An (un)ethical post – Does the end justify the means?

Something that I witnessed made the issue of ethics very present in my conversations and life this week . I watched a person who works in education (Is that enough to make him an educator? I think not.) present / sell his “product”. There’s nothing unethical in this of course. But the way he chose to do it unsettled me – and please consider “unsettle” a euphemism for much stronger feelings I had as I listened – because during his presentation he bashed other institutions that provide the same service he does – English teaching. He did not name any institutions; he generalized, throwing everyone – but his – in the same sack. And I will not be specific as to what he said, but I can assure you it wasn’t nice at all. I was fuming by the end of his presentation.

Everybody (and every institution) has flaws. I actually think flaws can be positive thing – I am full of them, so maybe that’s why I think like that. Flaws are a constant reminder of our humanity. Recognizing our own flaws can lead to learning and development, evolution. Your flaws are part of your personality, part of what make you who you are. And perfection (if there is such a thing) can be very boring. 😉 But if you trust yourself, the quality of your work, of the product you’re selling, you don’t need to bash others to make yourself look good. That’s petty. Wrong. Unnecessary. And extremely unethical. Especially for someone who works in education. After all, we’re the ones teaching people. If being a parent has taught me anything it is that the #1 way people (and especially children and teens) learn is by example, by doing what their role models do. And as educators we are role models. I believe everybody has an obligation to be ethical, but for educators that’s in the job description. I mean, we tell our students to respect others (and others’ work), to not cheat, not plagiarize… We can’t go around doing something else. Do as I say and not as I do? Not for me. The lesson I got from that is that some people don’t hesitate in putting other down to look higher themselves.

You may be asking yourself if I said anything right there on the spot. No, I didn’t. First because I was really angry at that moment and you should avoid doing (especially saying) things while you’re angry. If I had said something right there I probably would’ve said too much, taken by the heat of the moment, and then regretted. And then I could’ve been unethical. Two wrongs do not make a right. But it’s been “brewing”all week, and I thought my newly created blog would be a perfect outlet for my venting. Why are some people like that? How can people not see this is not the way to do things?

I don’t have to say that some other teacher’s practice is bad to make mine good. There’s space for us ALL to teach great classes. That scenario looks much better to me.

Does the end justify the means? Ever? Thinking back at my own practice, do I ever do anything like that? Well, I’m not sure… For instance, there’s a strategy I use to get my students to write essays, to realize that doing them is not the horrible monster they paint. I ask them, through the course of 4 or 5 classes, to write on a topic (usually answering a question about the theme or completing a promtp) for 10 minutes. 10 minutes doesn’t hurt. they’re ok with 10-minute writings. they feel confident, and usually do a good job at it. But I organized those questions and prompts in a way that in the end, after the 4 or 5 10-minute writings are done, I give them back to the students and they can organize those mini-writings into a full essay – with minor adjustments. Each mini-writing is, in essence, a paragraph os a full essay. But I never tell them what will happen when I assign them the mini writings. I am afraid they wouldn’t take it as easily. Does my not telling them from the start – in a way deceiving them into writing a full essay little by little – make it unethical. Because in a way this is a “the end justifies the means”. Isn’t it?

At least I did gain something from the episode. I became more aware of my own behavior, paying attention, trying to find examples of unethical actions… And hopefully it will help me be a better person.

Calvin and Hobbes - Copyright Bill Watterson

26 comments on “An (un)ethical post – Does the end justify the means?

  1. Interesting post, Cecilia…

    I’ve seen a few people try to sell products in such a way over the years myself, and as your reaction demonstrates, it can be quite a turn-off!

    It’s also not a very credible way of self-promotion, as you say. A good product should speak for itself. Much better I think to emphasise the positive of what you are selling than to try and beat the competition down.

    I wouldn’t compare that kind of thing with “being economical with the truth” about complex tasks that we intend to get learners to complete at the outset, personally. As teachers, I think we do this all the time, to avoid overwhelming our students. If we didn’t, they’d probably run screaming for the hills after the first week and we’d never see them again 😉


    • Hi Sue,

      I’m sure many people think like you and me and see through such promotion techniques, but what upsets me is that there are also a lot of people who don’t. A lot of people who are gullible and buy into it. And it’s not that the product is not good, but in a way they’re being mislead into buying it.

