Case study: Ethics coordinator

Why I volunteer

by David Williams

I’m the Ethics Coordinator at the local primary school.  I liaise with the school Principal and our volunteer Ethics Teachers to help deliver the Primary Ethics classes to 135 students.

This morning, I’ve popped into the Year 6 class to pick up some forms that the kids have returned and to have a quick chat with our Ethics Teacher.  The students’ conversation has just started, so I sit off to one side (outside of their circle) so as not to interrupt.

They’re generally a pretty well-behaved bunch, but the mood is distinctly different this morning.  There is a quiet attentiveness.  They are discussing homelessness – an uncomfortable topic for many adults let alone Year 6 kids.

It’s a subject that is unlikely to feature on the radar of most local families in our “reasonably well-off” area.  It’s clear that a few of the students have quite well-informed opinions on the subject, whilst the more naive remarks from others expose what a foreign topic it can be for some.

The variety of comments and perspectives prompt me to wonder how much I would have known about homelessness when I was 11 or 12 years old – basically nothing is my conclusion.  I’m not sure whether it was a taboo subject or just something that I wasn’t exposed to. Either way, I can’t imagine the complexities of this sort of subject being discussed in a school environment back in my day.

One of the boys suggests it’s because they don’t have the money for a house.  Another contends that it could be because they can’t get a job.  One of the girls who rarely speaks up thinks that being homeless could be a better situation than being forced to stay in an abusive home environment.

My intention was to stay for only 3 or 4 minutes, but I can’t leave. There is deep learning happening here.  There is a maturity being displayed that could seem beyond kids of this age.  The subject matter almost demands it.

The learning is happening through the exchange of opinions of the peer group; facilitated by an adult, but not being imposed on by an adult.

When the discussion zeroes in on children who are homeless and whether they would be able to go to school, have friends over to play or have money for after school activities, there is a palpable change to the engagement of the class.  I see a gulp or two, averting of eyes and a sense of “what if that was me?”.

The suddenness of the school bell immediately breaks the discussion and accompanying introspection.  The Ethics Teacher reminds the kids to think about homelessness through the week in readiness to develop the conversation further next week.

As the kids scurry off to resume their regular Friday activities, I am left in the room with the teacher.  All I can say is, “Wow!”.

I wonder if today, perhaps in an unintended way, I have learned just as much as the kids have?

First published Open Drum, 26 Feb 2015