How to talk about ethical issues in the classroom

“That’s not fair!” “She deliberately hit me.” “He does not follow the rules.”

The problems of good and evil are constantly in the classroom and can be difficult to deal with. Making a classmate is obviously a different kind of “mistake” than breaking a lesson by calling a response, but students should not do so. Not to mention the moral questions that may arise in the study of history, science or literature.

How should we think and talk about such problems with our students?

Studies have shown that people of different cultures, including three-year-old children, make social judgments that can be classified into three “domains” or types of knowledge. This can be another and useful way to think about rules and “right vs. wrong”:

Moral control focuses on things that are inherently right or wrong in terms of their impact on others. Moral issues are mostly about justice and fairness or harm. For example, hitting, stealing, and making vicious mockery are prototypical moral issues.
The conventional domain has to do with social norms, traditions and rules that depend on the context and therefore change. Conventional social rules may include wearing a swimsuit for the school (although it is okay on the beach) or raising one’s hand before speaking. Social conventions create shared expectations and help societies to function without problems. But even small children are of the opinion that conventional violations are less serious than moral violations.
Personal domain includes issues that people believe should not be governed by general moral rules or by society-specific conventions, but should be a personal choice. The issues in this category include things like your friends or the contents of your journal.





Of course, many problems in practice are manifold, with components from more than one domain. For example, in many societies, the legalization of same-sex marriages involves both conventional and moral factors and personal factors.

What happens when two areas, such as morality and convention, seem contradictory? If people prioritize different domains with respect to the same problem, they may find it difficult to agree or even communicate. This is one of the reasons why moral development is important: as students learn to understand and balance the different considerations they have in moral issues, they can make better decisions and work with others to solve problems more fairly and cautiously , ,

How can this framework be used in the classroom to foster social and moral development and resolve conflicts and misconduct? Here are three concrete suggestions.

  1. Respond to violations in the appropriate domain.

If a student violates a moral rule, such as hitting or insulting another student, do not just say, “This violates the rules.” they do), but it is also important to repeat why there are rules for these kinds of things, that is, because they hurt people.

On the other hand, if a student violates a traditional rule, such as not standing in line, do not respond with a moral language (for example, bad, wrong, harmful). Instead, emphasize the rules and order in the classroom by saying, “Remember, we agreed to raise our hands so that our classroom stays calm and organized.”

Studies with third to ninth grade students have shown that students rate teachers more positively when their responses to classroom incidents match the area of ‚Äč‚Äčtransgression. In other words, students may say that something is wrong when a teacher states that it is morally wrong to break a conventional norm or that it is wrong to hurt somebody just because he violates the rules.

2.Integrate the different areas in the curriculum.

Consider the topic that you teach through the lenses of the different areas. For example, students of American history lessons may be asked to reflect on a topic such as women’s suffrage from a moral and conventional perspective. For example, I could speak of fairness and justice if it is fair that a group of people, but not others, have a voice in politics that affects everyone, as well as the changing role of women in daily life, such as the right to vote coincided with the increase in economic and political power of women.

It is easier to imagine incorporating this type of discussion into a topic such as social science, but domain lenses could also be used in many other disciplines such as science and technology, language arts, foreign languages, or even in other areas. Physical education There are some rules in sport, for example to avoid damage or justice while others are common to organize the games and keep all players on the same page.

To support this approach, research shows that careful teaching of the various social domains of academic content helps develop students’ skills for critical moral reflection. In a study done in eighth-grade English and American history classes, teachers have classified everything as moral, treated all topics as conventional, or taken both perspectives into account.

When later evaluated, the students of the convention group did not pay much attention to the moral implications of the situations, while members of the moral group did not consider most of the conventional social effects that are quite possible in real life. Only students in the third group, considering both areas, were able to coordinate their arguments.

3.Encourage students to really look at one another’s perspectives

For example, when dealing with a potentially controversial topic such as colonization, atomic energy, or race at Huckleberry Finn, ask students to formulate not only their own opinions, but also to interact with peers and respond to them in a purposeful and respectful manner another

A better understanding of how other people see the world and why they make the judgments can help students develop their cognitive skills, including the ability to divide arguments into parts and express why they agree or disagree parts. You can also develop your moral vision as you experience how different interpretations of reality influence people’s judgments and how circumstances affect people differently.

A recent study in the classrooms of the Oakland School of Social Studies showed that students were taught how to engage in “transactional discourse,” a kind of discussion in which students argue about others’ arguments (for example). to match or disagree with what the classmate said, he has broadened or qualified his statement: he has improved his ability to think about and integrate morality and convention.

Especially now that our world seems more connected and divided every day, the ability to talk to others about ethical issues is more important than ever. As an educator, it may not be our job to give the students all the answers to good and evil. However, we can ask questions and provide tools that allow students to create their own answers.