Ethics in Education: Who Teaches Our Educators a Sense of Ethics?

Last week, we discussed a case where principals took huge bribes, and in the past we have talked about improper behavior among teachers. This week, I must turn my attention to para-professionals.  This case is an issue of ethics in education.

The case in question involves a video taken of a mental health para-professional in Brooklyn, New York who punched an 11 Ethics in Educationyear-old autistic boy in the school cafeteria in the summer of 2014. The boy allegedly made a racial remark.

I need to stop at this point and say that no one is as adamantly opposed to racism in any form as am I. It is abhorrent to me. However, in this particular case, I am not so certain what we are looking at is racism so much as a lack of training for a very difficult job and a lack of compassion for what these people go through on a daily basis.

As reported by the Washington Post (April 7, 2016) in an article entitled: “Surveillance footage shows employee punching autistic student:”

“Surveillance footage from a school in Brooklyn shows an employee punching 11-year-old autistic child…in the head on August 7, 2014.  This raises multiple issues regarding ethics in education.

(The father) is seeking $5 million in damages over the 2014 incident at Public School 225 in Brighton Beach, where a paraprofessional trained to work with special-needs students struck the (the child)

(The worker) was initially charged with felony assault for striking the boy in the school cafeteria. Parker pleaded guilty last year to a lesser charge — misdemeanor assault — and was required to attend anger management classes…”

Not quite so simple a case

The incident was prompted after the autistic child told the para-professional that the table was reserved for “whites only.” The child appears to take a swing at the worker, and the comment and alleged punch by the boy, appear to set off the worker who is African American to striking the child.

Let’s be clear about a few things. The boy, who is now 13, has the mental capacity of a 6 year old. When he was 11, his capacity was even less. I cannot imagine the child’s remarks bubbled up from a deep running spring of inner racism. He was taught or he overheard that stuff. Maybe he overheard it from the very family members who are now suing. They would never admit it of course, but racism and other forms of bigotry are learned. You teach a kid to hate, but was this hate?

The para-professional was on the job for 26 years, and was a seasoned veteran of the New York City Department of Education. He has since retired and is now collecting a pension however, let us be careful in painting him as completely evil and irresponsible.

A para-professional who works with children who are autistic or suffer from other mental health issues is not the same thing as a social worker, psychologist or a psychiatrist. It is a low-paying, high stress and completely thankless job. The kids are not always passive, there is violence, there are severe behavioral problems and the workers can be and have been assaulted and are frequently accused of unfounded assaults. The paraprofessionals are often punched, kicked, spit on, stabbed, slapped, mocked and cursed on a daily basis. Most of us would not and could not do that kind of work.

It is easier said than done to get people to take such jobs and stay committed to such jobs. The pay is low, the training is minimal, the conditions are miserable and the possibilities of advancement are virtually non-existent. The people who stay in that line of work are either like Mother Teresa (a rarity) or over the years can become apathetic, angry or lose any vestige of ambition.

I don’t forgive a worker for being brutal toward a child, I can’t forgive anyone who teaches a child to hate nor can I truthfully sensationalize this case to turn it into a racially-charged event. However, I can view this entire “scandal” as a case for teaching ethics.

Who needs ethical training?

Who needs ethical training? In this instance, the Board of Education, teachers, the para-professionals and in a perfect world, the parents. Ethical training would have gone a long way to defining proper responses to behavior such as exhibited by the child, it could have relieved stressors in the workplace and special ethical training could have been arranged for parents and guardians.

Ethical training recognizes choices and their consequences but much more than that, it can go a long way to laying down a foundation of what is proper behavior and what it not. It is quite easy to view the para-professional as being burned out and brutal, but ethically an examination of the causative factors behind that behavior are also warranted.

In that cafeteria on that particular afternoon, a school worker reached a boiling point. It should not be condoned. However, to disregard the stressors and working conditions around that assault should not be ignored either. Good ethics needed to be in play.



Posted by Chuck Gallagher in ethics training, Ethics Training, Youth and tagged , , , , , .

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