Moral Injury and the Ethics of Educational Injustice

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Moral Injury and the Ethics of Educational Injustice

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Title: Moral Injury and the Ethics of Educational Injustice
Author: Levinson, Meira L.
Citation: Levinson, Meira. 2015. “Moral Injury and the Ethics of Educational Injustice.” Harvard Educational Review 85 (2) (June): 203–228. doi:10.17763/0017-8055.85.2.203.
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Abstract: This article uses a case study of a student who is on the verge of expulsion for bringing pot to school in order to explore a class of ethical dilemmas in which educators have the obligation to enact justice—to take action that fulfills the demands of justice—but have to do so under conditions in which no just action is possible because of contextual and school-based injustices. Under such circumstances, educators suffer moral injury: the trauma of perpetrating significant moral wrong against others despite one’s wholehearted desire and responsibility to do otherwise. Drawing upon Hirschman’s classic Exit, Voice, and Loyalty as an analytic heuristic, it is possible to see educators as trying to avoid moral injury in intrinsically unjust contexts by engaging in “loyal” subversion, using their “teacher voice” to protest systemic injustices, or “exiting” the school setting altogether. Each of these approaches, however, is an imperfect option for enacting justice under conditions of pervasive injustice. No approach enables educators adequately to fulfill their obligation to enact justice—and hence, no approach enables them fully to escape moral injury. Although it is educators who suffer the moral injury, it is society that owes them moral repair—most importantly, by restructuring educational and other social systems so as to mitigate injustice. In assuming these obligations, society must also collaborate with experienced educators, who often have insight into how changes to classroom, school, and district practices can cut through what otherwise appear to be intractable normative challenges and hence further mitigate moral injury. At the same time, moral injury will never be fully eliminated. When one egregious form of systemic injustice is eliminated, previously overlooked injustices may become visible. It is also better that educators recognize the injustices they perpetrate as injustices rather than being unaware of the moral compromises they are forced to make. Case studies of dilemmas of justice may nonetheless enable philosophers, educators, and members of the general public to engage in grounded reflection as a means of achieving phronetic equilibrium, thus further reducing moral injury and enhancing educators’ capacities to enact justice in schools.
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