to stop a bullying situation, and it’s
often unclear at a given moment which
strategy is best.
Step 7. Prepare for possible repercus-
sions of having acted in what one con-
siders an ethical manner.
Perhaps students in my leadership class
saw me as grossly unethical but did not
want to risk challenging me openly and
thereby potentially lowering their grade.
Someone witnessing bullying also
needs to prepare: A student who tells
on a bully places him- or herself at risk.
The teller may be exposed to bullying,
harassment, or shunning—or he or she
may simply fear looking foolish.
Step 8. Enact the ethical solution.
Carrying out a solution is a key part of
behaving ethically—and yet often the
hardest to do. You sit in a classroom
and hear your teacher brag about what
you perhaps consider to be unethical
behavior. You look around you. No one
else is saying anything. As far as you can
tell, no one else is even fazed. Perhaps
you are simply out of line.
Lost in Translation
What is the difference between those
who behave ethically and those do not?
Howard Gardner (1999) has wrestled
with the question of whether there
is some kind of existential, or even
spiritual, intelligence that guides people
through challenging life dilemmas.
Robert Coles (1998) is one of many
who have argued that a moral intel-
ligence, which differs from individual
to individual, exists in children as well
as adults. Lawrence Kohlberg (1984)
believed there are stages of moral rea-
soning, and that as children grow older,
they advance through these stages—
some faster and further than others.
Questions for Critical Conversations on Ethics
The following questions provide opportunities for students to
discuss the steps of ethical action. The teacher’s goal is not to
answer these questions, but to ask students to ponder them
and generate their own answers.
When does an event have an ethical dimension?
n Is it unethical for physicists to develop weapons of mass
n Is it unethical for biologists to create new pathogens?
n Is it unethical for governments to execute people?
n Was Tom Sawyer unethical to persuade his friends to
whitewash his fence?
When is the ethical dimension of a situation significant?
n When is cheating by another student serious enough to
n In general, how catastrophic do the events in a country have
to be before other countries have a responsibility to intervene?
For example, should the world have noted and counteracted
Hitler’s behavior sooner?
n If a child is treated by one or more of his or her parents the
way Huckleberry Finn was treated by his father, should the
town or state authorities take the child away from the parents?
When does an individual have an ethical responsibility to
generate a solution to a problem?
n Under what circumstances should a soldier refuse to obey an
n Is there ever a case in which a child should disobey his or her
n If a student knows that another student of his or her acquaintance takes illegal drugs, does he or she have a personal
responsibility to do something about it?
How do you decide whether acting in an ethical manner is
worth it even though you may suffer repercussions?
Behaving ethically may have negative and even serious consequences. Consider the difficulty of acting ethically in the following cases:
n In the Enron corporate scandal, when Sherron Watkins blew
the whistle on unethical behavior, she was punished and made
to feel like an outcast.
n In the Rwandan genocides, Hutus were encouraged to hate
Tutsis and to kill them. Those who were not willing to participate in the massacres risked becoming victims themselves.
n In Hitler’s Germany, those who tried to save Jews from concentration camps risked being killed themselves.