Religious conservatives often complain that the public schools in America are values-free, and does not instruct students in personal responsibility or moral conduct. Of course, they would like the opportunity to squeeze religious indoctrination into the curriculum, but I think it would be worthwhile to provide instruction in moral reasoning that introduces basic concepts and the major ethical systems.

My thought is that the class should be presented a moral dilemma (more realistic than the subject of the ‘A tough decision?’ folder.) The class should have a discussion, and then should hear (or read) answers from different ethical perspectives. They should learn the characteristics of moral reasoning from the perspective of a utilitarian, a rationalist, a pragmatist, or from religious or humanistic values. The discussion questions should of course be age appropriate.

Any thoughts? Any suggestions for moral dilemmas that would bring out the differences between the different lines of moral reasoning?

Tags: ethics

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I think that the lessons should also be age-appropriate and practical. They should address issues kids will actually face, like cheating in sports. And when an issue is multi-sided, the different sides should be presented.

Part of the idea, too, is to counterbalance home influence. How many times have you seen a kid ask why something is bad, and have a parent answer "because I say so"?
I hope not, because the ethical instruction they are likely to receive from peer pressure is unlikely to be reflective. When I was in high school in 1962 – 1966, every boy learned the responsibility to ridicule as “queer” or a “faggot” any vulnerable target. At least there was no overt racism at my high school. There was one Black, a very bright and cultured exchange student from Africa. We were beginning to question the morality of American foreign policy, but very few of my friends took part in the demonstration against napalm shipments from the Port of Redwood City. None of us had given particular thought to the uses and limitations of civil disobedience.

All of my classmates and I went off to college completely ignorant of the characteristics of moral reasoning. If anything, we equated being moral with rage. At least there were no street gangs and none of my classmates were ever busted for violent crimes (although there were three suicides.)

And what if they are, at that age, forming ethical convictions outside of class. If those convictions are firm, it cannot hurt to challenge them.
Acceptance of homosexuality and recognition of their civil rights has been a landmark transformation of attitude nationally and worldwide. When I was in college, one of my friends was Jim Tarjan. I remember reading at the time that his father was forced from the presidency of one of the APAs for his opposition to delisting homosexuality as a mental disease. A lengthy ethical education has not yet fully erased the ethical prejudice that afflicted nation when I was in high school, as demonstrated by the passage of Prop 8.

Admittedly, it is unlikely that anyone would have thought in the early 1960s to make tolerance for homosexuality the topic of an ethics lesson in a public high school. But today I think we should.

There is a widespread recognition that we are paying a high cost by leaving the moral instruction of the next generation to the street. Among our most grievous cultural malignancies is a youth culture that glorifies violence and belligerence. After years of decline I understand that unmarried teen pregnancy has again gone up, but one indicator of inadequate responsibility for personal conduct. And even from the best schools we learn of teen girls who set out on online campaigns to destroy the reputation of a classmate, and drive her to suicide.

I recall one night I was driving my 10 year-old daughter and a couple of her friends. I heard my daughter tell them “if my husband ever cheated on me I would kill him.” I was shocked, and wondered if she had learned such lunacy from her peers or from something in the culture. I should have taken her to task on the spot, in front of her friends. To my discredit, I did not mention it to her until years later.

Of course children undergo ethical norming with their peers, but you are wrong to think that there is nothing that we can do about it. Look at the ethical re-wiring that the army achieves with its recruits. Ethical instruction cannot be a cultural cure-all, but, like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.
I have been searching A|N for a discussion about ethics/moral instruction.

Idealistically, it would be good to explicitly improve ethics education in public schools.

Lacking this, does any one know of resources for constructing a set of presentations/discussions that could be taken to schools or offered through some other community venue? I volunteer with a local library and also with a local atheist group. I would like to develop an ethics course.
I shamefully admit that I did not read any other replies to this post before posting my reply; I'll get around to the rest of the replies.

Here's my short response: I once went to one of my professors, who was an Ed.D. I asked him, "Dr. Jones, do you think it would be a good idea for the American education system to somehow incorporate the teaching of ethics and values into regular school curriculum? Do you think that, if this was done and effectively, it would help cut down on the social ills that we as a society are experiencing?"

He didn't even tell me that there would be a shit storm raised about *what kind of values system* (where it originated from), and the fact that perspectives on this are so variable as to cause conflict. We would not be able to settle on which ones and what system to teach.

And also, I think it prudent to point out that some parents are perfectly fine without that type of stuff being taught to their children in school; in fact, outrageously enough, some of them would OPPOSE that type of program.

Dr. Jones said, "The American Education System, at present, is failing to teach the kids BASIC ACADEMIC MATERIAL. When they can't even get the kids to learn basic Math, English, Science, and Art material, then is not the time to try to overload their plates by teaching them moral reasoning, ethical considerations, and values." And I was therefore put into my place.

So, when the ed system can't even get the basics of its job right, it should probably attempt to square itself away there first before moving on to something extra.

:) Besides, that's what church is for, didn't you know?! :)
I think that the plan that I've proposed is about as neutral as possible. It would not advocate any single system, such as Utilitarianism. Rather, it would offer moral problems for discussion, and then analyses from people of diverse ethical views.

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