Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ethical Education

The final of the Five Minds for the Future that Howard Gardner writes about is the ethical mind which is the fulfillment of one's responsibility as a worker and a citizen.  For most of the chapter on the ethical mind, Gardner writes about "good work", work that is excellent, ethical and engaging.  This brings me back to my previous post Respect, Motivate, Achieve, as it seems that work that is ethical is respectful and takes account of the implications for the community or even the world;  work that is engaging is meaningful, challenging and motivating; and doing work that is excellent in quality is an achievement to be proud of.  Education therefore needs to prepare students for a life of good work.

Perhaps one of the problems of trying to educate for ethical behaviour is that of agreeing what this behaviour looks like.  Gardner mentions the following qualities:  truthfulness, loyalty and fairness.  The IB aims to create a better world through education and mentions other qualities, in particular respect and inter-cultural understanding:
The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
The IB learner profile also mentions that IB learners (all of us in the IB World Schools) should strive to be principled and caring.

Respecting others should lead to ethical behaviour.  Respect is all to do with how someone thinks and acts towards others, but ethics goes one step further and involves how people should behave as world citizens.  It involves going "beyond the personal point of view to the standpoint of an impartial spectator."  Gardner suggest you ask yourself two questions:  if my mother knew everything that I was doing, what would she think?  and, if the editor of the local newspaper printed it, would I be ashamed or proud?

Should students be learning ethics at school or is the place to learn these the home?  Certainly students spend more time in school and in the company of teachers than they do at home in the company of their families.  Education can therefore play a key role in what Gardner describes as "active citizenship" as teachers act as role models.  Students notice the behaviour and attitudes of their teachers, how they interact with each other and with the students, how they respond to questions, answers and the work of the students and so on.  Therefore education can promote an ethical mind, especially when students understand why they are learning what they are learning and how to use this knowledge constructively to "create a better world".  Community service is an integral part of the IB programmes (known as "action" in the PYP, "community and service" in the MYP and "creativity, action, service" in the DP) so that students come to see that their knowledge is meaningful and that ethical action can create a better world for us all.  Howard Gardner says:
Good work may begin in the bosom of the individual, but ultimately it must extend to the workplace, the nation and the global community.
Photo Credit:  That Way by Justin Baeder

1 comment:

  1. I believe that ethics does have a place in schools. It needs to be taught. I have found that ethics is a really hard concept for young students to grasp. They don't have a well developed world view yet so it is difficult for them to sort out what exactly ethics looks like. It seems that a sense of ethics begins around the age of 10. Students start seeing themselves as part of a larger society and world. They begin to understand that their actions can affect other people and even the wider world. Have you found the same to be true? How can we help younger students understand ethics?