Titles of some clubs can be revealing. Last week I participated in Leuven in a conference of the ‘Engineering4Society’ association (click here for video-talk, for program and all proceedings). That title immediately makes one think “Can a well-trained, professional engineer today NOT engineer for society?” Yes, (s)he can and very often does. Now isn’t that TERRIBLE? Shouldn’t they all be FIRED? No, ‘they’ shouldn’t. Maybe we lecturers in technology should all be fired: read my own fivepaged e4spaperleuven2016, titled From Moral Reasoning to Ethical Resilience.
Fire all educators? Well, maybe after ditching some other people first – a whole bunch of culprits comes to mind, like marketeers, businesses, shareholders, careless consumers, and so on. It’s (also) the economy, stupid. Nevertheless, lecturers like me have to think harder and evaluate more critically what we do and what we actually achieve in teaching moral skills. If it is the case that our tech faculty is not able to foster the positive socio-moral motivations which young students in engineering plainly possessed upon their first arrival, then there is something rotten in the state of tech eduction. But what exactly? After 20plus years of experience as a lecturer and course developer in engineering ethics, I still don’t have the entire answer. I keep discovering ugly potholes in our techcurricula everyday; yes, even within in my own courses (the latter are painstakingly explored in my paper above). But I also keep experimenting with new ways to help the fragile moral motivations of young students develop into more stable ethical skills.
What I would want to end is some of the ongoing ‘moral windowdressing’. There is no cheap way out. Professional engineers are ethically competent, only when they are able and (still) willing to ‘engineer for society’ every day in harsh, nitty-gritty, business contexts. And that requires a whole lot more work than mere naieve idealism and a 2 points ethics course to achieve.
Associations of lecturers like E4S will remain necessary for quite some time I’m afraid, to (first) figure out and (then) raise political demands (for) what is precisely required to make that atittudinal change in engineers a sustainable one.
Do let me know your thoughts about this topic and/or about my paper. Or maybe just comment -quick and dirty- on our Leuven-Talk ! With special invitations for tech-lecturers and -students abroad to cooperate in joint assignments next semester. So please, do share this with your international contacts.