When Hewitt faculty member Chris Han set out to develop Ethics: Dilemmas, Debates, and Justice, she began by considering what she wanted her middle school students to take away from the course.
“As I researched and planned, it became clear to me that students must be given the tools to envision a just society and to think of ways to get there. Instilling critical thinking and logical reasoning skills was paramount, as it is important that young people understand how to navigate a complex world made up of multiple perspectives.”
Inspired by Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? by Harvard professor Michael Sandel, Ethics: Dilemmas, Debates, and Justice is driven by Han’s desire to encourage curiosity in her students and challenge them to pose questions about their own decision-making and about the way others are driven to make choices. Spurred by questions based on both hypothetical and actual situations, fifth and sixth grade students utilize classical philosophies and political theories like those of Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls to guide their critical reasoning as they consider dilemmas in law and justice. “This is a place for Hewitt girls to wonder, think, and debate, to join their curious-minded peers and engage in civil discourse about challenging issues.”
As middle schoolers, Han’s students are already aware of personal, social, and economic biases as well as differing points of view. In class, they practice making strong claims based on deep examinations of the complex layers at play in real and hypothetical situations. Each class meeting begins with a scenario that presents a moral dilemma. Students consider the circumstances and make a case for the best way to handle the dilemma in a loosely structured debate that is timed and evaluated by their classmates. They are then presented with a system of thought that offers new insights and given a new scenario to practice refining their arguments. Relying on what they know about specific ethical philosophies, students employ a variety of reasoning tools to discuss what is just, listening closely to one another as they develop their stances and rebuttals.
Han notes that as future voters, decision-makers, and leaders, middle school students need to learn how to be informed and critical thinkers. “Students want to make informed and morally ethical decisions about what is the right thing to do. It is imperative that they develop a strong sense of ethics and understand that just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean they are the way they should be. Through this course, it is my hope that students feel empowered to create change.”