Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good Work (Absence of Malice)

Please respond to question #3 under ABSENCE OF MALICE on page 167 of our text. Deadline for your response is noon Tuesday, Sept. 15.

33 comments:

Adrienne W said...

I think I see in school and work that technical excellence gets a lot of attention right off the bat. In school, if you write a bad paper, one with lots of errors and mistakes in it you are automatically scrutinized for your bad work, no matter if you tried the hardest that you could on it. However with school I find that morals do hold alot more power, like how you shouldn't plagerize or cheat because it is wrong. At work, if you don't get your job done the way that your bosses want it done,you get penalized or fired. In most cases that I can think of, if you get the job done, no matter how moral your means were of going about it, your bosses at least got what they wanted and maybe are less likely to look into the fact of how you got the job done, like that e-mail from Jackie.
These cases would make it seem that maybe technical excellence is better than moral excellence, but i think that the end doesn't justify the means and that yes you need to do your work technically right, but not take the shortcuts or use immoral ways to get it done.

Alyssa said...

It would have to be technical excellence that gets the most attention at work and school. In todays world they try to weed out everyones moral ethics as long as it doesn't interfear with the "job" or "task" that needs to be done.Good work is split in two by what is moraly accepted by yourself and what is accepted to whoever is in charge. For example if your stole a pieace of bread to feed your family you've stolen wich is bad to feed your starving family wich is good.I think it is best to have moral excellence because thats whats going to give you the most satisfaction in the long run.If you do things on your own moral terms it will most likey be harder, but I think you'll have more satisfaction and pride in your work.

Patrick Mattei said...

I feel that technical excellence gets the most attention, just because it is usually easier to spot since it's what an employer or teacher is looking for to begin with. Not to say that you'll always be punished for taking a moral route, but you often have to explain your choice and defend it if you take the moral high ground.

Of course, some moral decisions are expected of you. You won't be rewarded for, say, never plagiarizing a paper in college, but that's because that is expected of you to act that way morally.

Howie Good said...

you know what i'm wondering, i'm wondering if technical excellence is a kind of moral excellence -- or, to turn it around, if you, for example, are a reporter, but you write poorly and miss deadlines, if you just do the minimum, and not even that technically well, whether you aren't also ethically implicated?

Eve said...

I believe both moral and technical excellence are equally important. In order to get ahead the right way, one must use appropriate methods to achieve their goals while also having a successful outcome or finished product. However, I feel that in the "real world" technical excellence hogs most of the attention. This is only because we often live our lives according to technicalities, legalities, and what is right and wrong according to someone else. I believe this says something unfortunate about the quality of good work. Like that survey of students about cheating. One student said it doesnt matter how you do it, as long as you can get ahead. It is sad, but true in many aspects of our world today. Luckily there are places like institutions and universities that still rely on moral "goodness" to get the job done. Good work is no longer measured in the amount of work you put into something, it tends to only be measured as an end result and how far along one may have come.

Michelle V said...

Technical excellence often gets more attention than moral excellence both at work and in school. "Good work" is then defined more in the result than the means. It doesn't matter how it gets done its just the fact that it gets done on time. I believe that the two feed into each other. The best results come from the best work. If it gets done but someone who cuts a lot of corners is the product of the work as strong? That and usually people who go about getting things done the wrong way usually don't get things done at all.

Vince said...

In my experience in work and school technical excellence is always displayed as more important but not openly. The only time that moral excellence seems to be put before technical excellence is when the one's morals are perceived to be compromised. You could cheat on a test, do very well and everyone would be happy because thats the goal, to do well. Until you're caught being immoral all emphases is put on doing good work technically, once your caught acting immoraly then the moral code is enforced. Someone could plagerize all they wanted and as long as they didnt get caught the teacher would praise them for being a good student because of their perceived technical ability, thier morals wouldn't even be brought into question.

For myself I hold both equaly high in importance because I think that cheaters never win and the end dosen't justify the means. If I were to cheat and do well I would feel technicaly and moraly weak.

nekaiya trotman said...

