Teaching Notes

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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Veronica Guerin

Have you ever been in a situation in your schoolwork or job that required moral courage? Did you act in a morally courageous way? Why or why not? How do you think Veronica Guerin would have acted in your place?

You response is due Sunday, April 7, by 4 p.m.


Hannah Nesich said...

Though it is embarrassing to admit, I have no truly important instances throughout my academic career where I was forced to employ moral courage. I’ve been in situations where I need to make decisions regarding an assignment or how to treat a source, but little stands out in memory as truly testing my morals. This can mean one of two things- that I don’t take enough risks in my journalism and jobs, or that I simply don’t have enough experience yet to have been in these types of situations.

The closest example I can think of was when I published an article for class using a source who asked me to change her name. I wrote an article for Journalism II last semester on the trend of nude modeling for the art department, and one of my most instrumental sources was also my most private. After a successful Skype interview with the New Paltz graduate, she asked that I change her name in the piece. She told me she works with teens at her current job, but also continues to model on the side, and was concerned that if I published her name, her students’ parents would discover her side job and look at her differently. After speaking with my JII professor, I told her I could use a nickname and omit her last name, but couldn’t change it fully. All went well, and “Rebecca SoAndSo” turned into “Becky.” This semester, I submitted the article to The Oracle, and was told immediately that articles with anonymous sources were rarely published, and I would need to cut her out of the piece. So I altered the piece and it was published- a happy ending for all involved. But looking back, I could have, in theory, manipulated the situation and published my source’s full name and anecdote to satisfy my desire to produce a stronger story. I could have lied to the section editor and told her the source had since changed her mind, and given her the source’s full name. Then I could have reached out to my source before she was contacted for fact-checking, and assured her that her name would not be published. Of course, I would never imagine doing that, because respect for my sources will always trump the quality of my writing clips (which isn’t always the best thing). Though “Becky” was the most interesting part of my article, her anecdote, quotes, and identity needed to go because there was no way I was going to take advantage of her trust.

This situation wasn’t quite a moral dilemma like the blog prompt asks for, because it wasn’t a “decision” for me. I didn’t spend more than a millisecond making the choice I made. But it is something that I could have second-guessed doing, technically. And what would Veronica Guerin have done in my situation? (As if the situations were even remotely comparable...) Because Veronica was led by her moral compass, I think she would have made the same decision I did. I think she would have had the same respect I had for my source that she had for the Irish community and the “working class north Dublin targeted by drug dealers.” It will always be a priority to me to retain my integrity as a journalist, and this is something Veronica and I have in common.

It was interesting, however, to read about the film depictions of Veronica’s career and death, about how she apparently manipulated her sources and exploited her sexuality to further her investigations and findings. These are obviously amoral actions. But it can definitely be argued that Veronica did these things for the “greater good” – the safety of her community. Veronica epitomized the phrase “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” At whatever cost. And in her case, it was her life.

Jenna Harris said...

Several times throughout my career at the Welcome Center, I have had to rely on my moral courage to handle situations.

Since the WC staff is so small we all tend to become quite close and tight knit. However, as Student Manager I am required to report to my boss about any situations or concerns that happen at the WC since we are not directly overseen while on the job. We are practically left to our own devices and expected/trusted to do the necessary requirements of our job. There have been several times that my coworkers have misbehaved in various ways such as having friends hang out at the WC, not changing into appropriate uniforms, not checking voice mails etc. I had to use my moral courage in order to handle these situations with my coworkers and ultimately friends. I first address the person individually and remind them of what they should be doing, because I used to feel awkward or wrong "snitching" to my boss. However, through my personal development and understanding of my position, I have come to realize that the repetition of these rule breaking situations need to be told to my supervisor. Without giving her this information, it is hard for her to judge the progress of the WC and how to better train employees. I believe these such situations have required to rely on my moral courage of what I believe is right and what is wrong to direct my behaviors in the right place.

Caterina De Gaetano said...

