‘What is morally wrong about stealing?’ asks ethics co-ordinator, Christine Willmot.
‘Is there a difference between something that is legally wrong and something that is morally wrong? How do we know if an argument is valid?’
These are some of the questions that Years 5 and 6 children are discussing in ethics courses in the many Byron Shire schools which have taken up the opportunity to introduce the course after the NSW government approved the program last year. The classes are offered as an alternative to special religious education, or ‘scripture’.
Ms Willmot says, however, that offering children ways to explore ethical dilemmas is being undermined by religious politicians.
‘Unfortunately, this popular cutting-edge program is again threatened with closure from the religious right under the leadership of state MP Fred Nile who is pressuring premier O’Farrell to abolish ethics in return for Nile’s support for certain legislation.’
‘The approach taken is to explore ethical issues in the classroom through dialogue and discussion – a tradition of philosophical inquiry that goes back to Socrates,’ says Ms Willmot. ‘The curriculum is varied and challenging. By learning to think about ethical matters in a “community of inquiry” framework, students are encouraged to voice their opinions and the reasons for their views, to build on one another’s ideas, or suggest alternatives, and to listen carefully and respectfully to the views of others. Reports from all the classes around the Shire tell of lively and often mature debate from the children who are eager to support their arguments with personal experience and at times well-informed awareness of public political issues.
‘Community and parental support is now vitally important for the survival of the program,’ she says.
Volunteers and coordinators are urged to visit www.primaryethics.com.au.