Forum addresses how to teach ethics in classroom

Maureen Nagg

Eleven members of the University Teaching Council held the 2005 Ethics Forum Friday.

The discussion focused on the ups and downs of teaching ethics.

Philosophy professor Deborah Barnbaum said there are two ways to talk about ethics: a top-down approach where students are given a set of rules and principles and taught to follow them, and a bottom-up approach, where students are given an example, or case study, and apply their own values and ethics to decide which morals and principles are ethical.

Among the professors present, bottom-up was the most common way of teaching ethics.

“A set of rules boxes someone in,” communication studies professor Rozell Duncan said. “But rules and principles evolve when you use a case.”

Using case studies to teach ethics helps students create their own set of values, said Anne Morrison, coordinator of the event and education professor.

The group concluded that even though case studies allow more liberal thinking, students have an underlying set of values already in place.

“We come with our cultural norms before we deal with any case,” said Al Edgell, adjunct political science professor. “We have a background that acts as a set of rules.”

Barnbaum and Morrison agreed a case study allows students to question their beliefs about certain issues.

“My goal isn’t to teach them what is right or wrong,” Barnbaum said. “But I want them to recognize ethics is a lot more complex than it may seem.”

Contact arts and sciences reporter Maureen Nagg at [email protected].