do when there is a clash between right and right (the so-called ethical dilemma).  You know, loyalty to a friend vs. honesty to the police and so forth.  Exploring these, I softened somewhat on demanding that One True Answer to every ethical question.  Two sources that were useful to me were:

- "Moral Courage" by R.M. Kidder. You can download the first chapter, which gives true examples of where moral courage was lacking. This is the book that introduced the right vs. right concept to me.

-The Josephson Institute web site. Their Six Pillars make a good starting point for thinking about "what are my ethical values?".  They also list 10 myths of ethics, which makes for interesting reading (you'll need to scroll down).

And that brings me back to the classroom.  I'm not teaching an ethics class and, goodness knows, I'm not qualified to teach one!  But moral/ethical values do have a place in my lessons. First, I should live them myself, to the extent that I can (nobody's perfect).  A byproduct of this is that it can be a model to others.  A more important byproduct is that it's conducive to language learning.  Looking at the Six Pillars: if we trust and respect each other, we can take risks, which is needed for learning.  If we demonstrate responsibility, then we're prepared for each lesson, we take our time together seriously, and we follow through on our commitments to each other (and I to the people who fund our classes).  Fairness and caring develop community -- a principle of unplugged teaching is that language learning is a social process. And, what could be more important than citizenship in a civics class?

One other point that k.liz brought up was that of neutrality.  Many teachers believe (and I was one of them) that in cases where moral/ethical views may differ, the teacher should be neutral.  The reasoning is that, no matter how nice we may be, we come into class with a kind of authority.  If I express my opinion on a topic, some learners may refrain from disagreeing with me.  This can hamper their ability to speak out in class.  This is a good point, and may be especially true in EFL classes that take place in countries where respect for hierarchical authority pervades the culture.  But I'm not in that extreme situation.  For me, I think it's a matter of redefining "authority".  My authority derives strictly from my responsibilities related to conducting a successful class.  Learners in my classes have authority of their own (their cultural knowledge and language skills, their own job responsibilities, managing their homes, taking care of their kids, etc.).  I'm not the boss of their opinions and they're not the boss of mine!  If trust is established, we can *all* express ourselves.  However, other than setting expectations about what's needed for a good English class, I do prefer to background my moral/ethical opinions.  It's more so I can focus on guiding discussions even-handedly.  If someone asks, though, I will share my view.

My thanks to k.liz for getting me going, ha ha!  I just discovered her blog and am putting it on my feedly app for further reference.
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Picture credits: I'm too lazy to look for pics about ethics, so posting some fun critter shots from my recent vacation.  I had just gotten a new camera and within days had exposed it to sandy beaches and murky mangrove swamps, but it still produced some nice pictures! (Credit to hubby too for maneuvering the kayak on that last one!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kathy!!

    Awesome post! I love hearing you thinking through a lot of the same questions I was working through. I feel like our thought patterns were quite similar, and it's so true that we aren't teaching ethics classes, but we can't really divorce ethics from real life, and so it is important to know what our values are and, as you ask, whether or not I am actually living in a way that demonstrates those values!!

    Thanks for linking back!! Looking forward to reading more of your posts!