Ethics

Welcome

The guiding precept of the Ethical Culture ethics curriculum is simple: each individual person is of infinite worth and to be treated with respect and kindness. We define ethics as the study of how people should treat one another: it is the way we behave toward one another, within our community, and toward our environment.

Community, Family, Identity, and Social Justice each play an important part in the work we do in ethics, and we emphasize that ethics is not just a class, it is practiced wherever you are: in school, on the playground, in your many communities. Children need help in developing appropriate self-confidence as independent ethical decision-makers, and we offer guidance, support, and encouragement in this effort.

Ethics class is an integral part of the school’s community. Throughout the day, students are asked to make ethical thinking and discussions a part of their daily routines and everyday life. Our school’s program naturally examines ethical concepts within the context of the existing curriculum and children’s daily interactions. Discussions and activities happen in both whole groups and small groups. While ethics discussions may happen at any time during the day, children will see their ethics teacher in the classroom at least once in a six-day cycle.

Please don’t hesitate to contact the ethics teachers via email or phone if you have any questions.


Overview

Our formal ethics curriculum begins in the second grade, and the work we do can be organized around key themes: mindfulness, identity, community, family, and diversity/social justice.

Our identity shapes how we see ourselves and how we think of ourselves. We carry with us a variety of identifiers, including age, gender, family structure, race, religion/beliefs, and physical ability. For children, other things that matter a great deal might include height, interests, or whether you wear glasses. Understanding ourselves in the context of our community, understanding other members of our community, and seeing beyond our community to understand and appreciate the diversity that exists in the world will help all of our children move through the world with empathy, compassion, and understanding.

What is a community, and what does it mean to be a member of a community, are two fundamental questions that play an important role in our everyday interactions with one another. Part of this work includes getting to know the members of our community outside the four walls of our classrooms, identifying and understanding our responsibilities as community members, and practicing the arts of cooperation, negotiation, and communication. Continuing to build this important foundation supports all of our work together, inside the classroom and out.

Children begin discussing questions of family from the very earliest grades. In ethics, we work to complement the kind of work that happens naturally in classrooms. One of the things we have done is bring a photo exhibit, called "In Our Family: Portraits of All Kinds of Families," to the school. The photos include just what the name implies: all kinds of families. Visiting this “museum” of families helps children share thoughts and questions about families, and gives them an opening to share both their unique and common experiences. Exploring families helps give children opportunities to talk and think about other important ways we identify ourselves, from race and culture to sexual orientation, physical ability, and more.

Issues pertaining to diversity, equity, and social justice are interwoven throughout our ethics curriculum. Understanding ourselves in the context of our community, understanding other members of our community, and seeing beyond our immediate community to understand and appreciate the diversity that exists in the world will help all of our children move through the world with empathy, compassion, and understanding.


Topics

Within the key themes of identity, community, family, and diversity/social justice, we cover a wide range of topics in our ethics curriculum. Many are worth revisiting from year to year, with increasing depth and understanding as the children mature. Some are topical or timely, and arise from the interests or experiences of the students.

Discussions center around ethical dilemmas, community, allies, family, sustainability/economics, lack of basic needs, identity, stereotypes, race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion/beliefs, disabilities, civil rights, equity, natural disasters, and body image.


Sample Lessons

Mindfulness (Grade 2)
Second graders begin by sitting in a circle on the rug to greet one another. After their silent greeting, students turn on their “mindful bodies” and practice mindful breathing. They continue their work of mindful listening by taking turns using their singing bowl/bell.

Lack of Basic Needs (Grade 2)
Second graders learn that being proactive means acting on their feelings of compassion to assist a person, animal, cause, or community that needs help. A proactive person is someone who takes an active role in dealing with something before it needs to be taken care of. Students explore the concept by imagining what living in the street is like, reading The Lady in the Box, and discussing the story’s compassionate helpers. They also role-play and connect their actions with their definition.

Windows and Mirrors (Grade 4)
Fourth graders examine multicultural literature for similarities (windows) and differences (mirrors).