Technical excellence always seems to get the most attention. Though moral excellence is important, from my experience at school and work technical excellence always gets the most praise. I do believe that there are certain places where moral excellence would trump technical excellence but in places such as school and work technical excellence would probably always be most important.

Moral excellence speaks mostly to ones character therefore its easier to judge someone whose morals are flawed rather than someone who makes a technical error which would most likely be excused as a mistake.

For myself i believe that moral excellence is more important than technical excellence. Although technical excellence would probably get you to where you want to go faster, being someone who holds yourself to a certain standard and knowing that there are certain thing that you will and wont do would probably make you happier with yourself at the end of the day.

Howie Good said...

think about this for a moment -- the nazis who ran the death camps were technically excellent. . . also, getting good grades via cheating doesn't demonstrate technical excellence. . . by technical excellence, we're talking about being skillful at reporting, writing, editing, shooting video, etc.

AllisonSoferSays said...

I would have to agree that technical excellence gets the most attention in schools today. It's much easier on teachers to be able to check for technical correctness as defined by a book than it is to check for moral correctness, which does not really have a set definition. Moral excellence comes in later school years, like plagiarism. However, it is still easy to fudge moral correctness, while technical correctness is much easier to catch.
I think that both moral and technical correctness are important, but if I had to put one above all others, I would say moral excellence, because I would rather turn something in that is wrong if I worked hard on it, than correct if I cheated

Kellie Nosh said...

Based off of personal experience, at work, I've realized that technical excellence is where it counts most. If you cut corners and do a "good job", you're recognized because you technically got the job done correctly, even if you took a shady or lazy path to get there. Same goes with school. Cheaters get better grades all the time, and it infuriates me because I'll get a B or something when I've put in a hard effort and they get the A based off of taking someone else's ideas. This tells me that people base excellence off of face value, not real quality. For me, moral excellence is a lot more important. You're supposed to (generally) be honest and ethical. I suppose a technical path wouldn't be so bad, but I automatically assumed it would be cheating and taking unethical paths to succeed, which to me, is the furthest thing from important.

Howie Good said...

PLEASE PLEASE . . . cheating isn't technical excellence; it's just cheating. . . technical excellence means being skillful. . . it doesn't mean cutting corners technically, though it may mean so morally

GrobM said...

This is a very tough question. Where i work you need both technical and moral excellence. I work in a small engine repair shop. We work on machines. We fix what needs to be fixed, but we also have to let the customer know if we run into another issue while the machine is apart, which may cause problems down the road. Its kind of like covering your own ass. I would say having both technical and moral excellence gets noticed more at my shop. We have had mechanics that do the bare minimum and they don't usually last that long. Personally, if I am going to do a job, I do it right the first time. My dad raised me to work like that. You need to use technical and moral excellence. The moment you start to cut corners or rush you usually get burned. For ex. Me and my friend built an engine and washed out the camshaft in the first 15 minutes because we didn't remove the inner valve springs and it put too much pressure on the cam. we were lazy and just wanted to fire the engine. We ended up making more work for ourselves.

AndreaV said...

I think that technical excellence gets more attention only because it is something that is easily evaluated. Most of the time at a job or even at school, moral excellence is in some way assumed until it is proven that it has been compromised. In the long run, I think that not being as good technically is more forgivable than compromising your morals.

For me, I think they are both equally important but I think that if you are good at something technically there would be less temptation to become morally compromised, if I know how to do my job and I am good at it, I think, it is possible I wouldn't be as tempted to lie or cheat to get what I wanted.

Nick Miggs said...

I think that at both work and school most excellence if extreme is always rewarded and praised. I think that technical excellence is always praised more than moral. Work and school both view moral and technical achievements in slightly different matters. In school moral excellence is viewed as important and is rewarded slightly. For example when a student was witnessed doing a good deed a teacher would sometimes nominate them as the student(doo gooder) of the day. Having said that no matter what the kids with the best grades always had more opportunities to advance in the caste system of most high schools. My high school, like most, had three separate levels of classes. The lowest being remedial, then regular and finally honors. On the other hand work rewards only technical. The top dog moves up. The more you sell or win the better employee you are. At anyplace I've been. The person to run outside to give someone their change never got an automatic raise. I believe that its pretty much Americas attitude, if you produce you advance

Brian Coleman said...

