An Ethical Dilemma

Last week in Senior Seminar, the subject of teaching ethics and morals in the classroom became a topic of conversation. This stemmed out of a discussion about teaching students to be “global citizens.” The discussion has been rattling around in my head since then. I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions. I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing you can come to a conclusion about.

There are a couple of things I’m certain of, though. First, a lot of people don’t know how to draw the line between ethics and morals. It doesn’t help that the first two definitions I found on contain the word “moral.”  It’s clear that we need two separate concepts — one that deals with day-to-day social sensitivity and appropriateness in terms of how we deal with others, and one that applies to choices we make for ourselves. Maybe it’s time to throw out the words “morals” and “ethics” and create new ones for the sake of specificity.

In terms of what we’ve been calling “ethics,” I associate a few concepts that I don’t consider morals. For example, your rights end where someone else begins, and just because you decide something is right for you, it doesn’t give you the right to decide that other people should have to do it your way, too. The decisions you make for yourself, however, are what I think of as morals — doing what you think is “right” . You can, for example, decide that abortion or gun ownership is not for you, yet accept that someone else’s decision in these areas do nothing to affect you personally.

I am not asking for a war about guns or abortion. What I am saying is that people on both sides of the political spectrum have that one Really Big Issue that they just can’t let go of, and a little tolerance and minding of one’s own business would go a long way. That  is a kind of lesson that I believe we can pass along in terms of ethics and dealing with people from other cultures, or even people from our own culture who are different from ourselves.

Some of my classmates were saying that it’s impossible to teach ethics in the classroom. Being a disciple of Roddenberry, I can’t help but ask what’s so hard about it. Gene did it every week through the television, and the message that we should all accept each other’s differences resonated with the audience. Because of this, Star Trek has endured for almost fifty years. Within the classroom context, we have a chance to more directly pass this same message on. Too the question of “Whose ethics do we teach,” I answer, “Everybody’s.” We can’t teach people what, specifically, to think, but we can give them the tools they need to question what they see, hear, and believe, and figure out where that fits within this world citizenship.


~ by Shanna Gilkeson on March 25, 2013.

One Response to “An Ethical Dilemma”

  1. I definitely think that the possibilities of teaching ethics are far more numerous than the possibilities of teaching morals — if that makes sense? What I mean to say is that ethics would be easier to teach, more logical to teach, and more sensible to teach. Teaching morals would be opening the HUGEST can of worms and that would be the one where we ask “whose” are we going to teach. All in all, though, I think the world could benefit from future generations on a whole getting a good life lesson on what it means to be a decent human being. The needs of the many…

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