KJ Hannah Greenberg

Instructional Communciation

We use communication to design our social environments. Consider that

[t]he children of those who define social reality in technocratic, bureaucratic, and academic terms aspire to a definition of our reality which will escape all institutional constraints. The implicit nihilism of so much student attack on institutions is the natural outcome of the defense of the institutions of the status quo as the only possible [authorities] (MacIntyre, 1971, 11).

The Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement are recent instances of such goings-on. Less recent, but equally dissident, were the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. Students appreciate that instructional communication informs about the constructs undergirding exchanges among instructional institutions, instructors, and students (Berger and Luckmann, 129-130; and Giroux, 8 and 11) and that these conventions illuminate factual knowledge, definitional knowledge, knowledge of principles, and knowledge of behavioral codes since instructors profess scruples directly or indirectly (B. Othanel Smith, 59; and Ravetz, 409-410).

Seeing as our society delineates student and instructor roles, thus, normalizes dissimilarities in the two groups’ language usage, while we might not elect to campaign en masse, we ought to hold instructors accountable for the meaning that they’re making. In view of the fact that instructors are obliged to function, concurrently, as faculty members, as scholars, and as models of “academic professionalism” (Dill, 2-3; and Robertson and Grant, 351), they are respectively expected to: externalize old information, legitimize new information, and engage in these operations while remaining loyal to their employers, their colleagues, their professions, their families, themselves, the general public, and “bedrock” integrity (Jensen, 7-12).

Intentionally or not, lecturers lean on their private mores to shape their students. (B. Othanel Smith, 62; and Seiler, Schuelke, and Lieb-Brilhart, 132). Educational theorist, Larry R. Churchill points out that “moral values are taught and cannot fail to be taught in the sense that such values permeate teacher-student relationships and the ethos, methods and objectives of the classroom” (Churchill, 306). Weigh, for example, the recent deluge of antisemitism in Ivy League universities as a case in point.

In classroom communication situations, the participants are of known unequal social status and communication responsibility. [Instructors’] legitimized reality creating power is more weighty and is less often questioned than the legitimized reality creating power of [students.]

Although some students seek access to nontraditional communication roles, unless these alternative roles are eventually legitimized by [instructors] and by other students, these students cannot succeed at changing their roles (Greenberg, 1986, 1-2; and B. Othanel Smith, 81).

More exactly, if professors don’t spew hatred, students might remain unexposed to it or, even if exposed to it outside of the classroom, they might regard dogmatism as wrong since it lacks authorities’ backing. Notably, a “professor at Princeton University, Satyel Larson, announced a class in which students will be taught that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, starves Palestinian children to stunt their growth and maims Palestinians instead of killing them, to increase their suffering” (Sinkinson). In that setup, students are being invited to hate.

Ponder, too, that it’s

impossible to have a class on anti-discrimination where people are forbidden from calling things, e.g., racist. And that means that it’s possible that some arguments you, the students, make[,] or positions you hold[,] may be called racist. That’s not impermissible. We have to allow that. But the second rule is that a claim of racism does not end a conversation, it begins one

…We can have hard, contested conversations about antisemitism. But in order to begin, we must be free to call things antisemitic” (Schraub).

It’s up to teachers  not to spread hostility and to educate students in how to grapple with it. By way of explanation, instructors ought to reinforce veritable freedom of speech and encourage critical thinking.

Sadly, instructors’ abilities to possess and add to the knowledge of their chosen specialties is usually greater than their willingness to be chargeable for classroom discourse (Greenberg 1981a and 198lb, cf). Consequently, much bias, enfolded in instructional communication, goes unchallenged. Instructors’ legitimization of intolerance leads increasingly more students to become bigoted.

Oppositely, a Basic Communication Course teacher might refer to speakers’ relative “honesty”  by discussing the need for orators to credit their sources. Likewise, a Civics teacher might reinforce the necessity of respecting all world denizens rights by elevating traditional student roles, i.e., by clearly describing their pedagogical expectations. Instructors’ legitimization of empowerment invites increasingly more students to become broadminded.