      And you’re so right when you say students would probably run screaming…. Mine certainly would. Loved the “being economical with the truth”! Will use it to justify it when students start saying I cheated on them when I use my strategy! 🙂 Thanks!

  2. dfogarty says:

    Nothing’s ever straightforward though. Perhaps the man was desperate to get people talking about HIS institution because he’s desperate for money to fend off the Mafia thugs who are holding his dying daughter to ransom…and she hasn’t got her medicine.

    The point being that the only people who can decide if the ends justify the means are the people themselves. There are a lot of very unpleasant (and ruthless) individuals in the world. Regrettably, they are often the ones who seem to flourish (at least in the economic sense). But, as the bible puts it, what shall it profit a man if he wins the whole world and loses his soul?

    Take solace from the fact that he was probably digging himself a deep, deep hole. WHat really gets MY goat is when people are vilely selling themselves and the other people seem to buy it!

    • Rick says:

      I guess I can say I can relate both to the post and to the comment made by dfogarty. It’s always funny to see how often these people seem to succeed in life while others, who work hard, seem to be getting nowhere. However, as you said, there are a couple of values that I can’t simply abandon, and if there’s one thing I learned in all these years is that time will take care of it.

      In the long run, all that matters is that you’re at peace with yourself and that you can get home and sleep soundly. But what else can I say, Cecília. As we both live in Brazil (a country that I absolutely love, by the way), we know that many people here go for the ‘Brazilian way of doing things’, or as we’d say in Portuguese, “o jeitinho”. This means that if you can cut in front of someone in line, you do it – after all, you’re not so stupid as to wait in line as all those other people who are doing that. We have a tendency to put ourselves in the first place all the time – we are always more important that they are. Or, to put it in other words, I counts a lot more than WE. If there’s one thing that sickens me, it is this kind of mentality.

      I certainly see eye to eye with you on that one, and there are even some guilt secrets – for instance, even though I know this was the worst thing that someone could do, I was kind of happy when I saw a guy leaving his car and breaking the side view mirror of another car that nearly crashed his trying to cut in line. This was 7:30 in the morning, and everyone was trying to get to work on time. However, this one person thought he had the right to cut in front of everyone else. If we could trust that the police would actually do anything, we’d simply complain about it. But, just the same, Brazilian people are not known for complaining. We whine a lot to our friends, or even strangers, but very few people actually complain and take things to court if necessary. The sad thing is that we don’t do it mainly because we don’t believe in our legal system.

      Sigh… sorry for the tone of the comment. Just like you I also had to hear a couple of things (and witness too) that really got to me. I probably shouldn’t be using this as a space to vent my feelings, but…

      As my final words, what I have to say is that in the end, I hope, it’s worthwhile doing the right things. 🙂



      • Hi Henrick,

        Let me start by saying you’re always welcome to using this space to vent – or pretty much anything really. I welcome you and your comments, whether hopeful and optimistic or angry, disagreeing and venting… Make yourself right at home. 😀

        What you said about the Brazilian “jeitinho” is certainly one of those things that actually make me embarrased of my own countrymen. I know there are people like that everywhere in the world, but the ratio here is unbelievable. It’s practically an institutionalized practice. And people, as you said, just look the other way, sometimes even laughing it off, talking about the “jeitinho”. This passive attitude is what makes it so these people feel they can go on behaving like that. I am as sickened by this mentality as you. And I have done what you praised a driver for doing – refusing to give passage to a car who considered himself too important to stay in line like everyone else up to mirrors touching and snaping. My brothers say I’ll end up getting into trouble someday because I refuse to give in. If I see someone trying to “ease” their way into something, I voice my indignation. Many many times I have to admit it’s a very lonely voicing 😉 But I think we have to stay true to what we believe to be right. Yeah…call me a romantic! I have been disappointed much more often than not, but I still believe.

        I’ll second what you said about hoping it’s worthwhile being decent and doing things right – even though as dfogarty said, these people quite often seem to flourish economically more easily than the rest of the mere mortals. Maybe one day I’ll give up and just let people do things like that and feel indiferent, numbed.

        But not just yet….



