Sarah and her close friend, Julie, have divulged printed Facebook conversations given to their teacher in person. They want their identities to remain a secret. They are looking for a solution to make their end of term at school a positive experience; however, each day, the ridicule gets worse. Both Sarah and Julie’s parents have no idea this is happening. If you were their advisor teacher and an administrative figurehead at this school, what would you do? When do you inform the principal? When do their parents have the ‘right to know?’
At what point do teachers, administrators, and parents, ‘have the right to know?’ Are we privy to the private lives of our students if they disclose information about things such as ‘Facebook’ gossip they engage in when they are not present on campus? The line of responsibility between home and school is not defined. This is an ethical issue, as Strike (2004) defines, “questions right and wrong—our duties and obligations, our rights and responsibilities.” Additionally, it then leads us to question the moral languages used by various parties represented in the case study. Is there a universal language common to all? Whose perspective do we see value in moral rights and wrongs of the situation? Moreover, the ethics of right versus right and the short-term goals versus the long-term gains are the basis of consideration. What works best for each situation and those involved?
All problems present many variables and when we look at the facts, we try not to get caught up in the details themselves. Ethics and morals are more subjective than objective in nature. There are different paradigms and perspectives unique to individuals and groups; however, trying to find the nearest right (judgement based) for the circumstance presents moral dilemmas that are not mathematical and straightforward.
In our example case study, given the plurality of language, there are three moral languages to consider: belief systems, public speech, and care.
The resolution to this problem, as this case study is based on a true story, does not involve one right answer, but a series of steps to initiate problem-solving and ongoing dialogue. This is my preferred solution. This case study delves into a series of moral languages. As I recall moral and ethical issues are ‘relational.’ When we are concerned about the care of ‘others,’ as caring requires heightened moral sensitivity when issues arise we are better able to discern from multiple points of view; the intricacies of making a decision.
In making all parties of the situation responsible, it is how we deal with the more challenging situations of moral and ethical issues, and what we ought to do, when things fall apart a repeated learning process in our lives that truly determines effective moral leaders, students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Let’s remember to keep our lines of communication open. Let’s also remember the moral language we speak, and to whom we speak. Let’s also remember people need a public forum to speak, be heard, and the right to debate multiple points of view. Let’s be humble in our decision-making and recognize where people come from and their background of beliefs. Let’s try to meet at an ethical standpoint and agree to try our best to deal with a situation through our care for others. Education is a highly political, moral career!
Summary: In real life
All of the girls, bullies and victims, have all agreed to be a part of an ongoing weekly dialogue session with their teacher advisor and school counselor. Parents have been notified about the schools efforts to try and reignite and assist to mend these girls’ friendships. The girls originally confided in their teacher trusting her judgement and care. Once the situation had been exposed, all of the girls concerned also agreed to have their teacher advisor contact their parents on their behalf. In this situation, the girls belief systems are universal in nature, so making the appeal to a universal norm of what is ‘right’ and expected at school is the basis for rebuilding care and trusting relationships. The school’s core values help link reasoning with practice. The care perspective supports in almost all cases prove to be a humane ideal when dealing with tricky cases where a resolution is required.
To open the lines of communication, usually in the dominant language, allows for greater understanding and sensitivity to multiple perspectives. Freedom beckons a democratic process whereby people are heard. A disadvantage of public speech as a moral language is the inability, in certain cases, whereby those who speak a different language are ostracised automatically because they do not speak the dominant language. As an educator it is our ‘calling’ to try to recognize and appeal to higher ethical standards/principles including those who remain ‘voiceless.’ It is important to emphasize teachers must continue to work on ethics and make the children social justice activists themselves. There is no purpose in expelling or suspending a student if the behaviour is never recognized by the individual or group, and therefore, never gets resolved. It is like prison. Confining an adult to prison and releasing the individual to potentially harm again does no good.
What would you do?