From my own memory and experience, I feel that technical excellence seems to be more important than moral excellence when it comes to school and work. In school, your grade is based upon test scores, and homework completed, and attendance. This is where your grade comes from. From there, the grade is what determines a lot of the time whether you pass. In work, if you do not perform in a certain business, they get someone else to do your job. Ive seen this and from my experience, technical excellence wins out. However, I feel that a little moral excellence should be important because it can help judge a work ethic in someone.

mika said...

As many of my classmates has mentioned, I also think techinical excellence are tend to be considered quite important.

In school, we always get grades that based on technical excellence.
And even when we have interviews for getting job and starts working,those grades relate to us very close.(Especially in Japan I think.)

That kind of situation makes us lead the way that we try to act based on technical excellence rather than on ethical excellence.
Because it is important for us to keep working and getting money for living.
Therefore, I can't clearly say that I'll always act based on moral.I don't want to cheat or do something ethical of course, but sometimes we need technical excellence for protecting ourselves.
That is the hardest point.

Julie said...

As we've all pretty much recognized, technical excellence is championed in the American education system. Students are, as one of my favorite teachers in high school used to say, "grade whores" for a reason; specialized high schools and/or collegiate institutions see students as a number rather than a person more often than not. Actually, I worked on an article in high school about my school possibly eliminating the ranking system, and a guidance counselor told me that the University of Pennsylvania would refer to students as "number seven" rather than by their name. At work and at school, it is easier for employers and teachers base their judgment of people solely on a technical level because it's easier for them. Someone has a high GPA, or they don’t; someone answered all of their math problems correctly, or they didn't. Of course, there is more grey area when it comes to technical excellence in journalism than in math since writing and reporting is not as an exact science. In any case, people in positions of authority judge their workers on their technical abilities because this method is more based in facts or data and requires less thought. If bosses took the time to evaluate how workers made moral decisions, that would require...well, time, time that they'd rather not spend. I would hope that there are both leaders and workers out there who realize that doing what's right doesn't always mean doing what's easy. To me, the ends don't justify the means and if you we should all try to do things with as much concern for moral consequences as possible. If you cut ethical corners to try to do a good job, you didn’t do a good job at all. What dignity do you have them? What does this say about your character? Of course, being technically skilled is always important, but you can’t justify anything you do if you don’t do it the right way and I don’t know how else to explain that.

Colin V. said...

I feel that since technical excellence is more quantifiable and easier to assess it receives the most attention in work, school, etc. But i do find that a happy medium can be found between moral and technical excellence, where one's technical excellence is because of a strong moral excellence the individual stresses upon themselves. i believe that in the long run a mix of the 2 will allow you to outlast and the stephen glass's out there.
i feel that technically excellent "good work" is easier to asses and grade, where as moral is much more complex and harder to grasp. making technically excellent work the preferred choice.
id like my work to reflect a moral excellence, but im not against bending my morals just a little in order to get a paper or "work" done and have it be considered "good." in my ideal world all my work would be morally excellent and id be rewarded for it.

Jaime Prisco said...

As many people have said previously, technical excellence gets the most credit because it is most easily evaluated. When you first meet an employee, it is difficult to judge moral excellence, but technical excellence is easily realized. You brought up the point about nazi's being technically excellent and obviously they are lacking in the moral department which i feel like happens more and more. However, i feel as if there are many jobs in the world where being morally excellent doesnt really come into play much. Is that to say someone shouldnt be morally aware? Of course not but i think some jobs focus more on the technical aspects. However, other jobs need a convergence of the two. In many jobs, being morally bankrupt directly intertwines with how well you do your job and one cant exist without the other. However, thinking about it more, if that situation were to be flipped and someone was morally excellent but not technically excellent, does that make them morally excellent in the first place? Many of the the time, if your not skillful, that could play into the personality you have. Many time being skillful is all a result of the time and effort you put into that skill. If you are a lazy and slothlike person, is that still morally excellent? Im not sure if thats enough to qualify someone for moral downfall but i believe those bad qualities often lead to other bad characteristic, often leading to a degradation of moral integrity.
I try to live my life with a balance of the two but i do put more focus on being morally excellent. Though being skillful is important(as i previously mentioned), especially career wise, i think that being aware of morality is something i strive for a bit more. However, its always important to have bot

Jaime Prisco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howie Good said...

