Bioethics expert Michael Reiss explores the value of discussing ethics in the classroom, whether or not consensus is reached.
Michael Reiss: The other possible question is whether one wants to always end up resolving this ethically, and this slightly depends on the particular issue at hand. The short answer is no, it is perfectly okay not to end up with a resolution of an actual issue in a classroom discussion, but just to have sharpened peoples critical thinking, developed their awareness of the issues, helped the students or pupils understand there is a range of viewpoints.
But having said all that, occasionally you might decide we want them to come to a view point, for example, in a role play. You might be role playing an ethics committee which has got to make a decision about, for example, Do we allow GMcrops to be grown in New Zealand?
Now it’s fine for the individual students to end up not being sure, but in the role play you might say to them, You are acting as a committee advising the Government, and you have got to come to a decision.
So given that teaching ethics in a classroom setting doesn’t always have to arrive at an agreed decision, at a consensus, nevertheless you’re still doing a huge amount as a teacher that is worth doing. Because individual pupils or students are hopefully developing their ability to reason critically, they are getting a much better understanding of the issue, they’re understanding there is a diversity of viewpoints, and that they can disagree with somebody without disrespecting them. And in terms, for example, of hoping to live together in a multi-cultural society, there is a great deal, I think, to realising that there often are a plurality of viewpoints, and one can disagree with somebody’s viewpoint without insulting them.