A time I was morally courageous was during my sophomore year at my junior college. I was on the newspaper at dutchess community college at the time and and was very new to writing, let alone writing news. I was excited to get a story and one big one seemed to find me. At the same time, I was on the e board of a new honors club, one that required money for entrance. The club promised certain features with the fee, such as conferences, awards and fancy dinners with professional people. It was brought to the newspaper staff's attention that the society was a scam. The fees it turned out were guaranteed nothing but money in the organization's pockets. My editor wanted me to pursue the story being I had an in already. I know ethically, this was unsound but I knew little of that back then. I did some research and sure enough, found that a school accused the society of the same thing. I wrote the story and as soon as it was published, administration ordered it be pulled because there wasn't,substantial info. Not too long after, students who had paid for this society had their money given back to them. Although a heck of a lot of drama was caused, my article saved students from some financial and collegiate the disappointment. Although I was thrilled to get such a lead, my priorities were the students.
In my situation, I think Veronica Guerin would have definitely followed through to the end of the story no matter what the consequences. I mean the woman died because she exposed what was morally wrong and because of her courage, the drug gang was arrested and convicted. Unfortunately, the price she paid for that was her life. Me, I just paid in embarrassment, but the effects were positive for students involved in a potential money making agenda.

Maria Pianelli said...

Last summer, I worked full time as a deli clerk at a well-known supermarket. My job was a bit of a horror story, often because of the ethical dilemmas I found myself in.

Early on in my "cold cold cutting" career, I found myself in a delicate situation with a co-worker. This woman, who I'll call "Sally" was a forty-year-old woman who had the habit of coming into work piss drunk. She would be so terrible that she'd forget to put on her uniform, her eyes would be glazed over, and everything that came out of her mouth was slurred. Sally would often try to pick fights with other co-workers and was inefficient at serving customers. Since Sally was often on oven duty, responsible for frying our fresh chickens, she was also a hazard to herself. At first, I tried to turn a blind eye to Sally's shenanigans and mind my own business, but after a while, I realized that Sally's behavior was not only harming herself, but the name of our company and the credibility of its workers. I had to employ moral courage to talk to my assistant manager about the situation so she could deal with Sally's behavior in the appropriate manner.

A few weeks later, I found myself in another sticky situation. While cleaning out the display case with my supervisor, I noticed that a bunch of the meats we had out were repulsively out of date; it was currently August and many of those meats expired in March. I alerted my supervisor of my discovery and she went to our manager. My manager was horrified- but not at the condition of the food. Instead, she was angered over the idea of wasting food and losing money. Her solution was to place these expired foods on immediate sale and force them upon our customers using false advertising. If that wasn't bad enough, she further instructed us to sell these spoiled goods in place of the foods the customers actually ordered, as to get rid of them sooner. Needless to say, I was absolutely appalled by these instructions, as were several other coworkers. Although my manager gave me strict others, I continuously defied her, selling fresh goods instead, even when the nasty ones were ordered. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble for that decision, but I was proud of myself for sticking to my moral compass.

I think Veronica Guerin would have chosen the same initial actions as me. In fact, I think she would have likely gone above and beyond to investigate these matters and make sure they didn't happen again. In the case of the spoiled meats, I feel like she would have written a story exposing this practice.

Courtney Moore said...

For me, I think that working at a certain retail store (2011-2012) forced me on several occasions to test my morals. One of my biggest struggles was selling credit cards for the store I worked for. Being that the economy is where it is, people are not looking for more debt. They just want to pay in cash. In a few cases when people did want to open a credit card with the store, they weren't approved. Because it's in a public setting, they were sometimes really embarrassed. And even worse, they don't even get a percentage off for trying. So they wasted time, got embarrassed, and still had to pay full price. This is a moral problem for me because I don't believe that stores should force credit cards and debt on people. But because I worked for the store, I had to abide by their rules and ask every customer. It was extremely frustrating for me. Sometimes, I wouldn't even ask people. I did just enough to make my weekly quota.
I think that Veronica Guerin is much braver than I am. She was dedicated to her story and ignored death threats in order to make a change. Unfortunately, she was murdered, but yet her death was not in vain. Veronica Guerin, in my situation would most likely quit my job. If she didn't believe in the company policy, most likely she would act on it. Either demand a change or move on.
Moreover, I think that Veronica Guerin did not let other people's priorities (being selling drugs) get in the way of what she thought was right. She deserves applause because I'm not sure if I would pursue a story that was causing death threats.

gracen said...

