The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation 

Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D.

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

The art of teaching is to teach, to teach well and to teach even better.



Some of what is presented herein will be "news" to educators.  For those involved in education from pre-K through high school there will be little that is totally unknown to them while those who teach in colleges and universities may find a good deal that is new to them.  In fact those in higher education may receive a good deal of this a "bad news" and miss seeing that actually there is more "good news" than bad in terms of having knowledge that should make a resolution of some common and frequent problems more possible.  So, while much of what is offered in this work is for professional educators at all levels of education and in all manner of settings the primary focus herein will be on higher education.  The framework that we establish and the basic concepts and principles are widely applicable.  Most of the illustrations offered herein are at the level of higher education.  In doing this we by no means intend to indicate that the issues and problems and approaches to solutions of ethical dilemmas are applicable only at that level.  Indeed, while most of the cases or scenarios contained in this work are at the level of higher education many of them can have their essential elements located in scenarios at the levels of primary and secondary education. There are several reasons why we focus more on higher education. 

First and foremost, we are most experienced with higher education. We have taught, at times, in other settings but we are now and have mostly been situated within universities and colleges.

Second, of late there has been a veritable explosion in the literature of teaching and learning. A good deal of this literature is aimed at  preschool, primary, and secondary education, but there is also a growing interest in the pedagogy of post-secondary education as well.  In higher education the literature or Scholarship on Teaching and Learning (SOTL) is growing rapidly.  This is the demonstrated result of governmental regulation and funding for formal research.   But it is also the result of a profession that has begun to seriously examine its social role, and the efficacy of its fundamental activity in accomplishing the agreed upon goals of the profession.  A good deal of that research on the efficacy of pedagogy has been and will be based on experiments being conducted with human learners.  There is as yet little in the literature that offers clear and effective guidance as to how go about thinking in an ethical manner about that type of pedagogic experimentation on human beings.

Third, we believe that there is too little effective reflection on the ethical aspects of conducting such pedagogic research.  We believe that no small part of these problems seen in higher education has to do with the lack of awareness of faculty regarding their professional identity as educators and not just as discipline related scholars.  That professional identity entails a number of responsibilities that once acknowledged and accepted provides a good deal to work with in addressing a number of significant problems faced by educators.

While we are most particularly concerned with the ethical issues related to education and to conducting pedagogic research we realized that such issues exist within and are in part generated by the context in which they arise.  That context involves the nature of the institutions( political, social , economic and educational) and it involves the nature of the preconceptions held  by those for whom they are issues and further the context involves the current status of the discourse concerning the nature of the professions and their various sets of responsibilities, duties and obligations.  We found we could not address the issues of our greatest concern until after we had set out the context at least with regard to the conceptions held by educators, their perceptions of their roles and their ideas about what responsibilities they have towards those whom they educate.  Hence, this work took on the form it has at present.  We examine what a profession is, arguing that education is a profession unto itself and that as with all professions there are incumbent responsibilities.  Professional educators have the basic duty to further their profession and from this duty there thus arises the need to conduct research and from that follows the need to involve human subjects.  At this point the issues with regard to the conduct of that research can be better raised and more effectively addressed.

 The description we offer of the responsibilities of professional educators and how they might be fulfilled is informed by our observations of many educators and many members of the professoriate who exemplify this professionalism.  Fortunately such paradigm cases abound throughout all levels of education and in nearly every institution of education.  In one way of looking at this work,  its goal is to have those exemplars accepted as appropriate paradigms rather than exceptions to the current rule of practice that has obtained.

We are acutely aware that there is some resistance on the part of those who teach within higher education either to realize or to accept their inclusion within the profession of education.  We are aware from our discussions with colleagues that the reluctance extends most particularly into the realm of acknowledgment of professional responsibilities of educators and the need to conduct pedagogic research.  Indeed, a significant part of the failure to accept the fact of their inclusion may be their reluctance, if not outright refusal, to accept the consequences of the membership in the profession of education.  This is so because their acknowledgement of additional responsibilities, including pedagogic research, would necessitate changes in how they think of themselves and how they behave as professionals-professional educators with the duty to participate in pedagogic research and development.

