Table of Contents

Situations Related to Ethical Principles

1. Fulfilling the letter or the spirit of the law?

2. Ensuring diverse points of view

3. Putting a square peg in a round hole

4. Protecting an individual's right to privacy

5. Ethical decisions in instructional media selection

6. Computers: Issues of health and safety

7. Adopting and promoting new ideas

8. A clash of cultures

9. Harassment, bias, and discrimination

10. Whose views? Yours or your institutions?

11. All the facts, please

12. Competing with your employer

13. Handling gifts, gratuitites, and favors

14. Engaging in fair and equitable practices with vendors

15. Greasing the squeaky wheel

16. Influencing your colleagues

17. Exploiting professional affiliations

18. Helping one another

19. Is honesty the best answer?

20. An ethical approach to doing business

21. Fair assignment of responsibility

22. Facing new copyright challenges

23. When a colleague is wrong

Fulfilling the Letter or the Spirit of the Law?

The Situation
It had been a long afternoon. The Smithfleld Area School District curriculum committee had started the session with a charge from Dr. Trimble, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum. The task before them seemed overwhelming. Dr. Trimble had informed them of a directive from the State Department of Education requiring all school districts in the state to submit a plan for incorporating energy and energy conservation education at all grade levels. The committee was also informed that, after they came up with an approach to this topic, they would consider local demands for AIDS education, drugs education, increased emphasis in science and mathematics, and improved vocational education to meet the employment needs of local industries. All of this needed to be incorporated into an already crowded curriculum with a minimum of additional resources.

It was getting late and a feeling of hopelessness descended on the room. Suddenly, Joe Wambaugh, the district media specialist, had an idea. Recalling the catalogs of free instructional materials in his office, he pointed out that there were some excellent films available on energy resources that could be borrowed at no cost. Because of sponsorship by groups such as mining associations, oil companies, and the nuclear power industry, these well-produced films could graphically portray a variety of energy resources and their uses in our society. Most of them contained appeals for the wise use of energy. If scheduled to be shown periodically in school assembly programs, Joe felt sure that the requirements of the State Education Department would be met.

There was a pause and a feeling of relief as members of the committee considered this solution to their problem. After a few moments, Dr. Trimble broke the silence. "What do you think?" she asked.


The AECT Code of Professional Ethics—Section 1, Principle 1 In fulfilling obligations to the individual, the members shall encourage independent action in an individual's pursuit of learning and shall provide access to varying points of view.

On the surface, Joe Wambaugh's suggestion had merit. It would be a way to meet state requirements at virtually no cost to the school district. However, would it fulfill the spirit of the directive? Even more important, would it provide students with a comprehensive view of the issues involved in the energy problem and an opportunity to evaluate the relative merits of those issues? The fact that the sole source of information is provided by prepared instructional programs with no opportunity for discussion or interaction is highly questionable. Of even greater concern is the fact that these films are produced by energy-related companies that, even with the best of intentions, are likely to present a one-sided viewpoint. Other organizations, such as conservationist groups, may have a significantly different approach to the subject but not have the resources to make comparable films available.

The Smithfleld Area School District is dealing with an issue that is common to many school districts. It is the issue of a balance between how much needs to be "covered" in the curriculum versus how the curriculum should be "covered." Put another way, how should the district balance the need for students to be exposed to a broad range of content, with the need for students to develop as independent learners who can access and evaluate information and varying points of view?

Randall G Nichols
Associate Professor of Education
Lake Superior State University

Paul W. Welliver
Professor Emeritus of Education
Pennsylvania State University

Updated January 21, 2008
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