Friday, February 24, 2012

Applied Ethics and Pedometers

This might be the strangest post for me to write.  I guess it is strange because I am not comfortable going to bed without the answers to something.  Don't get me wrong--I have very little answers to anything in my own life.  In my job, I try to have some sense of direction and a clear plan (or at least try really hard to fake it).

What does this have to do with my "15 Before 30" project? Good question.  One of my goals is to run a 10K race.  Through this journey, I have begun training and running.  I talked with the Director of Coordinated School Health Programs, and ended up developing a school-wide Walk Across Tennessee program for the students.  We had overwhelming participation on opening day; so much so that we had to postpone kickoff a few days so that we could overnight some more pedometers.

There are students that have been following my "milestone crisis" project, and have been motivated to set goals.  In addition to the walking program, I sent out a feeler for a running group.  Our thought was that even if a few were interested, a cross country team might be formed.  Well, there are 48 students that are interested in running!!!  The only problem this presents is that I am only one person... and I don't even run terribly fast.  I do love running, and I love their enthusiasm. So, I will make do with whatever I can do to make them succeed.

Now, this is where the title comes in, and where my dilemma surfaces.  When designing this program, I knew that the basic pedometers leave a lot of room for cheating.  The reality is that they measure pretty slight movements, so anyone could sit and shake the pedometers, and end up with thousands of extra steps.  I am not saying I am Mother Teresa, but I do try to live to a pretty high moral standard.  When creating the rule sheet, I talked about integrity and morality, but tried to give the students some freedom and responsibility.

I was approached by a concerned student about two hours after the first wave of pedometers had been distributed.  He told me that he ran four miles during gym class, and was pretty proud of his accomplishments (as was I!).  He went on to tell me he had witnessed a few students that were sedentary, and were shaking their pedometers to register extra steps.  He vented his frustration that he was working hard to make himself healthier (and competing for prizes), and they were not playing by the rules.  He wanted to know what could be done to make them comply, other than public defamation, and perhaps stoning? Ok, I am kidding on the last part...

This brought up an interesting problem.  I didn't have the answer though. I knew what I would tell my own children- that there are people in this world that will always want to cheat.  I would ask them what they wanted to get out of the program- did they want to run faster? commit to reaching a goal? was that more important than who wins a prize? (You can tell I was never a person that responded to extrinsic motivators...)

I went home to think about what speech I would give, and what action I would take.  The revised kickoff will be Tuesday, and I have until then to come up with a plan.  I talked to my father, hoping to gain some wisdom.  He deals with organizations often, and always has a story to offer when dealing with business or large groups of people.

He told me how an employee at a very large company was made to wear a pedometer to make sure he was circulating the floor during the night shift.  The pedometer would be tracked every morning.  The employee did not keep with his end of the bargain, and instead of complying with his job description, he found out there was a machine on the floor that jiggled quite a bit.  He paid an employee that worked on said machine x-dollars to wear the pedometer, so that it would register plenty of steps.  Meanwhile, he could kick his feet up and read a magazine, or even take a nap, while his employees went unattended.

Long story short: the pedometer was left on too long, one morning it looked like the man walked 40 miles in a night, and he was fired.  So, I guess my public stoning sounded about right?

I started thinking about ethics, and if I could make this a truly teachable moment.  There aren't a lot of ethics classes in schools, and I wonder why that is.  It has nothing to do with religion--we are just teaching students to make decisions based on their values or reasoning.  I, personally, think it is one of the biggest lessons we could give to these kids.  I wondered how I would approach a lesson on ethics and make it interesting to the kids.  I didn't want to lock them into a room and rant to them, and I certainly didn't want to harass the ones that are already making the right decisions.  But I did want to make sure we were all on the same page, and give the opportunity for all of them to receive the same guidance.  I have learned in my years of teaching that we can't assume the parents have taught them values and reasoning.

What did I decide?  I did decide to give a modified applied ethics lesson.  I also decided to have a public contract displayed, where students can commit to doing the right thing, and signing their names outside my door.  I don't want to be a jaded person that constantly questions people's intentions.  I want kids to have some respect of  me, and I want to be able to trust them. I refuse to live in a world where I always have to plan for the bad guy.  At the same time, I have to realize that there are people that want to get rewards without doing the work, and it is my job as a teacher (and really as an adult) to guide them into making intelligent choices.  I do that by modeling appropriate behavior, and I can also do that by discussing important issues such as these.

This made me remember the one time I got in trouble in school. It was the third grade, and I was made to stay in from recess for 15 minutes because I was talking while the teacher was out of the room.  The real story: I DID talk, but I was telling the others to be quiet while the teacher was out (and I was trying to read). And when the teacher returned and asked who talked, I could not deny that I did it.  I just wish she didn't have to make an example out of me.

I do believe that part of this project was for me to run in a race--got it.  But I can see how it has evolved to quite a life-changing experience.  There are kids that are now dealing with important life issues, are getting healthier (by the hundreds!), and are inspiring change in their community.  How many people can say that about their to-do lists?

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