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Classroom Ethics  

Hugh Sockett

Classroom ethics is the responsibility of both the teacher and the learner. The teacher is an autonomous moral agent; and the child-learner is in the process of becoming one, so classroom ethics cannot be seen as managed by the teacher, or salient sources of moral agency will be neglected. Definitions of both “classroom” and “ethics” situate an inquiry focused on American schools. The child’s ethical experience of a classroom can be found in friendship and trustworthiness, or the lack of either, and in children’s ethical transgressions, cheating and bullying. Classrooms are not always benign environments and can be places of fear and loneliness. How teachers respond to these four elements of the child’s classroom experience is central to their moral agency as teachers. The quality of ethics in a classroom is central to, not exclusively determined by, the four elements in moral agency—namely, ethical sensitivity, including race, prejudice, and diverse classrooms; ethical judgment and religious issues; ethical motivation and a plea for altruism, yielding teachers’ ethical actions. Classroom ethics are not acquired by teachers as moral techniques. The basis for classroom quality lies in teachers and student teachers having a strong moral identity, presently being crowded out by testing, management theory such that teachers are unable to grow their moral autonomy as professionals through the onerous and threatening activities of educational systems, their administrators and politicians.