Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ethics and Classic Literature

The concept of Ethics is new to my rugrats this year-but they've developed a great understanding of it very quickly. I guess there's not much gray area in the lives of a 6-year old-things are either right or wrong. I often play devil's advocate and question them, not really giving my own opinion, but letting them create an argument to justify theirs. In the beginning, their argument always starts out as: it's wrong because it's wrong. You really have to systematically teach them and model for them how to elaborate on reasons why. The lawyer in court defending his client isn't going to say "he's not guilty because he's not guilty". He's going to explain an alibi, give an alternate version of what could have happened. That's what I'm looking for in my students' writing-a justification for their point of view. It's a challenging task for them, but I was impressed by their responses on this assignment.

 I read them the classic story The Giving Tree. I know many educators just adore this book-the entitlement of the boy character in the story just bothers me too much. However, we read it as an exercise in ethics "was it right or wrong for the boy to take everything the tree had and not give anything back in return"? Surprisingly, my little future arbitrators actually made some good arguments-he didn't do it on purpose, he used everything; it's not like the things were wasted and my favorite justification-it did make her happy. How many of us have accepted a gift from a relative just to "make them happy"?

Here are some of my favorites:

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