Should is a powerful word. It is one of the few parts of speech that imparts morality on a sentence; rather than making a statement, it asks a question.
Should an editor print this? Should medical students learn the procedure for performing an abortion? Should student teachers report the suspected abuse of their students?
Each day in the classroom, students are asked to generate answers to questions like these. The study of professional ethics is an intergral part of many majors, from business to education. Universities across the country offer a range of courses in ethical behaviour, as well as specilized ethics programs within a given area of study.
The medical profession has its Hippocratic Oath. Legal scholars are inundated by moral codes of conduct. Computer scientists are warned against software piracy.
Several weeks ago, Beaver College initiated a first in its teaching program: training student teachers to spot signs of child abuse. Students in the college’s teaching program were taught the warning signs of physical, sexual, or mental abuse and neglect, as well as how report suspected abuse.
This program and others like it reveal the growing ambiguity between personal and professional ethics in the classroom. Students have grappled only semi-successfully with the barrage of professional ethical considerations presented to them. Now questions of personal moral standards are under fire as well.
In promoting the new training, Beaver officials claim that spotting child abuse falls within the moral parameters of teachers’ responsibility to their jobs. There can be few arguments against helping to prevent child abuse, yet is it acceptable to expect students to take on such a responsibility in the name of professional ethics?
The implementation of programs like the one at Beaver College increase student accountability to a dangerous level. We live in a society where individuals can be sued for attempting the Heimlich maneuver; added responsibility is something we don’t need or want.
However, like it or not, personal ethics are taught in the classroom every day. Whether the decision is to cheat on a third world history test or copy calculus homework, students are making ethical choices that have nothing to do with their intended professions.
The fact is that an institution of higher learning carries the weight and responsibility of education. We are here to learn about ourselves as much as to learn about any subject our brains can handle. Education is a privelage, not a right, and the duty of the student body is to embrace that privelage by extending the range of what can be achieved to what should be achieved.
As professionals, can we rightfully be expected to carry out our moral obligations? No.