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Opinionated Octogenarian 4 B – Ethics Training

November 12, 2014

Our forefathers wisely separated church and state. (Isn’t it too bad other leaders did not have that foresight?) Our children need open minds and kind hearts. Stories open minds, and a teacher has the privilege of telling children stories that matter. Teachers and parents can teach ethical standards without resorting to religious doctrines. Our children need these lessons.

The Bible tells us we have sinned and fallen short of the glory God intended for us. Dwelling on sins seems counter-productive for children. Children need to learn what is good, what satisfies the soul, and what they will need to live an ethical life. The Bible, read as literature, contains useful stories, but our wide selection of books – non-fiction, fiction, biography, history – support moral lessons. Learning about ethical situations through literature removes the sting of guilt and prepares children for temptations encountered in an ordinary life: consider loyalty in Odysseus, pride in The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, envy in Great Expectations, prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird. Many stories teach ethics without dwelling on sin, but on redemption.

Enough stories abound in literature to illustrate every sin and temptation known to man and the devil, but many students cannot examine stories without informed guidance. Guiding students through literature without condemnation is the job of an English teacher. She teaches literature for enjoyment. The story itself makes the point,  “This is what you should or should not do. A master teacher told my class of future teachers, “Don’t ‘should’ all over them.”

The English teacher opens minds and hearts with questions. “What did the character do? Was it right or wrong? What could he have done differently? What would you have done?” Good writers have made their characters believable and empathetic. The English teacher has the opportunity to instill a love of literature and some knowledge of the human condition in stories reminding us of our commonality. That is why the story of Romeo and Juliet is beloved even when the English is difficult to understand. All teachers can open young minds to people and their problems.

I loved to teach. I am not an especially good or smart person, but I enjoyed opening young minds like a can-opener. Have you ever tried to open a can with a bent can-opener? Can’t be done. A can-opener must be kept sharp. So I took numerous classes – in reading education, sociology, criminology, philosophy, special education and religion. My goal was not to pile education credits higher and deeper, but to keep the opener operative. A teacher must have an open mind and a loving heart. She has the opportunity to instill ethical behavior.

I wonder what additions and corrections an ethics consultant would make.


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