How can we teach ethics? - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

How can we teach ethics?

Written by on February 9, 2015 in Learning, Young People with 0 Comments

images3A positive add-on to the school curriculum are ethics classes, designed to encourage young children to think about ethical issues, those actions and social practices that affect the interests and wellbeing of others.

Despite what many people might think, kids as young as four listen and pay attention to the news, are interested in questions of morality, and research indicates that with the right kind of support, they’re even ready to engage in some form of ethical debate and reasoning.

Dr Sue Knight is the chief evaluator of the Primary Ethics trial in NSW schools and creator of the Primary Ethics curriculum. In her Young Minds 2012 presentation, Knight examines the question of how to teach ethics in schools.

Knight demonstrates how she uses a variety of real-life scenarios, for example, an imagined conversation between three young friends about whether it’s right or wrong to kill dogs for food, to highlight some important discussion points that might arise in a typical ethics class.

These include the different moral values espoused by different cultural groups, the virtue of tolerance, the effect physical circumstances can have on the moral rules of a society, whether morality is relative to culture (hence the term ‘cultural relativism’) and if there’s a culturally independent or objective yardstick upon which to base moral judgments concerning, in particular, harmful actions and social practices.

Knight is surely right when she says, “by engaging children is this sort of ethical enquiry, and supporting them as they discover for themselves the foundations of moral reasoning and how to apply these fundamental moral standards in the consideration of the complex issues they will face in their lives, we can help them strengthen their logical and moral reasoning skills.”

Professor David Seedhouse, a well-known author in health care, ethics and decision-making also joined us at Young Minds 2012 along with some Year 5 & 6 students from Earlwood Public School where they explored the concept of ethical young minds. You can view that presentation here.


Dr Sue Knight is one of our panelists in Love, Compassion & Ethics: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama to be held at Happiness & Its Causes 2015. The panel will also feature Professor Barbara Fredrickson, Professor Paul Gilbert and Charlie Scudamore and is to be moderated by Richard Fidler.

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