The topic of ethics is an important part of society that we must understand and adapt to. Explore what ethics are and what skills high school students can develop as a result of studying this subject, and learn effective strategies used to teach ethics.

To Kill or Not to Kill?

Is it right to end someone’s life?

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Most people, at first thought, would answer this question no. However, people die by the hand of others on a daily basis. Many who kill would claim that they were doing the right thing. If you immediately responded no to the question, would you change your mind about killing someone if that person had killed your family member or dear friend? In thinking about it from a different perspective, you may or may not consider that there are situations in which killing could be justified or judged as the right thing to do. All opinions and factors involved in killing another is not necessarily easily understood, despite the immediate cringe that arises in many people at the thought of it. There are many different views on whether or not killing a person can be justified. Given that it causes harm to another, however, it violates the ethical principles established in our society.

Behavior that is considered shameful by one person may not be to another.

Defining Ethics

Consider the act of undressing in public. Then consider the act of stealing. Both may be defined as inappropriate behaviors. However, undressing in public deals with general rules established in a particular society, whereas stealing could be considered wrong across many cultures. Although both acts reflect appropriate ways for us to behave, stealing would be considered behavior that harms or violates the needs and rights of others, which is what ethics is about. Ethics are moral principles that determine the standards for human behavior. Even though many ethical standards are similar across societies, there are situations in which ethical views differ. In other words, the rules for right and wrong can be judged differently depending on cultural and even personal beliefs. Due to the diverse opinions and perspectives that ethics involves, it can be a challenging topic to teach to high school students.

Ethics involves determining right from wrong.
Right or wrong

Why Study Ethics in High School?

Given the diversity of what is defined as just or unjust in a society, teaching ethics to high school students is often based on how to determine if situations violate ethical standards and what to do when a violation occurs, rather than swaying student opinions as to what is right or wrong.

Students develop many skills as a result of studying ethics in high school. This study gives students the opportunity to explore and evaluate different opinions and compare them to their own. It promotes critical thought, which is beneficial to practice before making any decision. Critically thinking about situations also can prevent students from blindly following others without considering alternative options.

Teaching ethics provides a way for students to engage in intellectual discussions, improve moral reasoning, and explore the answers to meaningful questions about life.

Sharing personal thoughts or opinions about ethical issues can build confidence in students and teaches them that their beliefs about problems in society are important.

Strategies for Teaching Ethics in High School

There are many strategies for teaching ethics in high school, but some of the most effective include debate, role-playing activities, and reasoning exercises.

Through debate or arguments that reflect opposing views, students can freely address ethical issues. Debating whether or not an act such as abortion, war, or denying a human right violates human rights or harms others allows students to explore and evaluate diverse thoughts about behavior.

Debating social issues is one method used in teaching ethics.

Exploring differing views also can be achieved through role-playing activities, which are activities in which a person acts out a specific role in society. For example, if a class is discussing a crime, one person would represent the victim and one would represent the attacker. Assigning students to a role that represents a particular view on an issue allows an opportunity for them to experience the effects of ethical issues from one perspective over another. This also helps students to understand that what may seem right to one person may be viewed as harmful by another.

Reasoning exercises involve activities that allow individuals to investigate the reasons for a particular behavior. Understanding why we engage in specific behaviors is a necessary part in changing negative behavior and continuing positive behavior. Questions that lead to better reasoning about ethical issues are:

Why would we do that and what consequences may occur?

Would I want this to happen to me?

Is there a way to solve the issue without bringing harm to another?

Is this an act that harms more than helps?

Does this rule interfere with the ability to function?

Questions such as these can help students understand diverse views about sensitive issues and what to do about them. Practicing reasoning also can help a student learn how to appropriately handle moral disagreements with authority.

Lesson Summary

Determining what is right or wrong can be challenging when taking into consideration all the thoughts and beliefs of others. However, teaching ethics, or moral principles, in a way that provides students a platform to reason about ethical decisions is beneficial in promoting critical and moral reasoning, intellectual discussion, and self-confidence. Strategies that successfully teach ethics include debate, role-playing activities, and reasoning exercises.