Vol. 7. No. 1 R-4 June 2003
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Ethical Issues for ESL Faculty: Social Justice in Practice

Johnnie Johnson Hafernik, Dorothy S. Messerschmitt & Stephanie Vandrick
New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., Publishers
Pp. xvi + 166
ISBN 0-8058-4028-1 (Paper)
$19.95 (Also available in cloth $45.00)

Well-administered ESL programs look beyond just scholastic achievements to be effective. Other than the pedagogical development of students, teachers and administrators in an ESL setting should be aware of the ethical issues and social justice that may be one of the causes of perplexity between a student and a teacher or a teacher and a colleague. Ethical Issues for ESL Faculty focuses on the ideology of ethics and pedagogy in conjunction with variables in the context of postsecondary ESL settings. What is right and what is wrong? Kidder (1995) says that sometimes, we do not know how to judge the right or wrong in ethical issues because they are genuine dilemmas precisely because each side is firmly rooted in one of our basic, core values. He gave four common dilemmas we often experience: Truth versus loyalty, individual versus community, short-term versus long-term and justice versus mercy.

Ethical Issues for ESL Faculty targets ESL faculty in postsecondary teaching institutions in the United States. The authors claim that this book may also be applicable to EFL or K-12 educational settings (p xiii). In addition, the contents are designed to show the ethical dilemmas that may be common to any kind of educators may be principally critical in the ESL situation.

Fundamentally the authors of this book look at the issues of ethics, ethical practice and social justice. They claimed that these ethical issues may be only briefly discussed in teacher education programs and seldom discussed among ESL faculty. (p. xi) The authors' goal is to 'explore ethical issues of the situations, evaluating their relationships with issues of social justice' (p. xiv) so that it can help people in the ESL profession to deal with ethical dilemmas, have a better understanding of the value systems and to develop tools for making decisions. This book also looks at how to address the degree of ethics which is universal and how much is exclusive in a particular culture or society, especially for teachers working with students and sometimes colleagues of diverse cultural and international backgrounds. Examples include gender issues, domestic violence, genital mutilation, and forced child marriages. Further implications such as rights to judgments often raise a new question as to what rights one has and to what extend. [-1-]

The book consists of three sections: Part I: Inside the Classroom (Chapter 2 to 7), Part II: Outside the Classroom (Chapter 8 to 10) and Part III: The Broader Context (Chapter 11 to 16). Prior to Part I are Preface and Chapter 1: Introduction. There are also two useful appendices: Appendix A has Professional Guidelines, Code of Ethics, and Useful Web Sites while Appendix B covers examples of Additional Scenarios.

The book's first chapter covers the Introduction, which looks at the philosophy of Ethical Principles and Systems, in addition to Ethics and Social Justice. Part I: Inside the Classroom addresses issues such as Faculty Responsibilities; Classroom Management, Inappropriate Comments, and Complaints; Testing, Assessment, and Evaluation, Cheating and Plagiarism, Technology; and Students' Social and Political Realities. Part II focuses on issues Outside the Classroom, such as Advising and Personal Relationships, Student Safety, and Gift Giving. Part III deals with the Broader Context, which covers Curriculum Design and Implementation, Colleagues and The Institution; Faculty Research; Academic Freedom; and Gender and Class.

In the introduction, the authors states that individuals can and make their own decisions about ethics and morality of their actions but even though these individuals may have their specific system of ethics, they would have to exert themselves to define or explain the pedagogical origin and developmental process. The authors believe that the actions of thinking about, talking about and reading about ethical issues are helpful and thus, the need for this book. The authors mentioned that there are tough choices in ethics to be made that have a right and a wrong answer, in Kidder's (1995) book How Good People Make Tough Choices. Kidder (1995) also used the terminology of "the ethics of right versus right", where there is no apparent action in the everyday encounters and "good" people recognize, seek to understand and attempt to implement the most ethical course of action. The authors explain that most of the scenarios depicted in the book fall into Kidder's category of "the ethics of right versus right". Kidder (1995) claimed that, "And even if we do try to resolve them, we don't always do so by energetic self-reflection. Sometimes we simply bull our way through to a conclusion by sheer impatience and assertive self-will--as though getting it resolved were more important than getting it right." (p. 13)

The chapters that follow in Part 1, 2 and 3 are quite uniformed--they all begin with an emphasis on different scenarios that focus on issues of ethical practice and social justice. It is stated that these scenarios are based on realistic situations, based on structured stories and experiences heard and encountered by the authors, although no real names are used. For example, Part I: (Chapter 2) Inside the classroom looks at three scenarios on what goes on in the classroom--responsibilities of the teacher, how students adjust to the U.S classroom and the importance of introducing to the students civility and appropriateness in student-teacher interactions and behaviors. Another example, Chapter 3 looks at four scenarios and issues on how a classroom should be managed, what kinds of inappropriate comments there are, and complaints that need to be addressed. The authors talk about preparation and groundwork faculty must do in order to face certain groups of students.

