Schools need ethics as much as society as a whole

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6 July 2021

If ethics disappears from the classroom, students are left without the opportunity to reflect on the moral issues around them

By Carlos Goñi

Carlos Goñi Zubieta holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Barcelona; he is a high school teacher. As a writer, he covers diverse subjects such as philosophy, ancient history, mythology and education; and different genres: essays, popularisation, novels and self-help.

Among his numerous publications, we would like to highlight his two most recent ones: Pico della Mirandola: el filósofo de la concordia (2020) and Educar con filosofía (2019).

The debate on whether to teach ethics in schools or not is an ethical debate. Nearly everything has been said with this. Accordingly, the decision to eliminate or replace Ethics, as the new Education Law -Lomloe- intends, is also ethical. Then, it is clear that we are dealing with a law that oozes cynicism from all sides.

To determine who the cynics were and what they taught, we should dive into the history of Ethics, the same narrative that official cynicism does not want our students to learn. And then, we will see it because ethics helps us do just that: to see why we act as we do and why we make our decisions. A cynic is someone capable of declaring something even though he knows it is false: he thinks truth is a social construct in which he wants no part; he does not believe in institutions, and his only concern, like old Diogenes, is that they do not block out the sun.

School and ethics

The school needs ethics just as the whole of society needs it. Denying the obvious can only be done with cynicism. But in this case, it is even more insolent because ethics is more necessary in the classroom than in other social spheres. The school has an effusive function, i.e. what we sow in it will be what we will gather in secondary institutions: what we leak in it will end up filtering into the community.

The school, like society, is demoralised, and it is discouraged in both senses of the word. It lacks morale, courage, enthusiasm, optimism, etc. And no wonder, because more is demanded of it than is given: it is used as a weapon of war in chronic electoral campaigns and subjected to various pedagogical and political experiments. And it is demoralised, too, in the sense that school should be the right place for pupils to learn to exercise moral reflection and form their ethical criteria, which will enable them to live as citizens in a democratic society. As might be expected, one demoralisation leads to the other.

The school should be the right place for pupils to learn to exercise moral reflection and form their ethical criteria, which will enable them to live as citizens in a democratic society.

It should be understood that schools do not need morals but ethics, i.e. pupils, especially teenagers, need to learn to reflect on their surrounding moral issues, as we have just discussed. Each pupil brings the morals received in their environment to school, which is by definition particular and reduced. If ethics is not taught at school, the class reinforces moral stereotypes by its inertia and, consequently, social differences. Therefore, students must learn ethics and reflect on the moral burden (almost in the Nietzschean sense) that they carry. This way, will they eliminate stereotypes and achieve the vision of a shared universal ethic, which is necessary for citizenship in a democratic society.

In a way, the school must offer each pupil something akin to the veil of ignorance suggested by the American philosopher John Rawls half a century ago. Ethics’ goal in school should be to ensure that each pupil can place himself in a hypothetical future, abstracting from their present situation. He would not know his position there, whether male or female, black or white, poor or rich, aggressor or aggressed, young or old, etc., and he can make moral decisions there. Schools have the most transcendental task: to universalise morality through the study of ethics in the classroom. Otherwise, we risk submerging ourselves in identitarian righteousness that can be very dangerous for coexistence.

Schools have the most transcendental task: to universalise morality through the study of ethics in the classroom.

Ethics, like coronavirus, knows no borders and is no respecter of persons. If this pandemic has served us for anything, it has been precisely to shake off our differences and put ourselves in everyone’s place because, like ethics, it affects everyone. Ethics helps us to establish moral evidences that always weigh and everywhere. If the school does not do this, it will have failed in its primary functions; it will have become demoralised.

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2022-05-20T08:34:45+00:00
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