    • Loved the reasoning for why the man might have chosen to do things the way he did! I have to say, however, that his reasons were not as worthy 😉 It really upsets me that people like that, who will use ANY arguments they can – real or not, ethical or not – to convince people of what they want. Worse yet is how innocent and gullible some people can be and fall right into it.

      And hey, you’re talking to a woman who lives in a country who has just had a circus’ clown (literally) as the elected representative (for the congress) with most votes in the country (around 1,3 million). So, when you talk about people being the judges, I have to say I’m not sure I can rely on everybody’s judgement… It’s really scary. And it’s not that I am right and everybody else is wrong. I don’t like him and I don’t think he’s going to deliver what he promises and most of all I despise the way he chose to promote his product. But other people might (and do) feel differently. Diversity (of colors, beliefs and thought) are one of my favorite things in our world. But by buying into it, people are just validating his behavior. And no matter how good his product could’ve been, it’s just not right.

      Now, is he really digging himself a deep hole, or am I the one inside the hole? Admitting this has become a usual practice, can I really be so outraged? Shouldn’t I just have sighed and let it go? What can we do to avoid people buying into it? Do we even have a right for wanting people not to buy into it?? Too many questions… Glad you commented. Thanks !

  3. How is this any different from the education doom and gloom scenarios painted by Web 2.0 hucksters like Sir Ken, Daniel Pink, or Seth Godin? Each has profited handsomely from their own brand of advocacy, under the guise of “caring” for children and their education.

    You should be suspicious about ANYTHING that supports corporate profits, especially when related to Silicon Valley.

    • Hi Mark,

      Sorry for taking a little while for giving you a proper reply – life’s been pretty hectic. And your comment required some thinking…

      I see the analogy you make, and I’m not going to go much into what you said about the “Web 2.0 hucksters” – I personally like Sir Ken and have seen many of his TED talks, have read and enjoyed some pieces by Seth Godin. But I think they’re entitled to making a profit out of their lectures and what they write, because there are people who find what they have to say valuable. Do you think I’m being contradictory in my what I am saying here because of what I wrote on my post?

      Maybe that’s because I don’t think the people you mentioned are being unethical. They give something to the people who like them (you may not agree with what they say, but they do), they make people reflect. Whether you agree, believe in what they say is your prerrogative. What upset me about the man and the presentation I witnessed was that he promoted his product/service by trashing his competitors. That is what gets on my nerves.

      Thanks for speaking out. Food for thought is always a good thing. 🙂

      • “Do you think I’m being contradictory in my what I am saying here because of what I wrote on my post?”

        Perhaps, because is it possible to differentiate among shills for a particular service, product, or even philosophy?

        Sir Ken and trashes traditional education methods because obviously they didn’t suit his preference when growing up. Did Sir Ken ever think that perhaps he had an undiagnosed learning disability? Dan Pink is a lawyer and Seth Godin is a business marketeer so I really don’t understand why they even seriously discuss education issues at all for the purposes of profit. Marketing and education shouldn’t be connected at all.

      • Hi Mark,

        First let me apologize for taking a while to respond. Haven’t really had the time for calmly reading the comments again and taking my time reflecting before writing my reply.

        I agree with you it isn’t possible to differentiate among shills. But (and maybe I’m being naïve, here – always a possibility!) I don’t see what these people do as a shill. Because I think people know what they are doing. People know they make money out of their ideas and talks and books. As long as that is clear, it comes down to, as Diarmuid (dfogarty) put on his comment: “The point being that the only people who can decide if the ends justify the means are the people themselves.” People are given a choice, and it’s up to them. Whether you agree with their choices or not… that’s a whole other issue. Well, I’ve never seen tham trashing education methods – I’ve always taken it as questioning the effectiveness. But hey, maybe it is the same thing… You got me thinking now.
        On a last note, I really don’t see a problem at them coming from other professional fields and talking/making money off discussing education. Education encompasses a lot of fields – all of them really. And you’re talking to an EFL teacher who actually has a BA in graphic design, so maybe I’m not really unbiased to be talking about this. 😉


  4. Why was my previous post rejected?

    • Hi Mark,

      Sorry about taking so long… I’ve been struggling with teaching my unwilling daughter 😉 And for some reason I didn’t get an email with yor first post, just the seocnd – which then made me do look for the first. Thanks for commenting… I am reflecting on what you said to then write you a proper reply, ok? Have a great day!

