At first instinct, one may think that teachers should always remain neutral and impartial, but lecturer Paula McAvoy reconsidered that notion in her talk on Monday evening titled The Ethics of Steering Classroom Discussions.
McAvoy was the debut speaker of the Parr Center for Ethics’ new lecture series, Ethics Across the Disciplines.
The launch of this lecture series is part of the Parr Center for Ethics’ new program meant to showcase how ethical issues arise in all types of contexts, not just in philosophy, the field with which ethics is generally associated.
“I think that particularly some of our new lecture series and some of the new stuff we are putting in place ought to be of interest to a lot of the campus, so we just want to encourage anyone regardless of field or background to feel that they are a part of the Parr Center’s activities,” said Sarah Stroud, director of the Parr Center for Ethics.
McAvoy shared her view on the practice of teachers steering discussions about moral and political controversies, a topic relevant to both the students and professors who filled Unks Lecture Hall in Peabody Hall.
She posed the question: when, if ever, are teachers justified in steering class discussions of moral and political controversy?
“I think, in general, people want to say steering is not OK– that is the public’s instinct that teachers shouldn’t be manipulating discussions – but I think that it is more complicated than that, and there might be educational reasons why the teacher is helping students move toward different answers,” McAvoy said.
Deborah Dwyer, a doctoral student in the School of Media and Journalism who teaches Media Ethics, discusses topics in class such as the #MeToo movement and the Trump administration.
“There can be a tendency for professors to want to shy away from the issues period, and the truth of the matter is it’s OK for a classroom environment to be a little tense. Sometimes we want to step in before we should because when students are engaged with one another and challenging each others' ideas in a safe and respectful way, that's when real learning can happen,” Dwyer said.