Bioethics Commission member Col. Nelson Michael was recently interviewed by BioEdge, a bioethics news site, about the Commission’s capstone report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology. Col. Michael discussed lifelong bioethics education, which the Commission supports in its report.
In the interview, Col. Michael said “ethics education is best when it builds on itself over time. Just as we would not expect to develop math skills in an engineer or an accountant by starting with calculus, similarly, we cannot expect to develop ethics literacy unless we build an early foundation starting with the basics.” Col. Michael’s description of ethics as a skill set is supported throughout the Commission’s report, which outlines ways in which ethics can be incorporated at all levels of education.
At the primary school level, educators can help students start to build moral values and positive character traits. This includes developing moral habits such as empathy and honesty, and encouraging students to develop a moral identity, which includes recognition of the importance of moral values to a student’s way of thinking. Though these might seem like difficult topics for young children to comprehend, ethics education initiatives have already shown that children are able to grasp these concepts through age-appropriate learning activities. An ethics program in New South Wales, Australia developed a curriculum to help K-6 students develop skills necessary for ethical decision-making with activities and examples to which children at various stages of development can relate. For example, kindergarten-age students are asked to consider what distinguishes “intentionally” hurting someone from “accidentally” hurting someone, while elementary school students are asked to consider what constitutes fair punishment.