Thursday, April 20, 2006

Question On Ethics And Schools

Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article – ‘Call for ethics classes as alternative to religious teaching’ – on a call by the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW for ethics classes to be provided in New South Wales public schools as alternative to the weekly scripture lessons that have been part of the public system for most of its history.

The questions I want to put forward are (i) should ethics classes have a place in the school system, and (ii) how should ethics be taught in schools?

For reference, the St James Ethics Centre’s proposal is available here.


MH said...

As an aside, and to link with another recent post, there is an interesting discussion the public school system in Franklin’s ‘Corrupting The Youth’.

Casey said...

This is an interesting question because children, before a certain age (say 14-ish), don't have the mental acumen to think deeply about the epistemological foundations that support the principles they are taught. When I was young, my father used to say to me, "Whenever you're faced with a difficult decision, just ask yourself, is it the right thing to do, or not?" For a long time, because his ethical guidance was based in ethos (my trust in him) instead of reason, that "advice" worked wonders. There was a self-evidence to most of the decisions I had to make.

So I wonder if it might work to teach students in the way that (say) Martha Nussbaum might recommend: emotions are a critical part of ethics and we should trust how we feel when facing difficult decisions. Most of the time, I think, young students will have no problem letting their conscience be their guide.

After all, it's only as jaded adults that we tend to lose touch with that inner voice, isn't it? Maybe that's why Jesus said "be as little children..." or whatever (didn't he?).

Samuel Douglas said...

The trouble is that the 'inner voice' can sometimes be a mean, selfish or frightened character. Children are not little angels, some of them have an idea of what might be right or wrong, but have no reason to pay attention to this feeling.

Anonymous said...

I wonder who will decide the basis from which ethics is drawn. How simple will it be? What religions will influence those who decide. I imagine that there is any endless number of questions that could be put forward. Religious ethics are loaded with teachings and dogma for their own interest. It seems that modern society is seeking comfort in religion as it cannot keep up to an landslide of problems created by our new found freedoms and advances.