As many of you suggest, technical excellence seems to get the greatest emphasis and attention -- in school and at work. Does this mean that our potential for moral excellence remains neglected and stunted? Unrealized? Undeveloped to a large extent?

Howie Good said...

I believe moral excellence is as important in science or other areas as in journalism/ is it moral for scientists to develop better bombs? For drug companies to research drugs that will make money while ignoring working on cures for worst diseases? And how about the speculators on Wall Street? Are you reassured that they've gone back to their old ways since the bailout?

Pamela A. said...

I think that both technical excellence and moral excellence get attention. One a little more than the other at some points but that's because they are at two different levels. Like many of the other students said, technical excellence often receives a great level of attention by employers and teachers. However, to achieve technical excellence you must have some type of integrity. You can't have one without the other.
I think moral excellence should be seen as the most important factor. For example, if a student is having trouble in writing, therefore not being 100% technical, shouldn't she be credited for trying. Technicality can always be improved with practice. Having moral, a belief, is what keeps us going and helps us improve ourselves. Those that quit easily have little standards for themselves therefore lose interest quickly. A worker or student that has little respect for their work does not have the morality to be technically efficient. Handing in a plagiarized paper that might get an A or being deceptive at work because then your work is more entertaining does not mean you are technically excellent.
In my experience I've always tried to be technically efficient; get to work on time, not make any mistakes, etc. But we are all human and make mistakes in order to learn. I've might have made a couple of errors and arrived late a couple of times. However, what has gotten me far with my employees is the fact that I'm honest and care about my work. A man almost gave me a 50 dollar bill for gum and walked out of the store. I ran after him and told him he'd given me too much money. I could have kept the money to raise the earnings at the end of my shift; I probably wasn't going to see that guy again because most of the people that came into the shop were tourists. However, my first instinct was to be honest and put myself in his shoes. I would hate for that to happen to me. My boss saw that on the video tapes and said he was happy to have me on his team. That might stand out more than a couple of mistakes.

Sam Speer said...

Personally, i think both are very important, but given the way our society is shaped, I believe that technical excellence has a little more attention in the school and work place. I think they are both equally important, but as many classmates used the example of cheating or plagiarism which questions students integrity. Michelle made a very good point by saying that it "good work" is a result, and as long as it is handed in by the deadline the person won't be scrutinized regardless of their moral excellence. Although, moral excellence is overshadowed, if an employer has trust in an employee's moral excellence they usually will be around for a while because they know the person won't screw them over. But nonetheless, I believe technical excellence is very heavily weighed upon. If your hiring a candidate for a position, will you hire the person who graduated from Harvard who's morals excellence is questioned or a regular Joe from SUNY Albany who is very dedicated, and very honest? Also, i have to agree with Jamie and others that technical excellence is more recognizable then moral excellence, and can be easily calculated and configured. But once in the workplace for a year or so, your employer can recognize your moral excellence, which could pay off in the long run, because they trust you.

Sam Speer said...

Personally, i think both are very important, but given the way our society is shaped, I believe that technical excellence has a little more attention in the school and work place. I think they are both equally important, but as many classmates used the example of cheating or plagiarism which questions students integrity. Michelle made a very good point by saying that it "good work" is a result, and as long as it is handed in by the deadline the person won't be scrutinized regardless of their moral excellence. Although, moral excellence is overshadowed, if an employer has trust in an employee's moral excellence they usually will be around for a while because they know the person won't screw them over. But nonetheless, I believe technical excellence is very heavily weighed upon. If your hiring a candidate for a position, will you hire the person who graduated from Harvard who's morals excellence is questioned or a regular Joe from SUNY Albany who is very dedicated, and very honest? Also, i have to agree with Jamie and others that technical excellence is more recognizable then moral excellence, and can be easily calculated and configured. But once in the workplace for a year or so, your employer can recognize your moral excellence, which could pay off in the long run, because they trust you.

