There is a debate currently going on in Australia about giving school students the choice between taking either classes in Ethics, or in Religious Studies. Apparently the respective Christian Churches are not at all happy about this development. Well, they wouldn’t be would they? They believe they are losing their grip over young minds.
In his book ‘Moral Reasoning; Ethical Theory And Some Contemporary Moral Problems’ Victor Grassian defines ethics as:
‘Ethics may be defined as the philosophical study of morality-that is, of right conduct, moral obligation, moral character, moral responsibility, moral justice, and the nature of the good life. The philosophical study of morality should be distinguished from the descriptive or scientific study of the same subject matter’.
Mr Grassian goes on to say… ‘Although a study of ethics will not in itself make one into a good person, it can certainly provide us with more than the knowledge of abstract philosophical theories and terminologies that seem incapable of aiding us in the solution of our own practical moral problems. A study of ethics can serve to help us better understand and classify our own moral principles; most of all, it can help refine, develop, and sometimes change these principles’.
In other words it can help us to question and to think for ourselves. I particularly identify with the following paragraph as I am sure a lot of my readers will do especially those who were indoctrinated with Catholic dogma from infancy:
‘The study of ethics can lead one from the blind and irrational acceptance of moral dogmas gleaned from parental and cultural influences, which were never subjected to logical scrutiny, into a development of a critical reflective morality of one’s own’.
Robert Coles, who was a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard Medical School, also draws on his experience as a teacher and child psychiatrist in his book:
‘The Moral Intelligence of Children’. He writes about the confusion children feel when they are caught between two parents who have different religious beliefs; who constantly clash over opinions and values but who never-the-less expect their children to follow in their religious path unquestioningly. Simply stated, Mr Coles found in his research that children are morally intelligent and it is therefore beneficial to them to be raised in a home where they are encouraged to question and to think for themselves. Parents who only see issues in black and white can have a detrimental effect on their children’s outlook on life. The problem begins when the child is expected to ‘learn by example’ from the adults in their family but has intelligently worked out for themselves that something is not right. The atmosphere in the household is one in which the child is not permitted to question any ‘laws’ laid down by their parents and this includes religious beliefs. At the same time the child is being bombarded by media images and peer group pressure. Perhaps the high rates of depression in our young people is understandable when there is so much conflict in their world view.
Erik H Erikson, a child psychiatrist who knew only too well the psychological trauma caused by strict and rigid upbringing in a religious household comments in ‘Moral Intelligence’:
‘It is a long haul, bringing up our children to be good; you have to keep doing that, bring them up, and that means bringing things up with them: asking; telling; sounding them out; sounding off yourself; teaching them how to go beyond why?……’
Lets hope then, that all schools will eventually allow students to choose Ethics over Religion in schools. We might then see some changes taking place in the behaviour of young people and their readiness to take responsibility for their own actions. <><><>
-Anne Frandi-Coory 20 October 2010
See previous posts: God in the Classroom?