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Ellen Feig

Professor, Bergen Community College


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Can one teach young people to be moral? Is morality something that must be taught in the home? Is it innate?

Currently I am working on a professional development platform focused on teaching college students ethics and morality. Young people seem to be incredibly disengaged from others, have little sense of what it means to be moral, gracious or ethical and don't care. How can we teach morality or is it something that is innate?

Topics: ethics morality

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  • Jan 23 2013: Let's say morality is a set of culturally specific external values or principles that become animated when internalized at an individual level and are evidenced by behavior. If that's the case, morality is really just a set of rules with effective PR. If that's what we're talking about, the success rate of teaching morality will probably be the same as the success rate of teaching any system of rules, and for all the same reasons. Nature nurture debates are circular and take us nowhere. Better to think about what we actually want to achieve and then decide the best route to get there. Far better, in my opinion, to teach empathy. This can be taught. Empathy shapes behavior towards others far more effectively than rules. And best to start early. Where might that leave you? Perhaps looking into how young adults can be taught empathy. And then discuss morality later. When it comes to rules, you can be sure that they have very strong ones of their own. And have fun with it. Roll into class one day late, don't apologize, say you couldn't be bothered to plan anything so they'll just have to sit in silence. If that's not what you usually do, you'll get a response. Use that response to spark a discussion about how they want to be treated. Use that as a bridge to evolve the discussion into how our behavior impacts others, what we mean by respect, whether it goes both ways and so on. Those are approaches I've found effective and best of all fun...
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      Jan 23 2013: Today I tried the following...I pretended that I couldn't find the classroom, came in harried and then told them that I am not taking attendance, they are adults and can decide if they want to waste their money and not come to class or come to class, they are not going to have due dates for anything and then I gave them a freewrite where they could not use capitals, grammar or proper spelling. They absolutely freaked out without rules and regulations and every one of them used periods and capitals.

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