The Ethical Lens of Teaching

Ethics includes questions of justice, morality and equality. When we examine an ethical problem, there are often many possible solutions. Which of these is best? It is difficult to come to an ethical conclusion without considering all of the angles.

In the study of Ethics, different ways of looking at options are  commonly referred to as approaching with an “ethical lens.” These ethical lenses are different perspectives or views that you can consider while thinking about any ethical problem and deciding on a solution. 

The Justice Lens

This perspective assesses if each person is being given fair and equal treatment. The Justice Lens implies that people should be treated as equals according to some defensible standard such as merit or need, but not necessarily that everyone should be treated in the exact same way in every respect.

For example, if a child has ADHD and needs more time to do their test, it is fair to provide them extra time, even though all the students are not being treated equally.

The Rights Lens

The “Rights” perspective is that the best ethical decision is one that protects and respects the moral rights of those impacted. This approach starts from the belief that all people have a dignity based on their human nature and they also have the ability to choose freely what they do with their lives.

The list of moral rights includes the rights to . . . make one’s own choices about what kind of life to lead, be told the truth, not to be injured, and a degree of privacy.

Every person has equal rights and their rights are equally important.

To know if a solution or ethical decision is good based on the “Rights Lens,” ask the questions:

  • Who is involved?
  • Whose rights may be at-risk?
  • Which human rights may be impacted?

When we think about rights while considering ethical problems, we are able to find solutions which value the individuals involved. Based on this rights lens perspective, a person’s rights cannot be violated even if it benefits society as a whole.

The Utilitarian Lens

This perspective involves looking at the ethical action or decision as the one that provides the most good or does the least harm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm.

For example, a school wants to develop technology skills using social media. The Utilitarian Lens helps us assess if this solution benefits students (building skills) more than it harms them (safety risks, exposure to mature materials, cyberbullying).

Using this lens also involves comparing this solution (social media) to other possibilities (such as technical workshops) that may achieve similar goals. Then we can determine if  the good that comes from social media is worth the risks. 

This approach deals with consequences; it tries both to increase the good done and to reduce the harm for all who are impacted: students, staff, administrators, board members, the community, and the environment.

Common Good Lens

This approach suggests that respect and compassion for all—especially the vulnerable—are requirements of ethical reasoning. This is based on the philosophy that we are all part of a greater community, and our actions should benefit all.

While choosing an ethical solution through a Common Good Lens, always select one that benefits the larger community as well as the vulnerable.

To consider a solution from the common good perspective, ask yourself: Are we doing our part to look out for the common good in this situation? This common good includes the social systems, institutions, natural and technological environments, and ways of understanding.

All systems in a community should be beneficial to everyone. Since we all have access to the common good and benefit from it, we all have obligations to establish and maintain it.