Regardless, many pedagogues are oblivious to their world-shaping power. They seem unaware that their communication has ethical dimensions, they don’t wish to acknowledge any awareness that they might possess, and, if they concede such awareness, they tend to hide their concessions (Greenberg, 1985, 7-8; and Lamont, 104-105). Often, in lieu of holding themselves answerable for their articulated prescriptions, instructors make use of institutional rules of conduct. They pose themselves as “company men and women.”

More ideally, they’d

process ethics problems heuristically and in ways that interweave intuitive, affective, and more rational phases. This processing does not typically follow a simple progressive pattern but evidences a sort of trial-and-error processing that is consistent with the logic of heuristic processing more generally. Finally, while diverse, participant-level processing attempts appear to follow patterns which are associated with the experience and training of the actors (Hartmann and McLaughlin).

Unfortunately, instructional institutions, on which the majority of instructors rely on for support of personal ideologies, legitimize society by separating out and reinforcing the ethics of existing sets of circumstances. If schools tolerate partiality, instructors have no compunction to express themselves differently. Even though instructors are charged to teach free thinking, in actuality, they readily limit themselves to organizational realities (Giroux, 5).

An understanding of the connection among students, instructors, and instructional institutions is not dependent upon a “physical state of affairs,” upon actions as motions per say, but upon the intentions behind students’, instructors’, and institutions’ actions. Hopefully, these arrangements can be deconstructed. After all, ethics are being taught at school.


Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor, 1966.

Churchill, Larry R. “The Teaching of Ethics and Moral Values in Teaching: Some Contemporary Confusions.” The Journal of Higher Education. 53.3. 1982, 296-306.

Dill, David D. “The Structure of the Academic Profession: Toward a Definition of Ethical Terms.” American Association for Higher Education Convention. Washington. 18 Apr. 1979.

Giroux, Henry A. “Teacher Education and the Ideology of Social Control,” Journal of Education. 162.1. 1980, 5-27.

Greenberg, Karen Joy. “The Issue of Teaching Ethics in the Introductory Speech Course.” Eastern Communication Association Convention. Atlantic City, May 1986.

_____. “Questioning the Lack of Accounting for the Power of Pedagogical Discourse.” 1985. U. Massachusetts, Amherst.

_____. “Talking to the Walls: A Speech Acts Theory of Higher Education Lecturing.” ms. Pennsylvania State U. 1981a.

____. “The ‘Modern’ University.” ms. Pennsylvania State U. 1981b.

Hartmann, David J. and Olivia McLaughlin. “Heuristic Patterns of Ethical Decision Making.” Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 3.5. 2018, 561–572. Accessed 25 Mar. 2022.

Jensen, J. Vernon. “Ethical Tension Points in Whistleblowing.” Speech Communication Association Convention. Denver, Nov. 1985.

Lamont, Lansing. Campus Shock: A Firsthand Report on College Life Today. E. P. Dutton, 1979.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. Against the Self-Images of the Age: Essays on Ideology and Philosophy. U Notre Dame P, 1971.

Ravetz, Jerome R. Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems. UP, 1971.

Robertson, Emily, and Gerald Grant. “Teaching and Ethics.” The Journal of Higher Education. 53.3. 1982, 345-357.

Seiler, William J., David Schuelke, and Barbara Lieb-Brilhart. Communication for the Contemporary Classroom. Rinehart and Winston, 1984. 

Schraub, David. “No one believes that any criticism of Israel is invariably antisemitic” [sic]. Fathom Journal. Dec. 2023. Accessed 6 Jan. 2024.

Sinkinson, James. “US professors using classrooms to spread antisemitic lies” [sic]. Jewish News Syndicate. 22 Aug. 2023. Accessed 6 Jan. 2024.

Smith, B. Othanel. A Design for a School of Pedagogy. US Dept. of Ed. 1980.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.