Posted on 03/12/2013 at 01:01 PM by Global Reach

Robert J. Sternberg, in an article of Educational Leadership, March 2011 wrote about the importance of teaching ethics in our schools.  He stated, “Many of the problems facing us in schools and in the world at large are not caused by lack of knowledge.”  He referred to the investigations into the mortgage crisis and the scandals of major corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and more where the problem was not ignorance, but ethics.  The question Sternberg posed then was “Can we as educators justify producing smart and knowledgeable students who have not learned to think and act ethically?”

      This is tied directly to the critical thinking skills of students as well.  We need to teach students how to reason about ethical situations and then follow their reasoning with action.  This skill can be taught in almost every content area within the school.  Teachers need to be aware of some specific steps which would help them teach ethics to students of every grade level:
1.    Recognize that there is an event to which to react.  Help students to recognize when there is something happening that they need to respond to such as bullying, professional practice, or confidential or financial integrity being violated.
2.    Define the event as having an ethical dimension.  Sometimes students are not clear about whether a situation is really an ethical issue that needs to be addressed.
3.    Decide that the ethical dimension is significant.  At what point does behavior go over the line past which one should do something?  We need to help students understand how one seemingly small infraction, deceit or abuse can lead to many more serious situations.
4.    Take personal responsibility for generating an ethical solution.  This is an area that may at time be unclear to students as they are learning about the ethical decisions they may be called upon to make.  Is this my responsibility?  Maybe someone else will take care of it if something were really wrong.
5.    Figure out what abstract ethical rule(s) might apply to the problem.  Students may need to learn what constitutes unethical behavior in unfamiliar situations.  They may struggle with determining what ethical rule applies.
6.    Decide how these abstract ethical rules apply to the problem so that they suggest a concrete solution.  It is difficult for students to make the leap and translate abstract principles into concrete behavior.  There may be many options given a specific situation so they will need to be able to determine which is best.
7.    Prepare for possible repercussions of having acted in what one considers an ethical manner.  Understanding that there may be a cost in making ethical choices is evident, but recognizing the intrinsic value will also be important to address.
8.    Enact the ethical solution.  Carrying out a solution is a key part of behaving ethically – yet it can be the hardest thing to do.

“Ethical prowess is not an inherent characteristic, but something we can develop in virtually all children. Although people may differ in their moral reasoning and development, we can teach children as well as adults to enhance their ethical reasoning and behavior by teaching them about the challenges of thinking and acting ethically.” (Sternberg, EL, March 2011)

What lessons/units within my content areas would naturally lend themselves to addressing a real-world ethical situation I could have my students' address?

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