Ethics: I know it when I smell it.Date: 04/18/2013
Here’s another ditty, hot on the heels of my auction post. I’m responding to conversations that I am seeing elsewhere, like on Ask Harriete. I originally penned this as a response to a discussion on Orchid, about the ethics of teaching and sharing information. I edited it for this blog. I realize that everything we offer as teachers, instructors, writers, pundits and practioners is in a sense an amalgam of everything that we have learned elsewhere, so arguments can be made that, maybe, there is no real argument. Ethics, personal ethics and responsibility can be some slippery stuff.
Here it is:
This is such an interesting topic. From the start, though, I must say that I’m not sure that ethics are simply a matter of “what feels right to you” (as I read in one post). While a person can and should have personal ethics, there are broader, societal ethics that are less a matter of strictly personal belief. But that is a different discussion for a different day.
That being said my take on this subject is, of course, one of personal opinion. I see this topic from several perspectives:
- That of the educator teaching at a college, university, high school, art center or at any venue in which expanded courses and survey classes are offered.
- That of the itinerant workshop or symposium instructor, visiting artist and special guest lecturer who is hired to teach, lecture or present specific material or information based on their work, professional profile or experience.
- That of the metalsmith who writes an article for any number of publications which feature technical articles, “How-To” or DIY sections.
I teach frequently and as an instructor it is my hope-- and expectation-- that students will take what I have offered them and adapt the techniques to their work and way of thinking. I know that this reapplication will be put through the filter of their own work – adapted and reapplied using their own particular design language or in their own creative voice -- to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the person. This is fine and is, in fact, the point. It is my greatest hope and goal for students to generalize from the specific instance or technique that I have given them and to more broadly apply the information to other situations. I do not expect, however, for what I have taught to be offered as a workshop by someone who has taken mine. I offer the information for personal use.
The dissemination of information gleaned at a workshop really depends (again, in my opinion) on how and where that happens.
It is less than ideal – and I have seen this several times --for an artist to take a specific process which they have learned in a specific workshop and then “take it on the road”, teaching the technique as their own and in their own (compensated) workshops, around the country. In one case the artist was not known for this technique—indeed rarely, if ever, did it appear in their work—nor had they taught it before. This is a slap in the face to the artist who first taught the technique and to the attendee who has coughed up the bucks to learn the process from an experienced practitioner. Because, in a workshop, it is implied that the teacher is a specialist who is more than simply familiar with or knowledgeable about a process. They are someone who is proficient at it and who actually employs it in their work. So in my mind this situation cuts two ways: It is unfair to the teacher who originally gave the information and it can also be misleading to the workshop attendee who signs up for the weekend.
In the case of the high school/college/art center educator teaching survey or advanced courses, I see very little problem with these professionals directly sharing what they have learned from a workshop that they have taken. There is something different at work here that I just can’t put my finger on…. Workshops are special events, offering a more in depth exposure based on the accumulated experience of the instructor. Ongoing, all-inclusive classes are less so.
Sloppy, I know, but that’s my personal line in the sand…
But, what is missing here is the writing of articles, publishing under one’s own name, what has been learned elsewhere. In my opinion, this is the most unsettling situation. Maybe it is the breadth of the audience that is addressed in print or online that really changes the equation. But it smacks to me of capitalization.
I believe that in education, especially workshops, there is a shared responsibility on the part of the student/attendee and the instructor. I see it as the teacher’s role to provide solid information on the topic offered, to be present and patient, to be fair and even-handed and to understand that there are different learning styles and modalities and, so, to do their best to present the material in a variety of ways. On the part of the student I feel that their half of the bargain is to listen, be present, speak up when they are confused and to use what they learn responsibly which, in my mind, means to not simply parrot techniques or style but to tailor them to their own work. There may be an attitude among some that in paying for a workshop, they have purchased unlimited use of the information and are free to implement it in any way they choose. I have always assumed that students will not do this and will instead take whatever I offer and “make it their own”. Not always the case. I now address this when I start a workshop and urge participants to adapt the information.
So, I don’t see the sharing of information as black and white. It is, in my mind, a matter of balancing the source, the type of information, with who and why it is being shared and how the person sharing it is compensated. I am sure that I have passed on techniques that others have taught me. But I make a real effort to credit people when I can. In the case of writing an article, I would make an effort to contact the person from whom I had first heard of the technique and run it by them. It simply seems like the right thing to do.
I’m sure that some on the list will disagree with me and that some may be strident in their posts. But this is what I believe.