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Topic 1: Voting – an ethical issue?
- Should voting be compulsory?
- Does a voter have an obligation to understand a politician’s or party’s policies before casting a vote?
- Should a voter consider the impact of a policy on others, or just on themselves?
- Should uninformed citizens be precluded from voting?
These are tough questions! More than that, these are ethical questions. The way we vote can make people’s lives better, or it can make them worse. And they are questions to which people will offer opposing answers, which makes for an interesting exercise in giving reasons and listening to other perspectives.
This Stage 3 topic begins with a story set close to home. It’s election time for the student representative council. Jen and Zac are both in the running, and it will be up to a class vote to decide who will be selected.
How would you vote? Do you vote for someone because they’re your friend? Because they promise to get lollies back in the canteen? Does it even matter who you vote for, or if you vote at all?
The topic goes on to raise the issues of political competence and compulsory voting in relation to a topic of global importance: the hole in the ozone layer.
When scientists informed the world’s political leaders that the earth’s ozone layer was thinning, the leaders all agreed to ban the CFC gases that were causing it.
Students are invited to consider what might have happened if, instead, governments had put the question of ‘should CFCs be banned’ to a vote.
Choose a question for the whole family to cast a vote on. It could be something like: ‘Should children be able to set their own bedtime?’
Each voter writes yes, no or maybe on a slip of paper and puts it in a cup. Pull them all out and tally up the results.
Then, get a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. Write ‘yes’, ‘no’ and maybe at the top of each.
Together, try to think of as many reasons as possible for each side of the argument. Then ask each other, has anyone changed their mind? Why or why not?
FOR EXTRA FUN – PODCAST
Why can’t children vote? Listen to the debate (and cast your vote!) in this Short and Curly podcast from ABC.
What things count as punishment?
What is the point of punishment?
Is punishment is necessary to deter people from doing the wrong thing?
This topic invites students to think for themselves about the nature and aims of punishment; about why it is that, in our society, we seem unable to do without punishment, and whether there are alternatives to punishment.
This topic aims to:
• Distinguish punishment from other related practices and from natural consequences;
• Help students to think for themselves about the proper aim of punishment and, more particularly, the extent to which this encompasses:
o The protection of society
o Reform of the offender
o Vengeance or retribution;
• Help students to think about why it is that our society needs the practice of punishment and what alternatives to punishment there might be.
We begin this topic by thinking about Gyges (from Book II of Plato’s Republic)
and JK Rowling’s character of Harry Potter. They were both able to make themselves invisible. That meant they could do whatever they liked without being caught or punished. Gyges did some terrible things (including killing the king!) Harry got up to some mischief, but mostly used his invisibility cloak to do good things.
If you had the ring, and could make yourself invisible, so that no one could see that you were there and no one could punish you for anything you did, would you still have a reason to do what is right?
Students are also asked in this topic to consider different scenarios where there is a consequence to a person’s actions, and to discuss which would be classed as punishment. Students are also asked to consider the strengths and weaknesses of different types of punishment, in order to think about how punishment can be made to fit the crime.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION WITH YOUR CHILD:
Ask your child questions about the kinds of ways that children at their school are punished.
• What kind of punishments might the principal give to children who do the wrong thing?
• What about their own class teacher?
• What type of behaviour results in these types of punishment?
• Do you think that a punishment stops the child from reoffending? What makes you say that?
• Do they keep other students from breaking the rules too? How can you tell?
FOR EXTRA FUN – PODCAST:
The ABC Short and Curly team explore these ideas in their podcast The Ethics of Invisibility.
Topic 3: Being vain
‘Mirror, mirror in my hand
Who is the fairest in the land?’
In Grimms’ fairytale ‘Snow White’, the Queen is the epitome of vanity. She is so pre-occupied with her own physical beauty that her happiness entirely depends on it. And in fact, not only must she be beautiful, she must be the most beautiful of all.
In this topic students consider notions of appearance and vanity, and what, if anything, is wrong with being vain. In particular:
- How to draw the line between excessive and reasonable concern for how we appear to others
- How an excessive concern for how we appear to others relates to other aspects of character
- How an excessive concern for how we appear to others can impact on the wellbeing of others as well as of ourselves.
We start by thinking about the extent to which we look different from one another.
In Alice through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty doubts that he’ll recognise Alice if he ever comes across her again, given that the position of her mouth, eyes and nose are so similar to every other person. We’re not sure how Alice would go recognising Humpty among a roomful of eggs!
Students imagine that at a wildlife park we have befriended one kangaroo in a mob. If we were to return to the mob to give our ‘special’ kangaroo one final pat, what features would we use to identify our friend, given the overwhelming similarities between them all?
In lessons 2 and 3, students consider to what extent does caring about your appearance crossover from a healthy interest into vanity? Students discuss scenarios where children their own age demonstrate different degrees of interest in their own appearance or their abilities, and the impact on their friends.
- “No one will look as good as me,” says Hannah, as she puts her new dress on for Ghida’s party.
- Why won’t Jack be friends with anyone who ‘isn’t cool enough’?
- Zac is so excited! He got 80 in his maths test. Jen says, “That test was just stupid. Last term’s test was way harder, and I got 95% for that. Doing well in this test doesn’t mean a thing.”
As these scenarios unfold, at what point do students feel these characters begin to display vanity, and what is the possible impact on themselves and those around them?
Topic 4: The structure of arguments
A philosophical argument is made up of two parts: a claim (or conclusion) backed up by a reason (or premise). This is the type of argument we are looking at in this topic, rather than a general quarrel or disagreement.
This topic gives students the terminology and concepts required to identify an argument, judge whether it is convincing or not and to explain why. The skills learnt in this topic will be put to use when evaluating the arguments that come up in subsequent ethics classes.
Eva: Now you can get Minecraft in virtual reality – that would be so good!
Lucas: No it wouldn’t! I’ve tried some of those virtual reality headsets and they make you really dizzy.
What is Eva’s claim? Does she give a reason? What is Lucas’ claim? Does he give a reason?
Once an argument is identified, students can evaluate, through discussion and sharing of ideas, whether the reasons adequately support the claim.
Sometimes, in everyday life, an argument will have the reason presented first, followed by the claim, while sometimes it’s the other way around. And we often give a shorthand version in which there may be hidden premises, or assumptions that we figure don’t need stating as we assume everyone would know them to be true. It can be important in an argument to unearth and clearly state any hidden premises.
This skill based topic involves considering several scenarios and identifying and evaluating the arguments within. It aims to give students practice in dealing with arguments that arise in everyday life, especially arguments that have broad social significance; to illustrate more clearly the need to seek out unstated premises and underlying assumptions and to demonstrate the importance of distinguishing premises and conclusions.
During the week, take notice of the claims that you and your child might make in conversation. Make a point to ask for and offer reasons. Examine the reasons given. How well do they support the claims? Are there any hidden assumptions that need to be unearthed?