School & District Management Opinion

Ethics Are Part of Being ‘College- and Career-Ready’

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 17, 2016 4 min read
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At first thought what does college- and career-readiness mean? For some, immediate responses relate to skills and information. What do these students know and what are they able to do to become active, productive members of our society? Makes sense right? Well, maybe it’s too narrow when we consider the ethical dilemmas arising daily in workplaces and society. Why is it important for public schools to be concerned about graduating students with a developed set of ethics? The expansion of scientific possibilities accompanied by proliferation in communication technologies creates previously unexplored ethical concerns and are work-related calls for well developed moral compasses.

Opportunity and Responsibility
Teaching right and wrong has been mainly the role of family and religion. Why is it an arena schools should be stepping into? And how? Ethics are less about what one believes and more about the actions taken from the point where belief, thought and circumstance meet. Acting ethically means being moved to choices based upon a set of moral values. Does the teaching of morals have a place in schools? We think yes.

We are a system built on right and wrong; children learn that from the time they enter our doors. Some behaviors are rewarded and others are not. For example, children are taught about the “dangers” of posting photos or communicating with strangers online. We can either warn of dangers or we can help them understand the dangers and come to a decision about right and wrong on their own. Telling what is right and wrong and teaching what is right and wrong are two very different things. Once our intended outcomes are clarified, the method used to teach these and other ethical lessons are better informed.

We teach that posting photos of yourself or others in compromising circumstance, not being dressed properly or drinking, speaking badly about others, identifying one’s self including contact information... saying “Don’t do it. It can be dangerous and here’s why” is certainly warranted but where does it land? The children add it to the long list of “don’ts” that grows as they do. As educators and as members of families, we know with certainty that as children grow into adolescence they push against the adults who surround them as they reach for their independence. No doubt, some of the “don’ts” become “do’s” simply because it is part of their growing process. So knowing that, should we rethink our tactics?

Schools are a K-12 experience for most. In the best of circumstances we have a child for 13 consecutive years. In the most challenging of circumstances, we have them only for one or two. No matter, it is important that every adult in the system knows and agrees that ethics are something that must be embedded in the teaching and learning process. Leaders have the responsibility to raise the question, invite the conversation, and continue to cite examples as they rise to the teaching of ethics. It is neither a course to be taught (like digital citizenship) nor an elective (like “ethics”) for seniors. The teaching of ethics begins with the modeling of ethics. It is the manner in which everything is taught, including lessons in behavior, in the hallways, in classrooms, and in offices, by every adult. Mixed messages are dangerous in that they can handily undo the work of a previous effort. How each member of the school community fits into this ever-important effort calls for ongoing reflection and discussion because this, unlike other things taught in school, has to become part of each student. How to accomplish an engineering problem is a mental skill. How to use those engineering skills to solve humanity’s problems or to build a bomb involves ethics.

Will Students Be Ready For The Work World They Are Entering?
A recent TIME magazine article, Life, The Remix: A new technique that lets scientists edit DNA with ease is transforming science- and raising difficult questions (pp.42-48) mean for humanity highlights this well. " Experts believe that CRISPR can be used to reprogram the cells not just in humans but also in plants, insects - practically any piece of DNA on the planet.” Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences explains CRISPR:

...research labs worldwide have adopted a new technology that facilitates making specific changes in the DNA of humans, other animals, and plants. Compared to previous techniques for modifying DNA, this new approach is much faster and easier. This technology is referred to as “CRISPR,” and it has changed not only the way basic research is conducted, but also the way we can now think about treating diseases.

In the medical research and practice world, the future is now. Students in our schools, whether headed for a career in medical research or medical practice, are already living in a world in which ethics plays a role, in some ways, more than ever. As citizens, unless we understand that the possibilities that this research offers for curing disease is coupled with possibilities for destruction. From the TIME article about CRISPR:

...most microbes driving infectious diseases are just a few DNA edits away from becoming superstrains that could wipe out unprepared populations.

Writing about, reporting on, working for these advances can become someone’s job. Who we vote for, what we support, what we think about the right and wrong is more secure if it has become a part of who we are and how we act. Schools can support the work of families and religion. Schools can also fill the gaps. If we are seriously committed to graduating students who are college- and career-ready, then we have to recognize the opportunity we have for a continued, systemic, shared responsibility to act upon morals with integrity no matter whether in classrooms, in hallways, in decisions, in communication, all. We want our graduates to be life ready as well.

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Illustration by Marek Uliaz courtesy of 123rf

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.