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April 30, 2024

By Emma Johnson, Communications Manager

At the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, ethics is a foundational academic subject, intertwining moral and social intersections into the learning experience. Fieldston Lower Interim Ethics Teacher Min Young Song and her students across all grades organized the first-ever Fieldston Lower assembly dedicated entirely to ethics. The assembly aimed for each grade to share about their learning with their peers and to be a joyful celebration of what makes ECFS programming so unique.

The mission of the Fieldston Lower ethics program is clear: to provide a comprehensive experience that cultivates student activism. This experience is built on pillars of raising awareness, advocating for social issues, engaging in service projects, and supporting causes locally and globally. Beginning this journey in Kindergarten, students are immersed in the ethos of activism, learning to champion causes and support their communities. As students progress from 1st to 5th Grade, the curriculum evolves to address identity, relationships, responsibility, and ethical decision-making in increasingly nuanced ways. 

Fieldston Lower Ethics Teacher Min Young Song opens assembly.

In 1st Grade, conversations about identity, relationships, and responsibility lay a foundation for lifelong learning. Students develop skills in conflict resolution, empathy, and advocacy, guided by teachers who introduce them to the power of perspective-taking. Beaming 1st Grade students signaled the start of the assembly by reciting a definition of ethics in unison: “Ethics is a study and a practice of how to treat myself, others, plants, animals, and things!”  

By the time students reach 2nd Grade, they deepen their understanding of accountability and community engagement, leading to collaborative efforts in service projects that benefit both the school community and beyond. These projects are born from discussions on kindness, compassion, and empathy.

In 3rd Grade, the focus shifts to developing healthy communication and fostering a sense of individual and collective responsibility. Perspective-taking becomes a tool for understanding others’ experiences and advocating for one another, creating a stronger school community.

At the assembly, the 3rd Grade students taught a mini-lesson to their peers, answering the question, “What is perspective?” First, students played the animated short film, “Snack Attack,”  which depicted a scenario where a grandmother just wants to eat a snack in peace, but a teenage boy has other plans in mind. After watching the video, 3rd Grade students Dylan I. ’33 and Orla P. ’33 acted out the roles of the grandmother and teenage boy in the video, portraying their perspectives on the situation and demonstrating that a person’s point of view can change based on their backgrounds, needs, experiences, and motivations. 

As students age, the ethical dilemmas they interrogate become more complex. In 4th Grade, students grapple with sophisticated concepts like moral courage and peer pressure, equipping them with strategies to navigate different moral quandaries and communicate effectively across various mediums. This year, in both 4th and 5th Grade, an especially relevant topic has been the healthy use of technology. Students have learned about the benefits and downfalls, exploring how to navigate the internet and digital conversations both safely and ethically. 

As students progress through their academic journey, they engage with increasingly intricate ethical challenges. By the 4th Grade, they confront nuanced concepts such as moral courage and peer influence, equipping themselves with strategies to negotiate diverse ethical dilemmas and convey their thoughts effectively through various platforms. They have explored the advantages and pitfalls of technology, learning how to navigate digital spaces and conversations conscientiously and safely.

During the assembly, several 4th Graders showcased their learning by playing excerpts from the podcasts they meticulously crafted, edited, and recorded earlier in the spring semester. 

One student, Halle C. ’32, wrote and recorded a “Story Time” podcast episode about the dangers of tech addiction. In a storytelling format, she spoke of a fictional character, Kelly, a happy kid whose mood began to shift after getting her first phone. Halle used her expertise from Ethics class to warn students of the negative impact that too much screen time can have on both mental health and academic progress. Elena CP. ’32 and Zaiyn S. ’32’s podcast episode offered a few tips and tricks for healthy tech use. Their advice encouraged students to keep timers for screen time and to not keep their phones in their bedrooms at night to ensure good sleep. 

The 5th Grade students demonstrated their adeptness with technology, illustrating the dual nature of technological progress. While technological advancements offer numerous benefits, they explained, it’s crucial to remain cautious of potential risks. A notable illustration of these risks was showcased when students presented two voice recordings of Assistant Principal for Student Life Naomi Randolph. They clarified that one recording was authentic, while the other was AI-generated. This presentation sparked a discussion among students and educators in the audience, highlighting the challenge of distinguishing between the “real” and the “fake” voice of Randolph.

To conclude the assembly, the 5th Graders conveyed a lasting message to their peers: while understanding technology is essential to navigate our evolving technological environment, we must always approach it from an ethical perspective. Through this progressive journey, Fieldston Lower’s Ethics Curriculum not only educates but also empowers students to become ethical leaders who understand the importance of activism, empathy, and responsible decision-making in shaping a better world. Principal Joe McCauley couldn’t have said it better, noting, “This is our first-ever assembly dedicated to ethics, and I think it might just be my favorite we’ve ever had!”