This week I want to spotlight the middle school approach to ethics, in advance of an important conversation being hosted Tuesday evening by Hewitt. Dr. Richard Weissbourd is the faculty director of Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Weissbourd researches child development, parenting and education. His talk is called “Preparing Young People for Caring, Ethical Engagement and Meaningful Achievement in College, Career, and Life.”
This topic is a familiar one to our teachers, who nurture ethics in their students each day. Ann Scott Knight wrote to me last week: “Ethics is the underpinning of everything I do at Hewitt. We are constantly dealing with issues of justice and fairness in advisory, in history class, during lunch discussions, at meetings. Middle schoolers are keenly aware of injustice. But that's not enough. We need to practice thinking ethically and solving moral dilemmas.
“As Aristotle said,” Knight continued, “Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.’”
Why cultivate this habit by studying ethics? Grade 6 history and ethics teacher Chris Han answers that question often. In her view, there are two main reasons: “To be present in our decisions about how we want to live,” and “to recognize the difference between how the world is and how the world could be.” Recently in her 6th grade class on ethics, she introduced a scenario from The Ethicist, posed to the writer Kwame Anthony Appiah by a middle school student. In her class, students were encouraged to give voice to a wide variety of approaches to moral challenges, learning through discussion with one another.
Another history teacher, Joseph Iannacone, structures his lesson plans about early 20th century economics and politics around questions of equity and fairness. Erik Nauman, the energetic designer of our innovation lab, teaches ethics in relationship to the use of materials. As he wrote, to me, “Working on projects in the Innovation Lab we discuss finding ways to 'upcycle' found materials rather that automatically purchasing new materials for everything we make. One nice result of this is that student projects become 'another chapter in the story of materials' and we are encouraged to think about where the material came from and where it will go after we are done with it.”
Middle school arts instructor and sustainability coordinator Alden Baker takes a similar tack when students use art materials. Students use recycled materials to create handmade books. “We want to always reuse art materials,” one student told me, “so they won’t go to waste. It’s the right thing to do.”
Want to learn more about girls, ethics, and leadership before Dr. Weissbourd’s talk? His article “Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership” provides us with powerful reasons to challenge the bias against women leaders.