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Moral lessons in the classroom

The syllabus of Triton College’s PHL103 Ethics class states that the primary goal of the course is to “help you develop your own ethical theories and answers to ethical questions.” Without a doubt, the very cores of who we are involve our personal understandings of the right, the wrong and the gray in life, and the ethics courses that many colleges require students to take can surely facilitate that process of developing our morals.

But is it actually necessary to wait until college to begin the serious contemplation of such a fundamental part of ourselves? And why do we even need a separate class devoted to ethical teachings?

Learning isn’t meant to be compartmentalized. Yet, more often than not, there are times when we isolate the different topics that we study in their own little “compartments” in our brains. This makes it difficult to understand how the knowledge from school can be applied in other settings and, thus, detracts from our educational experience as a whole.

In fact, upon taking a long, hard look at the material covered in our classes, it becomes blatantly apparent that these opportunities to learn of the noble and evil, accepted and condemned, right and wrong–and yes, especially those gray areas–are all around us. They’re in the questions of the human role in engineering and genetically modifying life, as brought up in the biotechnology chapter of AP Biology. They’re in the issues of staying silent about the violation of human rights, as found in the barely-mentioned Armenian Genocide from World History.

But we skim past these moral issues that are so heavily integrated into our studies, treating them as taboo topics when placed in the classroom. Teachers and students alike often only look at the facts presented to them (“Organisms may be cloned through nuclear transplantation.” “Western countries were aware of the Armenian Genocide, but did not do anything to intervene.”) without provoking wholehearted discussion about and questioning of these real problems. And subsequently, we miss out on valuable chances to listen to what our peers have to say, to further establish our own moral compasses and seek understanding.

It’s commendable that we have taken some steps in the right direction, most notably visible through our discussions of literary works in English classes. Such courses are examples of how the exchange of differing views can stimulate greater awareness of the controversial issues–often those that we’ve never previously put much thought into–that are directly connected to our curriculum. It’s all part of a growing process that can even shake our ideas of what the world is like, and we do end up developing our “own ethical theories and answers to ethical questions.”

With an approach geared toward having meaningful conversations, we produce a diverse spectrum of ideas from students who do not mechanically look past the topics that need to be addressed–we take on an active, rather than passive, role in figuring out our values.

By Michelle Chang, Opinion editor


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