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Means and ends.

Means and Ends A policy is an instrument of human purpose, a tool we use to achieve our goals. That statement may be a good thumbnail description but it begs a serious question. It assumes that a policy is sort of like a T-square or a spade, a neutral device that can be applied to the task at hand. But as I have suggested in this space ("No More Noses to the Glass," January 1988), policies really cannot be neutral. In education as in every form of human endeavor, the policy wears the ethical cloak of the policy maker. Policy is driven by principle and not vice versa. A "what-we-do" (policy) without a "why-we-do-it" (ethics) is a necessary tool looking to become a lethal weapon.

That raises a question for special educators. If our policies derive from an ethical perspective, how is this ethical perspective to be constructed? In other words, where are the special educator's ethics rooted?

Traditionally, this question has been answered in our Western culture in a number of ways, three of which are:

* First, we can find our ethical grounding in Reason. Here we assume that there is a discernible order to things--a natural, universal "law"--which we can come to understand and then follow to arrive at right decisions. The main argument raised against this point of view has always been that if there really were a universal natural law, it would be universally plain in all cultures and societies, and clearly it is not.

* Second, we can seek the Good by obeying a code of moral principles that have broad social and cultural support, e.g., the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, etc. For instance, many believe the ethical base we maintain for educating exceptional children is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition which affirms that each individual is unique and unrepeatable with the right to full growth and development. The problem here has usually been that the code cannot possibly cover all the cases, which eventually leads to hair-splitting when one gets to complex specifics.

* Third, we can seek the Good by grounding it in a point of view on human relationships. Ethics, this perspective says, is a "people matter," and the irreducible minimum for relating to others is to treat them always as ends and never as means. The most common criticism here is this view's easy flirtation with relativism and its fellow traveler, self-delusion. People wind up equating their own goals with the best interests of others.

Although all of the preceding provide an ethical base, I confess, nonetheless, that my personal bias is toward the third of these perspectives, in part because I find it a very fruitful way of thinking for education professionals. The "stuff" of our jobs is human interaction and the decisions we make get played out in human lives. We are charged with bringing together the two most precious assets of our society--our children and our knowledge--to create something new. With that kind of job, educators, and particularly special educators, have to be "other focused," placing children's good before their own.

If, on the other hand, we follow an ethical path that includes treating others as means rather than as ends, that raises some continuing questions about our professional standards as special educators. How ethical are we in fulfilling our instructional responsibilities when it comes to questions such as the use of time, for example? A brief story may prove instructive.

When I was an assistant superintendent, I tried to teach in a classroom at least one afternoon a week. I wasn't always successful, but I thought it important not to let administrative duties shut me off from contact with children. My first experience verged on the explosive. I found that in trying to get through what I had planned for the children, we were interrupted all afternoon at about 6- to 8-minute intervals by announcements over the PA system! At day's end, after throwing a near fit with the principal, I steamed back to my office and began designing a new policy on the use of squawk-boxes.

I now know that more than an instructional issue was at stake in that experience. What that PA system did was (1) rob children of instructional time, (2) destroy the preparation of a teacher (luckily, one able to do something about it!), and (3) send a none-too-subtle message to the whole school that what was happening in the classroom was clearly subordinate to what was happening in the front office. That was not just bad education, it was unethical, because it treated the children and teachers as the means for accomplishing the office's agenda rather that as ends in themselves.

I suspect that any of you could summon up a similar story about use of instructional time, classroom management, child assessment, confidentiality, discipline, and any of a host of other issues that shape the professional lives of special educators each day. My question is, how often does the ethical element get factored into the decision making?

I think this mode of ethical thinking about policy is particularly useful in three extra-classroom environments where special educators increasingly are asked to take a professional role:

* In dealing with the allied professions of medicine and law, where the burgeoning complexities created by technology and the struggle for children's rights raise the kinds of issues where the "people as ends" perspective can be obscured.

* In dealing with families, where the dynamics of human relationships can lead to the confusion and conflict of competing ends.

* In dealing with policy makers, where the instrumental orientation of efficient service delivery and a view of persons as ends often wind up competing for the control of policy.

In the end, there is no simple way to proceed on questions like these or in such contexts; if there were easy answers, the questions themselves would soon disappear. It does seem clear, however, that ethics that begin and end with rules, whether derived from a universal natural law or from some time-honored moral code seem not to be holding up too well, especially when the moral indicators on Wall Street and in our political life (to name two quick examples) could be measured on the Richter scale. School systems, too, and our community of special education have come in for our share of short-sightedness and estrangement from our ethical roots.

Maybe it's time to take a breath and to renew both our commitment and our knowledge. One advantage in ethics that special educators have is our commitment to making child-based decisions: If we have a creed, its first affirmation is surely "Begin with the child." A further advantage we have as special educators is that our CEC leaders have demonstrated the wisdom to draft and adopt a written Code of Ethics, which is reproduced below. Maybe it's time some of us thought about professional ethics as the way you figure out how to get people back into the center of policymaking. That is, I think, our special grace, but it is also our task.

CEC Code of Ethics

We declare the following principles to be the Code of Ethics for educators of exceptional persons. Members of the special education profession are responsible for upholding and advancing these principles. Members of The Council for Exceptional Children agree to judge by them in accordance with the spirit and provisions of this code.

a. Special education professionals are committed to developing the highest educational and quality of life potential of exceptional individuals.

b. Special education professionals promote and maintain a high level of competence and integrity in practicing their profession.

c. Special education professionals engage in professional activities which benefit exceptional individuals, their families, other colleagues, students, or research subjects.

d. Special education professionals exercise objective professional judgment in the practice of their profession.

e. Special education professionals strive to advance their knowledge and skills regarding the education of exceptional individuals.

f. Special education professionals work within the standards and policies of their profession.

g. Special education professionals seek to uphold and improve where necessary the laws, regulations, and policies governing the delivery of special education and related services and the practice of their profession.

h. Special education professionals do not condone or participate in unethical or illegal acts, nor violate professional standards adopted by the Delegate Assembly of CEC.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes The Council for Exceptional Children Code of Ethics; ethics for special education policy
Author:Greer, Jeptha V.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1988
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