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Theory Seminar Syllabus

Instructor: Karl Wielgus
Address:Metropolitan state University 700 East Seventh Street St.Paul MN 55106
Phone: 612-379-2302


This seminar is designed to use your knowledge from your work in Human Services and improve your understanding of ethical decision making, as well as a means act in ways consistent with ethical principles in your work. Doing the right thing is never automatic, is not guaranteed by rules or codes. What is required is an ability to think, decide and act deliberately.


After completing the seminar and integrating the learning with your Human Services experience, you should:

Books: Singer, Peter (1995). How Are We to Live? New York
            Singer, Peter(1993) Practical Ethics. New York
            Bly, Carol. (2000). Changing the Bully Who Rules the World. Minneapolis


  1. Preliminary exploration of the ethical questions in Human Service work. Each student will prepare a summary of decisions that they have made in their work. Each situation should be discussed with regard to the following matters:
    1. What choices existed in the situation? What were the option that were possible?
    2. what guidelines were used to decide what was the "right" thing to do?
    3. What, if any, alternatives existed for the decision?
    4. What guidance was available for your decision?
    5. Were your grounds for the decision at odds with anyone else's or with the persons involved with the situation?

    In addition to the examination of what might have served as guidance through a situation, you should also consider the reason for making a good decision rather than another one. What should have been the consequences of doing the wrong thing? If you had decided to act differently, what would have prevented you?
    Finally, describe what you think the decision you made had any moral dimensions at all. At this point, you should try to look at the basic question of what makes an action connect to any kind of moral matter. Is a decision just something that is involved in getting work done, or does it have significance beyond the moment.
    This exploration should be written up before the class meeting and written up after reading a section from How Are We to Live? (Three-five pages) I suggest you think through your experience and select out the matter you want to work on. Try to address the questions I have set down above. After writing out your thoughts, read the Singer Material. See if what he has written modifies your thinking. Are the matters that come up in your thoughts when you apply some of his questions to the matter you are focused on? The purpose here is to learn the extent to which a lot of things we do are done with a tactic, unformulated framework. This effort can help you begin to make the tactic more explicit by using questions to draw out things we take for granted.
    This assignment is worth 100 points.

  2. A paper dealing with ethical decision making in Human Services work. The purpose of this paper is threefold:
    1. To help the student gain the ability to understand that the ethical issues in a situation are a consequence of the perspective taken in that situation and to demonstrate that it is possible to connect ethical considerations to the daily routines and professional work we do
    2. To gain practice in evaluating actions from an ethical perspective and arrive at suitable conclusions on these matters
    3. To demonstrate the skills in thinking and analysis needed for ethical decision making. (5-6 pages)

    The framework needed for this paper will be developed during the period the class is meeting. Various worksheets and exercises each week will provide the conceptual framework needed to do this paper.
    This analysis is worth 100 points.

  3. Class related exercises. Four of the five class meetings will involve an exercise related to the class work. Each exercise will give the student the opportunity to practice the analytical and decision making skills that are relevant. Each exercise is worth 50 points. These should be written and submitted by the next class. They should be about two pages in length. There will be worksheets provided with each class that will facilitate this work. The writing is a basic tool to enhance the ability to articulate ethical matters adequately.

  4. 300+ points will lead to a pass. Below 299 would be a fail.

    Course Outline

    Session I

    Readings: Chapters 1-5 in How Are We to Live?

    Due: In your work in Human Services, you have observed, participated in, and worked in situations that required choices to be made by those involved. In class, the students will learn from each other's decision situations and the tactic guidelines that were involved. Through the reading and discussion of decisions, we will better understand what makes a decision ethical or not. For most or us, ethics is not a deliberate consideration and so values, norms, and guidelines are brought into our decisions. The only time we may appreciate that there are some ethical issues is when our decisions are challenged or judged by another. The writing carried out before the first class will form part of the basis for the work together.

