Equity & Diversity Opinion

Ethics, Morals, and Values Central in Leadership

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 12, 2013 3 min read
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On March 5th the New York Times reported that at the Bronx High School of Science, three students were arrested and three adults suspended (the athletic director, the head track coach, and the assistant track coach) over incidents that involved forcible touching and assault, hazing and harassment. Steven Banks, a chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society said, “We are very concerned about the rush to judgment here. Under our system, these children - and they are just that, children - are entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

In our democracy, everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence and therefore that is not the issue here. The central issue in this case is there appears to be a continuation of the “boys will be boys” mentality. The article continues, “A number of students interviewed on Tuesday said that they felt the charges were out of proportion, and that hazing and bullying were not problems at the school...one student was quoted as saying, ‘It was just jokes. Maybe it was a little immature. Maybe if you were a freshman you’d get scared. But guys joke around.’”

The good news...Parents felt the principal had addressed the issue. The school had instituted an anonymous tip line to report bullying last year. A past president of the parents association referenced Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky case as having heightened everyone’s awareness and stated, “Everyone needs to be very vigilant and that sounds to me like what is being done here.” A student’s report was heeded and acted upon. But there are still messages oozing out that this is an over-reaction to a bunch of boys just playing around. The adults in this and every situation have a moral responsibility to make decisions based upon what is right for the children. Tom Sobol, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University wrote "..avoiding doing wrong is not enough. The moral imperative for educational leaders is to also do right. People who are entrusted with the education of children and young people have an affirmative duty of care. They are responsible for the education and welfare of the students in their charge, and this responsibility must be carried out through positive action” (p.157).

All educators have a responsibility to do the right thing; right not only regarding regulations, laws, policies, and procedures, but right as it touches the hearts, souls, and minds of the children they are charged with educating. What questions must these educators wrestle with as they proceed in their investigation? What courage will they muster as they face their own, their institution’s and their public’s bias on this issue? If educators have not studied ethics, or at least done so as a personal journey, they will be ill prepared to handle these situations. Professor Sobol taught a class in ethics at Columbia University. In his recent book, he stated, “The reasons for studying ethics lie in the nature of education, schools, and leadership. Education is an inherently moral matter. It is moral because people develop (or fail to develop) morally as well as physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It is moral because teaching--helping to shape other people’s minds, sensibilities, and capabilities -raises deep questions of purpose, values, and responsibility. It is moral because it involves the relationship between one generation and another, a relationship that helps determine the direction and quality of human life” (p. 152). Therein lies our uppermost responsibility. We must stay in touch with our conscience and allow it to inform our decisions.

Sobol, Thomas. (2013). My Life in School A Memoir. New York: Public Schools of Tomorrow.

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