  5. Hi Cecilia!

    What another great post to make us think! As you wrote in your blog tittle “(un)ethical”, so we have two choices in life be or not to be. Unfortunately, many people will prefer to be unethical rather than being correct. I think we can always run into a person who wants to cheat or acts in an unethical way that really doesn’t matter what the other thinks. There’s no space in my life for unethical things.


    Luciana Podschun

    • Hi Lu,

      I’m happy – although not surprised – to see you (and everybody else who’s commented so far) feel strongly about how important being ethical is. I guess I can’t be surprised, since educators are usually very ethical people. Keep holding strong to your beliefs!


  6. Ceri says:

    Hi Cecilia, It’s interesting to see that there seems to be a certain “Brazilian flavour” to the comments and the reactions 😉 . I hadn’t come across “jeitinho” before, but obviously it echoes something that happens in a lot of countries, not only Brazil, and I think the example you give at the beginning of your post, of back-stabbing and mud-flinging used as marketing tools, is most definitely universal. Look at any election campaign, anywhere in the world, when the opposition feel they have no worthy cause that’ll bring them victory, how many times do they resort to dirty campaigns? And it’s sad to see it in education, but it’s pretty common there too. I guess it helps us remember to try and make sure we’re always emphasising the good in what we do, and not finding fault in what others do, whenever we sell ourselves, our courses, our causes and our beliefs.

    • Hi Ceri,

      Yeah, I’m not exactly thrilled, but have to admit to the “Brazilian flavor” to the post. Despite it being universal, I just see too much of it around here ;-). And don’t get me started on politics and political campaigns – it was election day here in Brazil and I have been absolutely disgusted by the whole business. More than ever.

      Do you really think we can see this kind of unethical behavior in education as well? I guess I’m still under the romantic idea that educators are people filled with morals and good intentions… My wake-up call is long overdo though – I have actually seen a few examples of unethical behavior among teachers already, so it shouldn’t surprise me. Let’s keep that in mind and hold on (tight) to our beliefs and hope to convince more and more people that this is the way to do things.


  7. Hi ya,

    I certainly agree with Ceri and everyone that this sort of thing happens all the time, especially outside of education. And I would also have to go with Diarmuid’s search for meaning or background…

    sometimes what we don’t see in the public eye (the agenda) can actually be part of a long-running “war” and while the person who is doing the complaining is now perceived as being mal-spirited, jealous, spiteful etc etc etc what the new viewers can’t see, is the damage which may have been done to that person previously – by the very person they’re complaining about!

    Sometimes we need to be careful in our judgements.

    That said, I agree with the overall principle in your post – when I worked in Ecuador a bunch of us at the top of our profession got together to work together – helping out with substitution of teachers, training each others’ teachers and generally promoting courses when we ourselves couldn’t take on a specific client.

    It was an amazing and very fruitful endeavour and I’ve never forgotten how much stronger we all became because we pulled as a team – competitiveness is a popular part of our society but much older and wiser is our ability to work in community.



    • Hi Karenne,

      Speaking as a person who’s been misjudged one too many times (I am extemely shy and reserved initially, until I feel comfortable – this is frequently mistaken for arrogance) I am very careful at judging people – and avoid doing it, even though sometimes it’s inherent – innate to human beings. I do understand the possibility of the person having been damaged somehow and doing what he did as a defense-mechanism. But I think that explains his doing it, not justify. For me, nothing (well I hate using such all-compasing words, so how is “there are very few things” ? Better?) justifies trashing others for making yourself looking better. And I know you are with me on that ;-).

      The experience you had in Ecuador sounds wonderful!!! That’s what this is all about: together we go much further, much more easily. And we have so much more fun along the way!!! But what am I doing here??? Preaching to the converted! You’re the QUEEN of sharing and colaboration, of pushing (in a good way) people forward, helping people, motivating them to go after development. Thanks for putting your thoughts down here… 🙂

  8. jeremyharmer says:

    well, as for what’s ethical or not, I am never sure about that. All author-tours in ELT, for example, have a selling function, even when the authors don’t mention their work even once. Some people are good at selling what they’ve done – talking directly about it – and I envy them (because I am absolutely lousy at doing that).
    But rubbishing the competition? I find that far less attractive. That’s why I always used to get uneasy at, for example, Michael Lewis’ scathing attacks on other grammarians which were his prelude to showing how great his grammar analysis was. It made for god spectator sport, but was ungenerous, it seemed to me (though I am nervous here because I can’t remember how often, if at al, he mentioned them by name).
    One way of ‘making your name’ is, of course, to show that you are superiors to everyone else around. But it’s a risky business, and perhaps more than a matter of ethics, is a matter of manners and generosity?

