The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘ethics’ as ‘‘the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles’’.
That’s what is now being taught at Camden South Public School, the first school in Macarthur to introduce ethics classes through curriculum body Primary Ethics.
Several other local schools have ethics coordinators, but have not yet started classes.
Each week at public schools, time is set aside for Special Religious Education, which allows pupils to spend time learning about their religion at school.
Pupils whose parents do not sign their children up for religion classes, because they’re particular religion is not offered or they do not identify with any religion, are generally placed in ‘‘non-scripture’’ classes during Special Religious Education times.
Ethics classes offer those parents another option for their children.
‘‘Out ethics classes teach children how to think not what to think,’’ chief executive of Primary Ethics Teresa Russell told the Advertiser.
‘‘Children sit in circle and are taught to understand the process of Socratic thinking, which involves discussing issues with each other.’’
Ms Russell explained that children are guided how to look at moral conundrums and logically work their way through the pros and cons, questioning different aspects of topical scenarios.
‘‘The children can’t make any assertions without giving a reason why they came to that conclusion,’’ Ms Russell said.
‘‘They can’t just say ‘the cow is purple’, they must explain why they think the cow is purple.’’
Camden South Public School principal Glenn Patterson said the classes are all about giving parents more options for their children’s learning.
‘‘It gives parents a choice, that’s what it’s all about,’’ Mr Patterson said.
‘‘When we first floated the idea of ethics classes last year there wasn’t a great interest, but more parents have jumped on board this year.’’
Ms Russell said it was very important to provide another outlet for non-scripture pupils to learn during religion education time.
‘‘The further you are from the city centre, the fewer religious options are available for children,’’ she said.
‘‘More often then not only one or two religions are covered in these schools, and they are usually forms of Christianity — religions like Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism aren’t catered for.
‘‘Ethics classes provide an alternative for those children to still engage in meaningful and stimulating content.’’
More than 80 Camden South pupils attended the first classes last week, which covered kindergarten to year 6, with three volunteer teachers guiding the classes.
One such volunteer is Marbecc Webb, also the ethics coordinator for the school, and she is pleased the classes have been so well received.
She said of her son: ‘‘[I] wanted him to do something meaningful during [Special Religious Education] time each week.’’
Ms Webb said she still needed to recruit three or four more volunteer ethics teachers, who must be willing to leave their own opinions at the door and facilitate discussion with the children from the Primary Ethics curriculum, to meet the rising demand.
For more information on ethics classes, the curriculum and volunteering opportunities visit primaryethics.com.au.
EXAMPLE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
- How do we know if someone is our friend? What makes a good friend?
- What is ’doing the wrong thing’? Should we always tell on people? How can we work it out?
- What are secrets and when it’s OK to share them? Why?
Years 1 and 2:
- How are we different from one another? What would it be like if we were all exactly the same?
- What does ‘disagreeing respectfully’ involve?
- Does being fair mean giving everyone in the group equal share? Or giving more to those who have contributed more to a project?
- What is it to be lazy? Is there anything wrong with being lazy?
- Can we be happy when everyone around us isn’t happy?
- What is it that makes you one and the same person that you were when you were born?
Years 3 and 4:
- Why do we give? When you give, do you expect to receive something in return?
- Is bragging the same as lying and it is ever right to brag or boast?
- What is it to be selfish, and what, if anything, makes it wrong to be selfish?
- 'I didn’t mean to do it!’ What do we mean when we say this?
- How reliable is observation?
- What makes someone beautiful?
- Students think about what counts as cheating and what, if anything, is wrong with cheating?
Years 5 and 6
- Can punishment be fair?
- Is it morally right to eat animals?
- Stealing is illegal. Is it also morally wrong?
- Do we, as individuals and as a society, have a responsibility to help those who are homeless?
- Is it ever fair to treat people (or groups) unequally?
- Are our futures and fates fixed? Does what we do today have any effect on what happens in the future?
- To what extent do we still appeal unquestioningly to authorities in our everyday lives? What are the consequences of thinking and acting for one’s self?
- What’s the difference between harmless and harmful teasing? Is teasing ever OK?
- To what extent should we be tolerant of moral difference?
- Human rights: where do rights come from and how are they justified?
- What might it mean for society if it turned out that even our conscious decisions were determined in advance?