By Veronica Guerin's definition, I don't think there are any striking instances in my life where I have displayed moral courage. The only example I can think if is when I worked as a cashier. After every shift on the register, the money was counted by the managers to make sure nobody is stealing. A month or two into my job, and I noticed my coworker was pocketing cash from his register and blaming it on the other cashier who came on after him. The second cashier was about to lose his job, before I alerted my manager. I think that this displays a tiny bit of moral courage, at least.
I think that Veronica Guerin would have acted the same way--she stuck to her principles and did what she thought was right, and I think she would agree with me in this instance.

Jennifer McGreevey said...

When I was in high school, I worked in a pizzeria. The pay wasn't much but I liked serving people I knew from my town and the people I worked with. One night my boss overpaid me by $30. I decided I had to tell him and give it back, because otherwise I wouldn't even feel right about spending it. While a situation like this is far from the morally courageous or perhaps dubious actions Veronica Guerin took, I think she might have acted in the same way. Guerin was unstoppable in her pursuit of criminals and wanted to bring justice to a situation she saw as being incredibly unjust. While her actions might have been questionable in that she was putting both her and her family in danger by stepping out on the mean streets of Dublin in search of the most horrifying story, what is it that journalism does if it does not endlessly search for the truth? I think I myself might have taken different actions, but I imagine her courage, belief in herself and her cause, and moral foundations.

Sheryl Katz said...

Firstly, I do not think many people’s moral courage amounts to Veronica Guerin’s. Although she was criticized in how she did what she considered to be her job, she went on and took the responsibility of fulfilling what she considered to be her duty. I have been a counselor at one day camp since it was legal for me to work there. I have had many encounters with different staff members, but one that sticks out occurred two summers ago. There were two other females working with me to oversee a group of about 20 seven-year-olds. One was the Group Leader, while the other girl and I were regular counselors. The other regular counselor had also been working for the camp for many years, but was a year younger than me. She was always yelling at the kids and making fun of them in their presence. She would sit around and do nothing or wander off to find a friend to talk to while the Group Leader and I engaged the kids in group activities and games. This type of thing happened every day. The Group Leader didn’t seem to care because she knew the regular counselor had been there longer than she and did not feel comfortable intruding on a returning employee’s responsibilities, even though that was part of her job. I, seeing the other two of us putting forth all of the effort, sat down with one of the supervisor’s, who also likes this regular counselor from knowing her for years, and expressed my concern. The children were being negatively affected by one employee’s attitude and behavior and I didn’t believe this was right.

Audrey Brand said...

In the spring of my Junior year in college, at the end of the semester, I was hugely surprised to find that I'd failed one of my courses. I was panicking and contacting the professor and discovered that if I had adequate proof, I could receive an Incomplete grade and remedy the situation in the fall. My mother suggested that I fabricate a story about a family member being ill and needing to be home for a time, but I decided to be honest and to just explain to the professor a list of less significant reasons that came together to explain why I wasn't able to complete the course requirements. As it turns out, the professor was very understanding of my story and accepted it as a valid application for an Incomplete. This taught me a valuable lesson about moral courage - that becoming an adult means making decisions for myself and knowing myself well enough to understand my own beliefs and to be prepared to accept possible consequences for them. I chose to ignore my mother's ill advice and to act in favor of honesty and it turned out for the better anyways. I think that Veronica Guerin may have chosen to lie in my situation, and it still would have gotten the same result, I think, just with more guilt about lying. The policy to do whatever it takes for the desired outcome is sometimes a difficult one to adhere to, but it seems to be Guerin's approach. In more high pressure situations, I may be forced to make difficult choices, and while I may try very hard to act with moral courage and virtue, I may succumb to a greater need and find that I will have to sacrifice morality for a desired outcome.

