During my second Junior Achievement Ethics class, I realized that students weren't reading the newspaper regularly. All of the events that we watch and analyze every day at my job didn't exist in the students' world. Now more than ever, Ethics is making front page news every day and I wanted to give them a real world view of why Ethics is important and how it's used and considered outside of the classroom.
As an assignment, I asked each of them to bring in some type of news article, on any subject, that had to do with Ethics. I was very excited to see what they'd bring in. And then we got to class and most students said they forgot and didn't bring in anything. Right off the bat, we needed to improvise.
I asked them to consider what news stories they've heard about that might involve Ethics. Crickets. And then one lone student, Bernard, raised his hand timidly and said, "I think I know one." Bless Bernard.
The students had just had a snow day, the first one in 5 years in New York City. Bernard was concerned about the idea that some cities are saying they don't have enough money to plow and salt roads to keep their citizens safe during storms. "Isn't that an issue of ethics?" he asked. "Isn't a city supposed to do everything it can to keep people safe? If someone dies in a car accident because the road wasn't plowed, isn't that the city's fault?"
I love Ethics for one simple reason: the problems are messy and complex. Rarely is there a clear answer that everyone agrees on. Our class began to discuss city budgets and trade-offs they make in areas like education, public safety, healthcare, welfare, services for the homeless. We talked about taxes and philanthropy. We talked about city versus state versus federal government and the roles of each, especially in times of economic crisis.
The students left with many more questions than they had answers, as did I. I thought they might be frustrated by the lack of clarity in Ethics. Instead, they wanted to talk more. They are very confident in voicing their opinions and beliefs. While they often disagree with one another, I have yet to see any kind of disrespect of someone else's opinion, which is more than I can say for most adults I talk to about situations involving Ethics. My high school kids gave me hope that maybe their generation will be much more adept at making sound Ethics decisions than the painful follies being committed today by the generation in charge of our financial institutions.