Ethics education can and does take place in universities and colleges – and other organisations, such as businesses. Here is a preliminary attempt at some guidelines for conducting successful ethics education classes at university and college.
- Although lecturers may offer guidance on topics for discussion, they must be willing to examine other options chosen by class members.
- A consensus may emerge, but the lecturers do not force this. In addition, the consensus view of the class is not forced, explicitly or implicitly, on any person, who does not agree.
- Lecturers’ views carry no more authority than the students’ do. Any member of the class is entitled to state why he or she would not respond in such-and-such a way, and other members of the class are entitled to respectfully test the reasoning of classmates and lecturers.
- The mode of discussion is one of mutual respect where pre-agreed rules do not permit mocking, insulting and shouting, and where listening and giving reasons for one’s views are required.
- People are not told what is right or wrong in relation to any ethical issue. Sometimes, telling people how to behave and enforcing good behaviour, are necessary and desirable. However, during ethics education classes, telling would be ineffective because the benefit comes from uncovering for oneself what is required to become more ethical. Consequently, during ethical education classes, a code of ethics is not given or if it is, each ethic is debated afresh.
- No attempt is made to inculcate or internalise any ethics or to indoctrinate. This means that even if the lecturer has strong personal views on any subject, she/he must not try to convince people that her view is the correct/best one.
There are still questions about the practicality of ethics education.
For example, should students be required to pass an examination in ethics education? If they did not, would they take the activity seriously? If the answer is “yes”, what form should such an examination take? Since becoming more ethical is such a personal matter, is a society justified in forcing students to participate in ethics education? These questions could be part of the ethics education sessions.
What does all this mean for lecturers in institutions of higher and further education?
Since they are fundamentally involved in guiding people in becoming more ethical (See Endnote 1 below) educators must know to a greater extent than their students do, what being ethical is. They need to be skilled at facilitating classes in ethics education. Consequently, the suggestions presented so far, also apply to lecturer-training institutions.
All trainee-educators, no matter what their subject specialism, should be required to participate in ethics education so as to be better able to assist their students become more ethical. However, this does not mean that they have to specialise as facilitators of ethics education classes. However, they should be aware and be able to discuss the ethical issues surrounding their subjects. If ethics education becomes a subject in its own right, specialist educators should be trained to guide others to their own realisation of what being ethical is.
It might seem that introducing ethics education into the curricula of universities and colleges would be an uphill struggle. However, there are encouraging signs that ethics education (or values education) is an idea whose time has come. The Values Education Council in the UK co-ordinates the efforts of about fifteen institutions that promote values education. In the United States of America, there is The American Society for Value Inquiry (ASVI) the Institute of Global Ethics (IGE) and The Society for Values in Higher Education (SVHE), for example.
There is considerable scope for research in the field of ethics education and it would be a privilege to o assist postgraduate students (with approval of their university or college) to design and undertake a study.