In New South Wales public schools there is a period of time set aside each week for teaching ethics or scripture. Since legislative changes in 2010, families are able to choose for their child to go to ethics classes as an alternative to spending that time in supervised care or scripture classes.
What is philosophical ethics?
Ethical questions are questions about what we ought to do and how we ought to live. Secular ethics explores these fundamental questions by means of reasoned argument about values and principles, rather than an appeal to religion or cultural norms. This secular approach has a long history, reaching back to Socrates and Aristotle in ancient Greece, and is sometimes described as ‘philosophical ethics’.
Whose ethics and values are we teaching?
Primary Ethics’ classes support children to develop their moral reasoning capabilities. The focus is on skills development rather than the promotion of any particular view.
The focus is for children to develop the skills to identify ethical issues, a willingness to engage in respectful discussion with their families and friends about those issues and the ability to think widely and critically in exploring reasons and developing arguments.
Students are encouraged and supported to make their own judgments about whether something is right or wrong, good or bad, and to explain why, using evidence and reason. All Primary Ethics classes are based on this approach, as distinct from a blind appeal to authority or moral relativist approaches.
Our teachers are trained not to teach the students their own personal ethics and values.
Are children capable of ethical thinking and reasoning?
Research shows that children are capable of thinking and reasoning about ethical issues from an early age. It has been demonstrated that children as young as three can make judgments about what is right and wrong and even explain why. Introducing critical thinking and moral reasoning skills from a young age is particularly beneficial.
The United States Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues recommends ethics education from an early age, stating that ethics education is foundational to decision-making on complex ethical issues in democratic societies. The report singled out and commended the Primary Ethics program for its approach to intergenerational ethical literacy.
What teaching methods are used by Primary Ethics?
Primary Ethics’ educational approach combines two key evidence-based teaching elements.
- The first is the explicit teaching of critical thinking (or logical reasoning) skills, together with the opportunity to apply those skills to everyday topics.
- The second is a community of inquiry approach supported by teacher questioning, which underlies our curriculum and our teacher training.
In our program we not only teach explicitly for critical thinking but also invite students to apply their critical thinking skills to an examination of relevant ethical questions. With the support of logically structured lesson materials and skilled teacher questioning, we encourage students to investigate and apply the ethical principles and values involved in ethical decision-making. A significant body of research shows that such an approach leads to improvement not only in general reasoning skills, but also in ethical reasoning capabilities.
How can ethics classes benefit my child?
Ethics classes aim to support each child to develop a life-long capacity for critical thinking and moral reasoning. Other benefits can include gains in confidence, concentration/focus and social behaviours.
In addition, research demonstrates that there are flow-on effects from the style of education employed in ethics classes. These include significant improvements on students’ performance in mathematics, reading comprehension and writing tests.