    Exercise 1: Values, Beliefs, Truths and Lies that guide behavior. Write up of the guidance system we use. Ethical failures arise from a lack of connectedness between actions and contexts. The film "Mindwalk," an excellent tool for learning about models that inform our actions, will be viewed and discussed in class. To use the framework of the film, perhaps ethical problems are the consequence of a crisis in perception or lack of it.

    Discussion Topics:

    Session II

    Readings: Chapters 6, 7 in Singer, selected sections in Bly (to be chosen)

    Due: Statements of values, lies and beliefs that guide your behavior. This is an exercise in thinking that will take about three pages to write up. The issues to be addressed will be on worksheets that will have been handed out in the first class. In class, the focus will permit us to begin to recognize that ethics calls for making conscious what usually remains implicit in our actions. Ethics does not come up until there is a clash between these and the requirements of a situation. The importance of knowing the paradigms we use in our work must be assessed.
    Discovery of the paradigms that guide our work and decisions must be articulated in order to make ethical decisions. Human Services work requires this. The idea that there are ultimate values and the problem, of the connecting among actions which are not immediately apparent are considered. How ethics can be moved from a mechanical to a relational paradigm is explored. These issues will be discussed in class and the material from the first exercise will be relevant.

    Exercise 2: Organizations are the environments where we do work and they have significant effects on ethical behavior. This exercise will require a mapping of any roles you have played in organizations. These roles entail social dynamics that hinder or advance ethical behavior. We are the characteristics of these roles and how do they impact personal behavior. One case study to be completed for next class. Current or pervious work experiences will be appropriate to consider and reflect upon. A worksheet for this will be provided in class. This exercise should be two pages to three pages in length.

    Session III

    Readings: Final chapters in Singer, sections from Bly on the connection of ethics and moral development.

    Due: Role in organizing analysis. From the class, it should become clearer that certain arrangements enhance or hinder ethical decision making. The ethical decisions requires knowledge of the social milieu in which work is done. Lack of this has hindered ethical development because of the assumption that ethics is a matter of personal belief and knowledge. Group work in the class will provide an opportunity to discover how ethics requires attention to the social realm. Stress is one of the indicators that work needs to be done on the ethical elements is an organization.

    Exercise 3: A role analysis - the context of action and decision. The role framework to be use will be provided in class. In addition, a supplemental reading on social roles will be given out. The role analysis will take about three pages to complete.

    Session IV

    Read: Singer, Practical Ethics

    In class, the idea of a code or organizational code as a solution of ethical issues will be explored. Each student will bring an example of some professional or organizations code. The problems created by trying to go from an abstract code to a practical decision are examined as is the connection of human development and ethical development. In the decision making in Human Services, there can be regression in the service of abstract codes or development through active decision making. Topics for exploration: Human development theories - Kohlberg, Levinger, Erickson and their relationship to ethical decision making. The clients' problems and the Human Services profession's problems have a common base. Ethical action is a path that carries us from lower levels of development. What ethical behavior is possible without policing? The theories all seem to point out basic issue - ethical behavior is central to the problem of human development. Perhaps work in human services is related to the matter of helping lives move along the stages of growth.

    Exercise 4: Evaluation of the weeks work. What is the level of psycho-social development in the organizational and group environment? What are the grounds for "doing the right thing and how is the "right decision" encouraged or reinforced? Ways to sustain ethical action in the daily environment. The material used for this analysis will be provided in the class session.

    Session V

    This class will be a summary of what has been worked on. There will be no additional assignment. Summary and syntheses. The class will draw up a practical protocol for enhancing ethical decision making. One decision from personal exploration will form the basis for a revised decision and an account for the changes in the decision that are more congruent with ethical decision making. Hopefully the initial work you did at the beginning of the class can be revisited. This class will be an opportunity to approach experience with the tools we have worked on. The various activities and exercises have provided new ways to define and experience action in the professional sphere and to consider the ethical dimension. In elaborating and articulating the ethical grounds for action, it will prove helpful to utilize dialogue with others. What should be clear at this point is that the question of whether and what is ethical is not a once and for all decision, it is a process.

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