Leeanne Carroll said...

I never felt like I had to deal with many situations that required me to use moral courage to make decisions until this past year. Being president of a sorority, there are many situations that come up that I have to deal with and make decisions for our organization. It takes a lot of moral courage since the people in my sorority are my best friends, and I have to separate my personal friendships from what is best for our organization when making decisions.
When I worked in a pharmacy at high school, I had to use moral courage when situations came up about employees stealing. I knew that it was going on and it was right after I started working. I did not want to be a tattletale and wanted to get along with the people I worked with, but I knew my boss had no idea what was going on. It took me a while to finally say something but after a few weeks I got up the courage to tell my boss, because it was happening every time I work.
I think I used moral courage in this situation and acted in a courageous way because as a new employee you are still trying to find our place, but I knew what was going on was wrong.
I think that in that situation Veronica Guerin would have done the same thing. If she was willing to risk her life for what was right, I believe she would have done the same thing in that situation and had the courage to speak up, probably sooner then I did.

Kalina Teller said...

The only important moral issues I have had to face in a work-place situation was last summer at my internship. I worked at a whole sale luxury showroom in SoHo. It was a small company, very family-style. The boss, a 40-something year old Iraeli man with daughters my age, took a special liking to me. He always favored me over other interns and was very inappropriate. He would make me run personal errands for him and be waiting for me at certain locations. He would request me to do his own personal tasks so that we could spend more time today and call and text me on weekends when I was not even working. I believe that other girls in the company began to notice and one of them, a former intern who was one year older than me, would make jealous remarks to me about the situation. I knew if I did anything I could lose my job and great connections I had created at the company.
I chose to do nothing about it, just stick it out until the internship ended.I feel like Veronica Guerin would have went with her moral compass and investigated the situation, especially feeling like it had happened to previous interns in the company.

ChelseaEdson said...

I was recently in a thrift store where a woman in line was yelling at her child who was misbehaving saying things such as “ I can’t wait until we get home so I can beat you.” As I stood in line, surrounded by other woman who were older than me by at least 20 years, I was shocked no one said a word. I contemplated whether or not I should say something for a few minutes, by thinking was “ if I say something, it might just make the mom more mad, making it worse for the kid when he gets home” or “ it’s not really going to change anything.” Then I thought, at least the kid will hear me standing up for him and know that this is not the way it has to be. Therefore, I turned to the woman and said “ I don’t think its appropriate to talk to children that way and for that matter I don’t think the action you’re threatening is either. Following that I was so nervous I left what ever it was I was purchasing and walked out. That took a lot of confidence and moral courage for me to do, and considering the type of woman Veronica Guerin was she probably would’ve done the same thing and without has much hesitation as I did.

Montana Wilson said...

There was only once occurrence in my life where I had to use moral courage for an awkward situation. I work at a tennis club, Dutchess Racquet Club in Poughkeepsie, teaching lessons to people of all ages. I started instructing this new group of 2 newly wed couples in their late 20's. At first they were so fun to teach, especially the men in the group, because they just fooled around and made everyone laugh. However, those fun times came to an end when one of them started to sexually harass me during the lesson, when his wife wasnt present. He would make sexual remarks to me that I felt were very inappropriate. There were many other acts of this that came my way from this man, taking this to a whole bigger level to the point where I had to use moral courage and tell my boss what was going on. It was very embaressing to me, and it made me very nervous the possible consequences. You just never know these days. The couple was asked to leave the club. and thankfully they never came back, and the man left me alone. his wife even apologized, and were divorced that next month. I felt terrible with the whole given situation, with all the follow up consequences, for not only me but everyone else as well. Even though I was scared the throughout this whole fiasco, moral courage stepped up to the plate, and I feel Veronica in my position would have done the same thing, and would have stepped up and got the matter taken care of so she could feel comfortable in her work environment.

Naomi Scher said...

