Subscribe to PrimaryEthics@Home to be notified when the next topics are posted.
Topic 1: A Fair Society
This topic follows a structure that is designed to guide students to think about the big question, ‘What constitutes a fair society?’
The first lesson introduces a stratified fictional society, Liguria, which has two distinct social classes; the comfortable city people and the Outsiders who lack basic needs like food and shelter and for whom life is pretty tough.
Students are invited to consider the degree to which this society could be considered fair.
The next two lessons raise the notions of discrimination (or imposed inequalities) and equal opportunity. These notions are introduced using real life examples.
The final lesson returns to the fictional society, asking students to consider whether it is fair that people are denied opportunities through no fault of their own and if so, whether the fictional government should act to make the society fairer. In addition, students are asked to consider whether a fair society is possible.
At this stage of the topic, after students have had the opportunity to think in a structured way about the notions of fairness and equal opportunity, we return to the questions with which we began, this time looking for more nuanced reasoning, incorporating empathy, and formulating concepts of fairness and applying those concepts, looking at the whole picture, and making judgements about practicalities and strategies. Although the questions in lessons 1 and 4 are the same, it is likely that the students’ responses will be significantly more developed by lesson 4.
You might like to read this scenario and have a discussion with your child, using the following questions as prompts.
Discussion: Real opportunities
Ms Davis, one of the year 5 teachers, is also a talented musician. She likes to do a music activity with her class each day, whether it’s rhythm and percussion, studying musical notes and harmonies, playing the recorder or exercises to help improve their singing voices. None of the other teachers do this with their classes, although they do other interesting things; Mr Fitzpatrick’s class does a lot of digital art and Miss Maria often does science and nature study in the playground before home time.
The principal has decided to put on a musical at the end of the year. There will be auditions next Thursday lunchtime in the hall and anyone can try out. There will be a panel of judges (who are also teachers) and whoever they decide are the best at singing or playing an instrument will be chosen to be part of the cast and orchestra.
- Does every student have an equal opportunity to attend auditions?
- Which students are most likely to do well in the auditions? Is that fair? Why, or why not?
- Is there anything the school could do to make the audition fairer? If so, what?
- Do you think the school should try to make the audition process fairer?
Topic 2: Human Rights: Do other animals have them?
Philosophical ethics is, at least in large part, about human wellbeing. This raises the question of what human beings need in order to live decent lives.
In this topic we consider the important notion of human rights – what they are, where they come from and how they can be justified, and what obligations they impose on governments and citizens. And then we raise the question whether there are human rights that also extend to those animal species closest to us, namely the other great apes. And we ask, ‘If there are, should these rights be protected in law?’
Students consider the idea that humans need to have our basic needs met; to feel relatively safe and secure.
Lesson 1 begins with the story of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee born in a US research facility and raised by scientists. He was the subject of an experiment to determine whether chimps are capable of learning human (sign) language. When the experiment finished, Nim was relegated to a solitary existence in captivity. Of course, if a human were to be treated like this we would condemn the treatment as a violation of fundamental human rights; rights that are enshrined in US law. In response to cases such as Nim’s, in 2008, the Spanish government granted certain human rights to chimpanzees and the other great apes. This tale provides the backdrop for the topic’s big question, viz., Should other governments follow Spain’s lead in granting certain human rights to chimpanzees and other non-human great apes?
Topic 3: Fatalism
This topic invites students to think about the ancient notion of fatalism – the idea that our futures, our fates, are predetermined and that whatever we do, whatever action we take, we cannot change them.
This topic aims to help students to:
- develop an understanding of the notion of fatalism
- question the idea that what we do today has no effect on what happens in the future
- think about how a belief in fatalism might affect the way we act.
It seems a natural human impulse to turn to the idea of fatalism when faced with what appear to be overwhelming difficulties. We may say that what is happening is unavoidable, that there is nothing we can do to prevent it. If we don’t get the job we really wanted, we may say “Oh well. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
The topic starts with a journey back through time to Ancient Greece and the Oracle of Delphi. The Greeks, the Persians too – in fact everyone living around the Mediterranean at this time – had such faith in the Oracle that, for hundreds of years, no important decision was made without consulting her. She uttered advice on where to build cities, which laws to pass and whether to go to war. People queued for months, and paid huge sums of money for a chance to speak with her. Often the prophesies she offered were ambiguous, such as this example:
It offered two very different outcomes, depending on how it was interpreted. One way or another, her prophesy was likely to be correct.
Do you think it is possible to tell the future? Why or why not?
Scenario for discussion
Micha is giving a speech tomorrow on Germany for her geography assessment. She thinks “Well, I’m either going to do a good job or stuff it up. There’s no point going over it. I’ll play Minecraft instead.”
Do you think that Micha has a better chance of doing well if she practises her speech tonight, rather than watching TV? Or won’t it make a difference whatever she does?