As human beings, we face ethical dilemmas almost every day, whether in our personal or professional lives. Ethical dilemmas can range from small to large, from telling a friend the truth even if it might end the friendship, to recognizing the impact of our actions on climate change.
In this blog, we will look at whether we are equipped to respond to these challenges, and on what basis do we make our decisions.
What is an ethicist?
An ethicist is someone who thinks deeply about matters of right and wrong and how we can choose ethically better courses of action in life. Ethicists come in many forms, such as business ethicists, research ethicists, and bioethicists. However, at the core, ethicists are individuals who care and think deeply about matters of right and wrong. They consider the broader implications of the research we produce, the ethical implications of biomedical research, and human impacts on the environment. The everyday ethicist, as I refer to it, can be found in our homes, streets, and schools. The everyday ethicist is all of us, and we recognize and respond to the ethical issues that arise in our own lives.
One does not need a doctorate in moral philosophy to recognize ethical issues in our lives. Many of us probably have already considered the everydayness of ethics in our own life. However, it is possible to develop better or worse answers to these challenges and questions. We can act unethically in ways that we regret, and hopefully, we learn from those experiences. On the other hand, we can act ethically in ways that promote the good. Although there is no single answer to deciding between those two options, one way to respond is to cultivate our own ethical awareness and develop the skills needed to act ethically.
How can we teach ethics?
Ideally, schools would play a useful role in helping us respond to ethical challenges. Many scholars suggest that ethical awareness is important to start teaching early on in education. We go to school at least in part to prepare us for adulthood. There is a variety of skills - academic, social, personal - that allow us to understand our world and ourselves. However, what we do not receive is training in ethics education. In an era of maxed-out curricula and standardized testing, we do not leave open space for frank and honest discussion about the ethical issues that we face in life.
This lack of attention to ethics has serious implications. In the book Lost in Transition, the Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Christian Smith, a sociologist from the University of Notre Dame, discusses the results of thousands of survey interviews and hundreds of in-person interviews that he conducted with emerging adults - ages 13 to 23 - regarding their understanding of ethics. Two things became clear from these interviews. Firstly, children and adolescents often raise ethical questions in class about the issues they faced in the hallway, their own lives, and the curriculum they are being taught. Secondly, these questions are often sidestepped and avoided in the classroom, and students are not provided with opportunities to develop their ethical awareness and skills.
Ethics education is essential in developing ethical awareness and skills. Ethics education does not have to be a separate course; it can be integrated into various subjects such as science, math, social studies, and English. Teachers can use various pedagogical approaches to encourage students to engage in ethical discussions. For example, teachers can use case studies or role-playing activities to explore ethical issues. Students can also learn about different ethical theories and how they can apply them to real-world situations. Research has shown that such ethics education leads to a positive impact on students’ ethical awareness.
Ethics education can also be taught through extracurricular activities, such as student-led clubs or in groups of students. For example, storytelling can also be a powerful tool for exploring ethical themes and dilemmas. Community service activities can help children learn the importance of helping others and making a positive impact on their community. Debating can be a fun and engaging way to teach children about ethics and encourage critical thinking. Finally, reflection activities can be a powerful tool for helping children develop their ethical reasoning skills.
By engaging children in these types of activities, we can help them develop a strong moral compass and a sense of empathy for others. This will prepare them to make ethical decisions in their daily lives and become responsible, caring members of society.
Tips for parents and educators:
Avci, E. (2017). Learning from experiences to determine quality in ethics education. International Journal of Ethics Education, 2(1), 3-16.
Gülcan, N. Y. (2015). Discussing the importance of teaching ethics in education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 174, 2622-2625.
Peters, R. S. (2015). Ethics and education (routledge revivals). Routledge.