“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.” -- Albert Schweitzer
On Monday of this week, we were guests on the radio show, The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen talking about our blog post, Technology and Ethics. Arnie’s webpage describes her as a formidable voice for sensibility in politics and social justice. She’s "...been on the New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Iowa airwaves for 30 years, run for NH governor and U.S. Congress, and is a sought-after speaker throughout the country.” Her questions were thoughtful and her style engaging. Our conversation with her took several paths, all of which brought us back to the key questions. Where are children learning ethics today? Where are the models of ethical behavior in our society? Is the technology revealing the pervasiveness of ethical issues or is it, in fact, changing them? A common thread arose. It gave us pause because we have brought this thread forward in several of our blog posts, not just those dealing with technology.
We learn ethical behavior as children. We learn it at home, in school, in houses of worship, scouts, 4-H, and sports teams. We learn it in all those places where adults close to us teach us right from wrong and model it. Both aspects are essential. Without congruence between the parts of telling what we value and living those values, we teach hypocrisy. That is a tragic lesson for children to receive. It jaundices them for a lifetime. Little ones learn we are not trustworthy. The world becomes less safe.
Every adult a child encounters in school... leaders, teachers, secretaries, custodians, food services, bus drivers, all of us...are constantly revealing what matters to us. So, too, the world beyond our walls models and teaches. The hero athlete whose career achievements may be discounted because of his drug use teaches. The behaviors of government agencies and political leaders teach. MTV and Entertainment Tonight teach. Talk radio teaches. Oh my, we dearly need models.
It is troubling. As a country we have always had divisions. We were founded on optimism. Differences can coexist if fundamental values are in place. Now, to reach for that common ground is seen as weakness. We have become overly invested in the debate and the associated drama. The reward of public attention follows those with the greatest meanderings rather than those with the highest principles. Often, money follows also. Do we not remember the children are watching us?
We have come to expect dysfunctional and argumentative legislatures dissolved into confrontational diatribes. We hope that never becomes the description of our school board. We expect policies to come from the top without sensitivity to how they will land on the ground. We hope as leaders that cannot be said about us.
As leaders we have an inner mandate that we sometimes forget in the swirling of everyday. We are the ones who have chosen by our career to teach the children. We must hold our purpose visibly, publically, clearly and ethically. We have chosen a profession in which children spend thirteen years with us. Their ethical foundations are pretty solidly formed by the time they leave us. Separate courses on ethics aren’t necessary if we are teaching it in every course, in every activity, every day, by our actions and decisions. Yes, we need refreshers as technology presents new challenges and we need to bring in parents to firm up the foundation on which we stand together. We need to know how to handle privacy in the context of “going viral,” we need to redefine what honesty is in the context of internet access, we need to reawaken that inner sense of right and wrong. We need to model the courage to act on that sense and to be rewarded for it, not monetarily but by increased integrity. Once sacrificed, integrity is a hard thing to retrieve.
How many of us have thought about that this year when we were buried under the onslaught of all that was thrust upon? How many of us were so focused on numbers and results that we let little things slide? Ethical behavior is important and seems to be reported when it is lacking, and rarely celebrated when it is present.
We have to find a common ground of values on which to grow. We cannot continue to argue and rail against. We must be “for” something not just against something. Then, we have to create the conversations in which other voices can also be heard. How can we support those who have the talent to help take the tiger by the tail?
If we believe in human dignity and respectful interactions - that is what the children will learn. Each day, the next generation is forming its values. We are blessed with the opportunity to work with children and to be part of their evolution into young adulthood. We have the opportunity to model and teach human dignity and respectful interactions while the children watch us and learn. We can nurture ethical behavior in each other, and ourselves, and as a result, gift it to our students.
The podcast of our interview with Arnie Arnesen is here. Our conversation begins at the 30 minute mark. The first half hour is an interesting interview with Jessica Lahey, an English, Latin, and writing teacher in Lyme, New Hampshire who wrote an article entitled Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still at School.
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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.