The labor of the reward: wonder
As part of its mission, the Beamer-Schneider Professorship has developed a teaching in-service program with SAGES. This program involves a post-doctoral fellow, the Beamer-Schneider Teaching Fellow in SAGES. In addition to offering moral theory and ethics courses, the fellow -along with the Beamer-Schneider Professor in Ethics- co-leads an annual seminar for faculty who teach in SAGES, providing them with a background in moral and ethical philosophy so that they can develop the ethical learning embedded in SAGES’ learning objectives and the moral dimensions of SAGES classroom experience.
If you teach in SAGES and want to sign up for the program, please contact Prof. Bendik-Keymer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conceiving the program
We who are teachers would have to accommodate ourselves to lives as clerks or functionaries if we did not have in mind a quest for a better state of things for those we teach and for the world we all share. It is simply not enough for us to reproduce the way things are.
~ Maxine Greene
After meeting with SAGES faculty in an open session in 2016, the inaugural fellow and the SAGES administration, in consultation with the professorship, electronically distributed an anonymous questionnaire about how all SAGES faculty consider teaching ethics in their classes. Nearly half of the faculty replied, a high response percentage for e-surveys. To the Beamer-Schneider Professorship, the main results of the survey appeared to be that (a) ethics seemed misunderstood as indoctrination by many faculty not trained in ethics, (b) ethics seemed overwhelming to many faculty because it has its own technical vocabulary and disciplinary practice, and (c) it didn’t seem clear how to involve ethical learning in classes without being trained in it. At the time of the survey, the Professorship was not advancing the distinction between ethics and morals, in line with inherited institutional ambiguity.
The in-service curriculum was then initially designed by the inaugural fellow in response to the survey, consulting with the professorship and SAGES. It was originally called the “ETLP” -Ethical Teaching and Learning Program- formed Fall Semester, 2016. In Spring 2018, after two iterations, the Professorship renamed it the Moral Education and Ethical Learning in-service program in SAGES -no acronym. In advancing this new name, the Professorship introduced a distinction into institutional discourse: that between the moral (the domain of justice and of obligations to others) and the ethical (the domain of prudence and of self-realization).
The Beamer-Schneider Professorship in Ethics’s approach is a long game played by forming an inclusive ethos of reflection on where we already are, one that empowers us to build out the moral and ethical reflection that we already do. The Professorship is opposed to predominantly technical approaches to moral theory and to ethics for many reasons, but mainly because they interrupt the organic moral and ethical processes that people already are empowered in. In a word, the approach of the Professorship is to help people become more thoughtful, not more theoretical.
The current program
SESSION 1: Situating your Course in Moral and Ethical Experience
What course do you hope to work on for this program? How would you summarize its main point? What are its learning goals? Where, do you think, might the course involve work toward SAGES’s ethical (and moral) reasoning learning outcomes? How might the course convey some of the spirit of the mission of developing universal undergraduate ethical and moral learning (a mission supported by CWRU in accepting the create the Beamer-Schneider Professorship)? In addition to answering these questions in the round, we will talk about how our courses are already morally and ethically situated, show how that can be so, and discuss the idea of translating what we learn in one area of life to other areas of life by way of moral and ethical realizations.
SESSION 2: What Do We Mean by the “Moral” and the “Ethical”?
When we say that something isn’t “moral,” what do we mean? It turns out that we often mean very different things. For some, it might mean that we aren’t square with each other. For others, that we aren’t actually trying to do some good. And then there are folks who mean that what we’re doing lacks integrity. These all contain different logics –of respect, consequence, and of character, respectively. There are names for these logics in typical moral theory and ethics classes today — “deontology” (from deon, duty), “consequentialism.” and “virtue ethics” (from aretē, excellence of kind). To make things more confusing, the first delineates the moral, whereas the second frames the ethical, whereas the third splits between both — justice (and other interpersonal virtues) for the moral and prudence (and other virtues of flourishing) for the ethical. And the moral and the ethical are interdependent in precise ways, just as there is no virtue without judgment of consequences or core social relations, no ethical consequence without moral consideration and virtuous thoughtfulness, and no moral respect without concern for the effects of our actions and the ways in which we do things well. So, in this session, we learn how to disambiguate these kinds of things — only to be able to synthesize them, too, in fine-grain talk together and with the classes we share with students.
SESSION 3: Moral and Ethical Reasoning
Critical thinking is a main learning goal of general education and of SAGES at Case Western Reserve University. In what way do critical thinking and moral and ethical reflection interrelate? In this session, we learn some elementary logical relations that involve moral and ethical positions. These relations can be used to clarify to students how their positions might develop — either by leading them to conclusions they should accept but which they did not realize that they should (modus ponens) or by leading them to reject moral or ethical beliefs that produce conclusions that they cannot accept upon reflection (modus tollens). Through identifying and learning these relations, it becomes possible to structure the development of a student’s understanding concerning their own moral and ethical commitments. Students may then mature from one position to another as they reflect on things analytically. In this session, we go through this growing process using exercises developed from participant course material for their SAGES courses. (This session is especially indebted to the work of Dr. Houser and feedback from the first group of in-service participants; see below in acknowledgements.)
SESSION 4: Moral and Ethical Reality in the Classroom Experience
One of the most visceral ways in which thought or thoughtlessness informs or misleads any given class is through the structuring of the classroom environment. For instance, a class that expresses respect for people and consideration of others will be a class that is moral in a basic sense, whether or not people are aware of it. A class that makes sure to build assignments and assessments around developing the capacities of students to live well and to make prudent judgments will be a class that is already ethical, whether it knows it or not. In this session, we explore the actuality of the moral and the ethical in the learning environment, focusing especially on such topics as dialogue, conflict, accountability, and the conditions for emotional growth. Can your class environment itself be made a better place for moral education and ethical learning?
SESSION 5: Working Together
Assessment: from assidere, “to sit alongside.” In light of the SAGES learning outcomes with which we began, this final session will come back to some of the challenges we’ve now worked through and some of the challenges that we think still remain to involving moral education and ethical learning more thoughtfully in our SAGES course experiences. Part of what we will do is to simply share our revised courses with each other and anyone whom we’d like to invite to this last session. With whom in SAGES or in your department do you wish to share the work you have done?
Acknowledgements: The shape of this program developed from the work of Dr. Kevin Houser (PhD, Indiana University) in the period of 2016-2017. It was refined through feedback from the inaugural SAGES participants and consultation between SAGES and the professorship.
The world is a dream. This is not bad -it means we construct it together.