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The Teaching of Ethics: Principled Pragmatism

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This chapter presents a philosophical approach – principled pragmatism – to the teaching of ethics in professional fields. It is concerned with pedagogy rather than methodology, using a distinction that I have made elsewhere (Adamson, 2004) between methodology as a set of methods underpinned by a particular theory of learning, and pedagogy as a teacher's personal framework of values, beliefs and practices. For this reason, I draw on my own pedagogy (and some of the theories that influence it) in making the case for principled pragmatism. I am not an expert in the theory, formulation, application or teaching of ethics: I work in a tertiary institute that specialises in teacher education, while my research interests are in the areas of language policy, curriculum studies and comparative education. However, like most people, I engage with ethical issues on a regular basis whether it is through the codified and institutionalised ethical principles of the professional groups that I encounter when I am working, when I am treated by medical staff, when I turn to a lawyer for legal advice, and when I make a purchase, or through my decisions as a family member, car driver, tax payer or other participant in societal affairs. I also have gained some insights into cultural dimensions of ethics, as an Englishman belonging to a multicultural family and working in Hong Kong.

While pedagogy is about an individual teacher's choices concerning what and how to teach, and the values that guide those choices, teaching is socially-embedded. No matter what the setting – formal or informal – there is a process of interaction between teachers and students operating within systemic, structural and cultural frames. The context in which the teaching takes place throws up an array of factors – many of which are in tension – that the teacher needs to consider when making pedagogical decisions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2012

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