The State of Ethics in America
In a very broad sense, ethics in America are in much the same state as education, since both are based on a similar progressive, modern, philosophy. In this learner-centered, individuistic society, the sense of 'self' over other is a concept that we indoctrinate from a very early age. Proof of this phenomenon becomes clear at the onset of adolescence, a phase in life that American children seem to have much more difficulty dealing with than children from other less self-centered cultures (Appiah 1992), (Roland 1988).
Ethics are based on an individual's morals. But where does morality originate? Freud says that morality is a natural developmental outgrowth of fear of castration, and that we harbor an encapsulated version of our dominant parent in us that dictates what we are to do, and what is right or wrong (Sagan 1988). Sagan takes Freud's work and expands upon it, stating that in fact our morality is a natural outgrowth of nurturance from our dominant caretaker, and is a bond of trust that makes us internalize that which is right and wrong, and has nothing to do with a punishing parent at all. Epperson (1990) says that morality is religion-based (in his case, the Christian paradigm), and that the Jesus, the Ten Commandments, and the Bible is the source for understanding what is right and wrong.
My own view tends to be a blend of 'self' balanced in 'community.' Though my personal needs and desires are important, they are not as important as balancing the needs of the larger social structure. Morality, however, is for me, situational. What might be the right thing to do in one context is not necessarily the same in another. This is partially due to a sensitivity to culture; what may be appropriate in America may not in India, or Japan, or French Polynesia, for example.
An example of this is the concept of manners. Civility, employing politeness is seen as the ability to maintain relationships with people in a politically appropriate manner. Politeness in America dictates that we are to look people in the eye when speaking to them, so that they know we are paying attention, and that we are willing to 'show' ourselves as well. In Japan, it is considered rude to look people in the eye. Is it right for me to foist my understanding of politeness on another culture? Is the situation different if they are visiting me, or I am visiting them? Is it strictly a matter of numbers? Or does it have more to do with what it is that I am trying to accomplish? Would or should I try and dominate a Japanese individual by being impolite by their standards? No. But isn't forcing another country to 'wear your technological clothes' essentially the same thing?
Perhaps it is a question of perspective; perhaps it is a deeper question of developing an 'ethic of caring' (Noddings 1984) for other and self in a manner that results shared dialogue, if not the rudiments of mutual understanding and appreciation. Yeaman feels that our ethical challenge is clear. He states that:
There are severe problems with the univocal meaning of modern educational technology in a democratic society. It casts aside the epistemological dimensions of the cultural context of stereotypes; the varying interpretations of readers and viewer; the multiplicity of voices, messages and languages; and the choices of media as ways of representing and shaping thought. The accepted reality is that authors, teachers and instructional designer, and the technologies and devices, are the dispensers of unequivocal, objective truth. These blinders enable the field of educational technology to persist in maintaining the modern illusion of shared minds. By following and perpetuating the grand myth of technological and scientific progress, the modern profession of educational technology will neglect its ethical obligation to every human being. (22)
This view of educational technology as being unimbedded from the political and social agenda of the dominant power structure will be discussed in detail in the next section.