In New South Wales public schools there is a timeslot set aside each week for teaching ethics or scripture. Since 2010, families are able to choose for their child to go to ethics classes as an alternative to scripture or to spending that time in ‘meaningful activities’ under supervised care.
What is philosophical ethics?
Ethical questions are questions about what we ought to do and how we ought to live. Secular (non-religious) ethics explores these fundamental questions through reasoned discussion about values and principles, rather than by appealing to religious or cultural norms. This approach is sometimes described as ‘philosophical ethics’.
Whose ethics and values are we teaching?
Primary Ethics classes support children to develop their ethical reasoning capabilities. The focus is on skills development rather than the promotion of any particular view. Our teachers are trained not to teach or air their own personal ethics and values, to maintain neutrality and deliver the scripted lesson which fosters discussion between the children.
The focus is for children to develop the skill to identify ethical issues, engage in respectful discussion with others about those issues and the ability to think widely and critically in developing their own assessments and exploring reasons for their opinions.
How can ethics classes benefit my child?
Ethics classes aim to support each child to develop a lifelong capacity for critical thinking and ethical reasoning. Other benefits can include gains in confidence, concentration/focus and social behaviours such as careful/respectful listening. Ethics education is foundational to decision-making on complex ethical issues in democratic societies.
Research demonstrates that there are positive flow-on effects from the style of education employed in ethics classes. These include significant improvements in student performance in mathematics, reading comprehension and writing tests.
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 judgements about what is right and wrong and even explain why.
The United States Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues 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 teaching of critical thinking (or logical reasoning) skills, together with the opportunity to apply those skills to everyday topics.
- A community of inquiry approach amongst the children, supported by questions from the teacher, which underlies our curriculum and our teacher training.
In our program we invite students to apply their critical thinking skills to an examination of everyday ethical questions. With the support of logically structured lesson materials and skilled teacher questioning, we encourage students to investigate and apply the principles and values involved in ethical decision-making. A significant body of research shows that such an approach leads to improvement in general reasoning skills as well as in ethical reasoning capabilities.