    • Love the freudian slip up – the god spectator sport – tee hee

    • Hi Jeremy,

      First I’d like to apologize for taking a while to reply to your comment, but life has been a little complex and very busy lately.

      Ok, now, the concept of what is ethical or not is very hard to define. I mean, you have the general obvious (at least to most people) examples (such as stealing, etc)… But then there are issues in which the line between being ethical or not is much more subtle. Because our idea of ethics goes through our values and morals. Even though we (as human beings) have a collective set of said values, there are others that are subjective, depend on each person’s cultural background, experiences, etc etc. The reason I’m saying this is because I believe your example involving ELT authors fall into that category. There are people who see nothing wrong with it, and there are people who see it as unethical. For me, as long as things are clear, as you are honest about what you’re doing, as long as people know that you’re presenting sponsored by your publisher and so on, it’s ok. Because you’re not deceiving people, they know what they’re getting into. And they have an informed choice of going to your presentation and the publisher’s stadn afterwards – or not. But that is MY opinion, and by no means I have any intention of claiming to be the owner of truth (quite far from it really, I don’t believe in absolute truths and I question my own beliefs over and over). It is the same thing of my feelings towards what Mark Hauck said on his comment on this post.

      Trashing others to make yourself look better is what I saw as the problem on the presentation I went to. That’s is completely unethical to me. Unethical as an author trashing another author’s work. You’re entitled to having a different outlook on things, and then you give people the informed choice I mentioned. I don’t believe the person I refer to on my post gave his audience an informed choice. That’s the essence of it. And I don’t think it’s a matter of manners or generosity as you said. It’s unethical because you are all members of the same profession, and despite any differences, we have to respect our peers. Respectfully disagreeing, but respectfully being the operating word.

      Thank you for sharing your view on the issue. Reading and responding to the comments are probably the best part of blogging. We’re forced to revisit our thoughts, reevaluate. And that’s always positive – wheether reaffirmation or change of mind comes out from it. 🙂

  9. Let me make this comparison … it would be as if I wrote a book about the legal profession or the marketing profession and I’m telling lawyers and business people how they should be plying their trade. It would be fruitless and a waste of time. This is exactly how I view Pink and Godin. They should stick to what they know.

    By the way, I do believe in absolute truths, because I was raised in another age and culture that was more traditional and entirely anti-post modern. Kids weren’t raised by first consulting books and they weren’t spared some corporal punishment when necessary. No one worried about their “self-esteem.” They were expected to toe the line of adult expectations until they grew up and paid their dues in life. I am also not afraid to judge and be judgmental. I am also not fearful of being offended or being offensive if the situation warrants it.

    • Hi Mark!

      What we believe in, our values…it’s all shaped by our history, our backgrounds. That’s why we think differently. Unlike you I was raised in a very progressive, post-modern environment / school. I was raised to question everything I didn’t understand or agree with, I learned how to do so in a proper, non-aggressive manner. Self-esteem is one of the most important things a person can have, it has an incredible effect in all other areas of a person’s life. I am particularly eager to help boost anybody’s self-esteem – be it a student, a friend, a co-worker. And I take extreme pride at not being offensive. I think there are ways of doing anything you want without resourcing to that.

      But different views, different beliefs are what make us different. And I see diversity as one of the beauties of the world we live in. We can learn so much from it – if we only try.



      • Be that if it may, I still think Pink and Godin are entirely out of their element since they are not or were never trained educators who spent one minute in a classroom teaching children. It’s one thing to have an opinion, but another thing to publish books and create a highly profitable cottage industry based on dubious advocacy that’s purely manipulative and self-serving.

  10. […] to any job you have, including education.  It is important to be ethical when teaching.  In this blog, Cecilia Lemos (author of the blog) discusses a presentation she went to and how aggravated it made […]

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