The last time I can recall being placed in a trying situation that called upon my moral stamina with regards to an academic institution was in my senior year of high school. This is a particularly silly story, and it relies on a lot of prior knowledge of my high school's rules and policies, but I will try to relate it here as fully and clearly as possible:
It was 5th period, my lunch break, and I was sitting with my friend Nadine in a stairwell and sharing some snacks. The school had recently implemented a policy that required students to be in the cafeteria during their lunch breaks, but I knew that this rule was not strictly enforced as long as you kept quiet and stayed out of the hallways where a school officer might find you. Anyways, on this day, Nadine had a small container of peanut butter and for some reason had decided to use her finger to draw a triangle in peanut butter on the wall. Just before the bell rang, a school officer happened to walk by and asked us to show him our class schedules. Even if we weren't in the school cafeteria, he couldn't bring us to the dean's office unless we were cutting class. Disappointed by our production of temporally valid schedules, he delighted upon noticing the peanut butter triangle on the wall. He immediately paged the office to inform them that he had discovered a case of "graffiti" in action and demanded that we follow him to the dean. Once we were in the office, one of the deans who I was not familiar with started screaming her head off and threatening Nadine with suspension, which was the consequence for graffiti — for somer reason, all forms of graffiti were assumed to be acts of gang violence at my school. This dean threatened to check what we knew was non-existent "camera footage" if she did not confess to her crime. Nadine started out by aggressively defending herself but quickly was reduced to tears. I sat in a rare moment of silence, because I was more concerned with missing my 6th period statistics class than anything else. Finally, when the dean stopped interrogating Nadine, she turned on me and asked me if I had done "the graffiti." I replied no, but did not implicate that Nadine had done it. The dean demanded I confirm that Nadine had executed the peanut butter triangle, or face suspension myself. For as long as I can remember (and this holds true today), I have had a strict no-tattling policy, especially when it comes to friends. I tried to formulate a lie to protect my friend, but I knew such an effort would be futile since Nadine's peanut butter container was found at the scene. I remember my heart racing and my voice shaking as I asserted myself and said the only thing I felt was sensible in the situation. "What is this, kindergarten?" I started to get more worked up and defensive, most likely because of nerves. I started arguing with the dean and the school guard, claiming that this was a silly investigation because neither one of us was cutting class and the peanut butter wall art was by no means offensive, threatening, or permanent. I pointed to my friend, who was crying hysterically, and demanded to know why the screaming and threats were necessary.

Naomi Scher said...

I was definitely using a much angrier tone of voice than would normally be appropriate for speaking to a dean. Luckily, the head dean of the school walked into the office as I was arguing with the subordinate dean. He also was my government and economics teacher. I wasn't one of his obvious favorite students, but I did well in his class. I was embarrassed to be seen in his office. What was lucky about this situation, was that he seemed to have a soft spot for students who seemed reasonably academically adept, but who defied school authority with minor infractions to the rules and were defensive while being prosecuted. Nadine and I got off with light detention sentences for being outside of the cafeteria during lunch time. We were always released from detention early. After that day, the head dean gave me the nickname "Fighter," because he was one of those crazy adults who thought kids like when their teacher's give them nicknames. In the short time I had left in high school, I got away with a few minor things that I probably wouldn't have if I wasn't defending my friend that day in the office. This particularly situation has left me a bit morally confused.Technically, we were not following the school rules and my friend had done something idiotic. But I felt like I did the right thing by not throwing my friend under the bus. Somehow, by behaving aggressively (which is almost ever okay in academic situations), I had lessened our sentences and gained the favoritism of a school official and teacher. This enabled me to get away with doing certain unethical things later on, like riding the school elevator or being late. Sometimes I wonder if I managed any of this because I'm a girl. I don't want to believe that my gender had an impact on the situation's outcome, but after reading Veronica Guerin's story, I believe it was a factor. Guerin used her gender to cross boundaries she otherwise wouldn't have been able to in order to get her stories. After her death, this aspect of her journalistic technique was glamorized for entertainment purposes. There was probably something the head dean found entertaining about female student arguing with a dean and a security officer, which may have reduced the gravity of the situation in his eyes.

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.