There is a certain level of comfort at present amongst educators at the post secondary levels. Most enjoying such naturally would want to maintain that comfort level for as long as possible.  There may be something of the "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it" attitude.  We maintain that there is much evidence to indicate that "it" is broken.  There are moral dilemmas and ethical issues and deplorable behavior that are all being given more attention in the literature of the profession and of critics outside of the academy.  We believe that any effective confrontation with those dilemmas and issues will lead to the realization that a conceptual foundation is needed with which to deal with them.  This in turn will lead to a discussion of professionalism and professional responsibilities. We have no desire to cause revolutionary movements nor major eruptions of resentment or ever increasing amounts of resistance to the fulfillment of those professional responsibilities. We thus realized that we had better set out how most of what might be regarded as news or disturbing information to our colleagues in the academy concerning their responsibilities could be accepted and fulfilled without major disruptions or alterations of teaching and life styles for most, not all, educators. Therefore, we have included materials that indicate some practical concerns and in effect "spell out" how they might be better handled and dealt with practically by professional educators.

While it may at first appear to be a bit too much for faculty in institutions of higher education to accept that they are simultaneously members of two professions it is none the less the fact and it is a "burden" born well by many educators.  There are many faculty who manage to balance the responsibilities of each profession: their academic discipline and education.  In addition there is a balancing of responsibilities to the profession and to the institution of which faculty are a part.   To their credit many faculty do manage to develop their careers in the academy in a manner that is responsive to their dual roles as academicians and pedagogues and that fulfills their multiple responsibilities to learners, their discipline, to their academic colleagues, pedagogic colleagues and to their institution.  If any member of a faculty is to long survive as such there must be demonstrable evidence that they can teach and teach well enough to remain.  It is what occurs beyond the teaching that will make the distinctions amongst educators that are related to the basic issues in this work.  Faculty will in addition to teaching appear as being at extremes or near the mean with regard to academic and pedagogic research and scholarship and to service to the institution.  On the one hand faculty can be observed as paying a good deal of attention to their teaching and at the same time they conduct research and publish in their academic discipline.  On the other hand or extreme there are faculty who can be observed paying  a good deal of attention to their teaching and at the same time they become very involved in the activities of the institution to the neglect, sometime total, of their academic discipline.  Faculty at these extremes neglecting either academic scholarship or service to the institution are noted as doing such.  Many, if not most, faculty are somewhere near the center of the a balancing of scholarship and service.  There is no exact mean nor measure of these activities and formula for the proper balance.  Nonetheless, those who are far from the mean are noted for their being significantly different from the larger numbers of colleagues who are balancing near the middle.

This work is offering a conceptual approach that presents education as a profession and as involving a number of responsibilities that include first teaching and the improvement of teaching.  For those who have neglected research and scholarship in this area there may be provided herein the basis for their acceptance as a professional obligation of a need to do such.

The authors of this work are trained in philosophy, and in this work our interest is in the ethical aspects of the profession of education and most particularly in the ethical issues, dilemmas and basic principles related to pedagogic research.  This discussion could not take place without joining the description of the current context with the discussion amongst philosophers and ethicists concerning the nature of moral or normative discourse.  We realized that much, nearly all, of the literature we reviewed with regard to ethical aspects of pedagogic research appeared remarkably uninformed as to ethical principles, concepts and issues and so it was not surprising that in most cases such discussions of ethical issues left off with little or no effective resolution of dilemmas or useful guidance as to conducting moral discourse when confronted with moral dilemmas and ethical problems related to the profession of education and in particular the responsibility to conduct research.  To address this need and in some way to contribute to another approach to resolving the moral quandaries exposed in other works on the ethical aspects of pedagogic research we have engaged in moral discourse in a manner that we hope is readily accessible to the non-professional philosopher.  We offer sample case studies at the end of this text as examples of how moral discourse can proceed in a manner that is normative, philosophically justified, and capable of producing effective decision making.

Our intention is to offer some useful concepts, distinctions, principles and examples to serve as assistive mechanisms or tools for those participating in professional research and development as educators.  If we are helpful in some way our time has not been ill spent.  If we are for too many more provocative than helpful we are regretful.  We will be monitoring the response to our positions and will be subjecting our stance to careful reexamination informed by the thoughtful responses from colleagues and fellow professional educators.  We thank you for that which you care to share with us.

@copyright 2004 by S. Kincaid and P. Pecorino                         Return to Table of Contents