By: Dr. Debbie Rhea, 2013
One of the topics I think needs to be included in the public schools from the time a child enters until he/she exits is ethics. Ethics is something that I think is really lacking in our U.S. culture at this point. I talked about ethics and religion in an earlier blog while in Finland so I won’t go into more detail about the differences. As I stated in that blog, religion in the U.S. public schools would not work because of separation of church and state. Ethics would. I define ethics as the rules of human conduct with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions. I feel that our culture has come to a place where if you are wrong, well it’s not as bad as it could be, so let it go. This has happened in our schools repeatedly. It started at least 20 years ago when I was still teaching at the high school level. I remember teachers sending students to the office for breaking rules, but the administrators sending them back to class stating that there were far more critical issues going on and these rules being broken were not critical. We just needed to do a better job of managing our classes. I’ve seen it in police work as well. They will state that they would rather turn their heads for some issues and go after the more critical laws being broken. There is an unhealthy perception around actors/actresses, politicians, athletes who break the law but have less harsh consequences for their actions than the general public. The general public thinks, at times, that if the famous can do it, why can’t they? As a result, our culture has become very muddied about rules and consequences, about respect, about right & wrong, about personal responsibility. We no longer hold ourselves accountable. If someone else doesn’t catch us doing something wrong, then we continue to push the limits.
In our society, children watch athletes, actors/actresses, politicians for what is right and wrong; for the ethics of life. Many believe that these individuals are children’s role models far more than parents or guardians, so when they do something wrong and punishment is minimal, children think it’s ok. Let’s consider some of the individuals who children have placed their trust in and set their actions in motion to be like over the past few years: pro men’s golfer, a past U.S. President, numerous senators/representatives, pro football players, 7 time winner of Tour de France now stripped of his titles. The list goes on and on. It’s time for the pendelum to swing back to a place of intrinsic drive. Do the right thing because it makes us feel better. Children need to know what is right and what is wrong. They need to know that failure is part of the process to succeed. They need to experience failure so that they will get back up and try again. They need to realize that their actions have far reaching consequences. Our children today are a product of what we have trained them to be over the past 20 years. Many of our young adults don’t stay with something if it gets too hard. They try to shortcut the system and want more pay for less work. They break the law through social media outlets because they don’t think about the consequences. The moral compass needs to be strengthened if the majority of our children are going to be better citizens and contribute more to our society as a whole.
If ethics were brought into the schools as a content area, children would develop a stronger sense of what is appropriate in such areas as character, personal responsibility, intrinsic motivation, bullying, cheating, lying, and an area that has really mushroomed, social media. The curriculum will have to be written for this content area, but this is a content area already being taught in Finland and other countries, so we can develop our content from what they have started. We will have to make sure that we teach the topics that reach our kids in our fair and unbiased way. Teaching our children about these issues early on and continuing throughout their adolescent years should create a much more responsible adult who makes much wiser choices based on how they feel intrinsically instead of whether they will get caught or not.