I have a dilemma … an ethical dilemma … and I obviously can’t explain it here … but I’m not explaining it here because I’m following the ethical code of my profession … my profession, if it is a profession, doesn’t have an ethical code. What I’m doing is voluntarily choosing not to disclose the details here … I think that’s the ethical, and therefore, professional thing to do … or is it the other way around? … at any rate that’s the easy bit. The difficult bit is knowing what to do when the moment finally comes when I need to either say something, or stay silent.
And that, in a nutshell, is why on Tuesday morning I borrowed David Carr’s Professionalism and Ethics in Teaching from Edinburgh Central Library.
It’s a tough read, and one that Will Self would describe as necessitating a form of reading that is ‘solitary, silent, [and] focussed’. Rather than ‘turn to another book for help’ though (Self, 2014) I encountered one of those moments of serendipity that seem so essential for any meaningful leap of learning. Browsing through a semi-redundant Twitter stream I read
The chat was building on Guidance published by The Education & Training Foundation and during the chat Jayne Stigger also shared a link to the work that UCU are doing in this area. I hadn’t read these in advance and it didn’t really matter: I lurked.
The chat was framed around five questions posted by Dan Williams. The Qs were
- Who has been made aware of the prof standards by their institution? How was the info passed?
- What do they mean to you? Has it changed anything you do?
- Is it important that we have prof standards, why?
- Is there anything that you would add or remove from the standards? Are there too many/too few?
- Will we ever be professional if we are not all registered/accredited with/by prof body?
It was by reading the responses from the FE practitioners that I started to get some grip on Carr’s text. My aim in this post was to work through some of the things that the #ukfechat had helped clarify in my reading and I’m grateful that the participants were happy for me to follow their conversation. I hope this post adds a little back.
Carr’s book is divided into five Parts, of which I’ve only read Part 1, and which is concerned to demonstrate the inherently ethical character of any distinctive occupational category of profession – to show that the standard professions are in a significant sense moral projects – and to defend the claim that teaching and education are genuine professions in this sense, (pp.x-xi).
Part 1 opens with the argument
- that teaching is a professional activity
- that any professional enterprise is deeply implicated in ethical concerns and considerations; and
- (therefore) that teaching is also an enterprise which is deeply and significantly implicated in ethical concerns and considerations (p.3)
Although Carr acknowledges that the first premise isn’t true, in all situations, the book is essentially a philosophical enquiry into the conditions that allow him to claim that his conclusion is valid. Part 1 is divided into three chapters which primarily attend to two questions,
- is teaching a professional activity?; and
- is education a profession? (p.3)
He begins the enquiry by identifying or acknowledging a vacillating tension between vocational and professional conceptions of education and teaching, (p.10).
I’m unsure to what extent Carr’s examples are stereotypes but to illustrate the concept of a vocation Carr employs religious ministers and nurses as examples of ‘people whose lives are totally given over to the service of others…in a way that leaves relatively little room for the personal or private’, (p.10).
I don’t personally recognise myself in this collapsed identity, but irrespective of my own experience the question of whether teachers are made or born does appear to remain ‘a live question’, (Carr, p.6)
Although Carr thinks it is true that teaching is a profession, the second point that he uses to illustrate vocationalism is that of reward. If people have a genuine vocation for their profession, he argues, the financial remuneration is, or should be, irrelevant: the personal satisfaction should be reward enough, (p.11). This, as Chris Sweetman points out, has profound consequences for recruitment into FE, (and no doubt the church and the NHS).
It was, however, Dan’s reply that seemed to me to suggest an acknowledgement that you wouldn’t do this job if you wanted to be rich. That may simply be a statement of economic reality, but I think it could also be understood in a way that says you don’t do this job to get rich; you do it because you love it, need to, couldn’t do any other job.
Considering teaching and/or education as a vocation doesn’t stop teachers and/or educators acting professionally (Carr, p.21ff) but this distinction between the vocational and professional conceptions is important because it ‘has significant implications for [the] precise conception of the ethical issues which it characteristically engenders’, (Carr, p.21). What I didn’t realise, until now, is that the ethical dilemma that I’m faced with is precisely problematic, not simply because of the nature of its content, but because I’ve been trying to work through it without actually appreciating how necessary it is to have an understanding of the philosophical conception of my educational role and the framework within which it sits.
The second chapter deals with the different meanings of profession -s, -al, and -ism, and which reminded me a little of Habermas’ writing on the public sphere (which is a compliment).
Carr (p.23) identifies five commonly cited criteria of professionalism
- professions provide an important public service;
- they involve a theoretically as well as practically grounded expertise;
- they have a distinct ethical dimension which calls for expression in a code of practice;
- they require organisation and regulation for purposes of recruitment and discipline; and
- professional practitioners require a high degree of individual autonomy – independence of judgement – for effective practice
It was a good question.
but the suggestions subsequently made by @Judeng1 differ from Carr’s because whereas Carr cites what looks like a basis for the philosophical framework of ethical professionalism, @Judgend1 ‘s suggestions fall back onto the inherent moral values of the individual as professional (or in other words, something that arises out of a vocational conception of education and teaching). I think that the idea of the teacher/educator as the embodiment of a high moral tone is not only ‘idealistic’, as Jo Bale thought, but confuses the concepts of the professional with that of a profession.
I do realise that this post is going on a bit but one final aspect of Carr’s text was cleared up for me during the chat … “cleared up” is probably not the right way to put it. Instead it might be better to say that it was problematised in a way that I could comprehend.
From Carr’s five criteria for a profession points 3 and 4 relate to the requirement for a professional body. It would be a necessity not something that was simply wanted or bolted on.
The vocational/professional binary isn’t then the only impediment to realising Carr’s concept of professionalism. One’s professional identification with one’s specialism may take precedence over the identity of teacher or FE educationalist. Is that appropriate for vocational students? Is it more appropriate that the ethical decisions are made by a professional within the context of their potential vocation rather than within an educationally professional frame? … At the moment I don’t know, but at least I feel that I’m starting to get a grip on the questions I need to ask myself.
Since starting this post on Saturday, I’ve read in TESS (Friday 3rd October 2014 | No.2388) that the General Teaching Council for Scotland have commenced a pilot with the aim of encouraging FE lecturers in Scotland to register. This is to be welcomed. However as Roger Mullin points out in the same edition of TESS (p.12), this in itself still won’t reflect the reality of vocational education in Scotland. It’s certainly a good start but for the sake of the students in vocational education and the managers, trainers and mentors who aren’t teachers the reality of the situation needs to be addressed and somehow accommodated.
Click here to read Graeme's blog 'I'm not sure I do either'
Carr, D. (2004) Professionalism and Ethics in Teaching, Routledge, London
Self, W. (2nd October 2014) ‘The fate of our literary culture is sealed’, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/03/fate-literary-culture-sealed-internet-will-self, accessed 4th October 2014
TESS, (3rd October 2014)
- Belgutay, J. ‘GTCS aims to take college lecturers under its wing’, http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6445049, accessed 06-10-2014
- Mullin, R. ‘Standard bearers’, http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6444928, accessed 06-10-2014
Sigmundur Brestisson (c. 961-1005), photo by Arne List, (15th May 2008), Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/arne-list/2538678836/, https://flic.kr/p/4SkoLL, accessed 03-10-2014, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Between Two Worlds, photo by Eddi van W., (17th January 2011), Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/spiritual_marketplace/5363263076/in/photostream/, accessed 06-10-2014, CC-BY 2.0