Lindsey Claro said...

I would really like to be able to say that it is moral excellence that gets the most attention, but this is sadly not the case. I feel that technical excellence gets the most attention in both school and work environments. In today's world it doesn't seem to matter how it gets done, if someone has to cut corners to get there, etc. What matters is that the job is done and that truly is unfortunate. Whatever happened to taking pride in one's work?

Personally, I hold both technical and moral excellence to be of similar importance. I take pride in my work and I owe it to myself to use both my technical skills and morals to put forth the effort in school and at work to do the best possible job.

Howie Good said...

interestingly, many j schools & depts. DON'T have ethics courses. the same holds for business schools, med schools, law schools, engineering schools, etc.

LindsayArden said...

Unfortunately, as most people have already said, technical excellence gets the most attention. This is primarily, I like to think, because it is the most easily noticeable and exemplified to outside parties. It is the most practical, tangible, and quantifiable. It is much harder to get a feeling for someone's moral excellence. One can get an idea of moral excellence by watching a person's behavior, work ethic, and interaction with others, but that all barely scratches the surface of true moral excellence. A person's moral excellence is something that only they can know the true extent of.
That being said, moral excellence is by far the most valuable to me and I believe it directly effects the level of technical excellence I achieve. If something appeals to me on a moral level I try to always give it more attention and effort than if not. For example, if there are two work or school related functions or activities that I had to choose between I try not to decide based on which I wanted to do, or which was more fun, but would ask myself this series of questions. Is someone counting on me to do this? Is this going to teach me a strong lesson, educationally or otherwise? What will the world get from my participation here? I know it sounds cheesy, but these are moral values of mine that may not ever be recognized by an outsider, but are a huge part of my daily life.
I believe that having moral excellence causes a person to strive for technical excellence in every area of their lives. However, technical excellence may not always be achieved, not matter the effort put in.

Howie Good said...

lindsay asks an excellent and highly pertinent question:

Is someone counting on me to do this?

in other words, there's a kind of oath or promise that we'll do morally as well as technically sound work when we're professionals.


we'll explore this more tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I feel that technical excellence gets praised at school and at work. It is very rare when someone does something good in school or at work that they are asked "How did you do it?" Or "What did it take for you to achieve what you did?" There is constant competition to get ahead and some people tend to cheat in order to do it. I am also not saying that everyone that does well in school or at work is a cheater either. However, people who cheat and think it's okay make it difficut to differentiate who did the work with moral standards rather than technical standards. Therefore this makes "good work" at school and at work questionable. For me, work should be done with moral standards in mind. So that means no cheating, lying, or other means used just to simply get ahead that are unethical. In my previous school years I used to stay up so late until I made sure I had all my homework done and I understood it. If I didn't understand something, I made sure that I would ask about it in class. I still do my work this way and I don't see myself changing my habits. I knew many people that would just cheat instead of actually putting in the hours to study and learn the material and it bothered me a lot, especially if they received a higher grade because I thought it wasn't fair. I would rather moral standards be the way work and school are evaluated.

Kevin Harvey said...

Moral excellence gives you the means to technical excellence. So long as you’re morally excellent you will always be technically excellent. But the strong emphasis on technical excellence tends to sometimes morally corrupt. I think the education system as a whole places too much emphasis on technical excellence. There are plenty of technical test of excellence but there are almost no moral test of excellence. Moral excellence is just as important if not more important than technical excellence, so why is it so often overlooked? Technical excellence is a byproduct of moral excellence. The problem is technical excellence can be made to look as if was attained while still abiding by moral excellence. The bottom line is when work has to be done in order to make something look as if it was achieved through moral excellence, it’s technically not.

Howie Good said...

kevin hits a lot of important points . . . i encourage you to read his comments

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.