The aims of the scenarios are to raise issues of ethical practice, and social justice, to spark discussion and to encourage self-reflection. This book seems somewhat imprecise in solutions as it aims to give readers the opportunity to analyze multiple aspects in the scenarios and to justify their own conclusions. The authors stated that there is generally not one right answer as circumstances depicted do not affect an explicit procedure. After the scenarios, the authors discuss the issues of pedagogic concerns with regards to ethical issues and social justice, especially in an ESL setting. These issues will reflect back on the scenarios that are given earlier in the chapter.

This book looks optimistic; consolidating a pool of factual and hypothetical scenarios which I think is advantageous for teachers, in particular, for those in the ESL profession because of the nature of how the scenario occurs. The discussion topics also challenge a reader's philosophy of the best way to face and solve such dilemmas. Other than being beneficial for ESL teachers, I find this book to be a good resource for school administrators to penetrate the best possible answers in Q & A manuals, or perhaps, to furnish ideas for workshop topics. [-2-]

This book is useful particularly for novice teachers, although it may serve as a cue to remind experienced ESL teachers of events that may have happened or an accident waiting to happen. Although the authors provided an array of scenarios to stimulate thought and discussion, we must always remember that issues that concern human beings are far more intangible than one can imagine. The importance of learning from mistakes of the past in order to avoid them in the future leads Benesch (1990) to comment about two Palestinian students who wrote about the importance of certain kind of knowledge in seeking solutions to current ethnic and racial problems in the United Kingdom and their homeland. Benesch (1990) mentions that ESL teachers and students alike can benefit from studying the social context in which language education takes place.

There are many examples and scenarios that are still expansive, but then again, one cannot be certain what the best solution will be. This book illustrates clearly what common sense one should know but conversely, solutions differ based on the needs and constraints an institution is based on. Every teacher has her or his own philosophy of teaching and ethical practice. Every student comes from different backgrounds and may differ in their learning and receptive skills, in addition to their comprehension of ethical issues which are beyond their exposure. I agree with the authors that every experience is unique and every ESL teacher has different decision-making criteria, which I think, builds around the concerns of the society the teachers live in, the objectives of the school, the expectations of the shareholders and the constraints involved.

On the other hand, this book has some minor weaknesses. Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to address the target as practitioners of North America at the back of the book cover because most of the contents are based on the classroom settings in USA. In this context, the title seems somewhat too general and may be thought as a book addressing the universal ethical issues; whereas we all know ESL teachers do not only live and teach in the United States.

The book must take into consideration the broader bureaucratic issues a school may have. The interest of stakeholders: parents, prospective students, competitors of the school, etc. This book demonstrates the need to expand on the integration of sound advice in developing solutions on ethical issues in the field of education. It may not be universally agreed upon, but it may be helpful to have a more elaborated variety of 'scenario' solutions.

However, despite these minor setbacks, the pedagogical content of the book is excellent and practically applicable to ESL teachers, in particular novice teachers, as well as some K-12 and EFL teachers. I certainly find this little book handy for future endeavors, especially in the ESL environment where diversity and multicultural surroundings are norm. Where many ESL teachers may concentrate entirely on the language teaching, this book encourages them to be more alert and think of the possibility of the occurrence of these setbacks.

ESL instructors are often faced with the predicament of conflicting cultural values that have moral issues entwined in them. Teachers need to make fair decisions, but also need to take into account the implications of ethical decisions regarding their disagreement with certain practices of another culture. The issues in ethics and social justice are not new. Teachers need to have the exposure to the kind of possible circumstances they have to face. In the light of a noble profession, everyone has limits to what they believe in, and what they feel reserved about. Future development on the solutions in the ethical issues may be welcoming. Decision-making process will still be very much dependent on the philosophy of the teacher and administrator within the limits of the bureaucracy and institutional setting, and with the interest of the stakeholders close at heart.


Benesch, S. (1991). ESL in America: Myths and Possibilities. USA: Boynton/ Cook Publishers.

Kidder, R.M. (1995). How good people make tough choices. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Pauline Chhooi
Michigan State University

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