I want to do a sort of moral maze type discussion with my class next week. Does anyone have any suggestions for scenarios that could get 12-year-olds thinking about moral dilemmas? A mixture of secular ones and religious ones is probably good, so I welcome suggestions from people who aren't Jewish.
How about shoplifting? Is it OK to grab a mars bar from the local corner shop? What about the major multinational supermarket? If you see someone else do it should you report them? What about if it is one of your friends? What would be a reasonable way for a shop who caught someone doing it to respond (in terms of arrest, interrogation, who they tell, involvement of the police etc).
There have been recent court cases around what religious symbols may be worn by children in schools. What do they think? How about gang colours? Why should a religious symbol have particular merit compared to membership of an non-religious group?
Thanks for those! Talking about shoplifting is a really good idea, because there's lots of permutations around whom you're stealing from, and why you're stealing, and loyalty to friends versus loyalty to the state and rule of law. And it's something they can understand that starts off from obviously it's wrong and then you move on to the grey areas. The children's rights angle is a really good point too.
I'm not sure about the religious symbols in schools one, mainly because I just don't know enough about that kind of thing works here. I certainly haven't come across any debate about either headscarves or crosses, but that doesn't mean there is none, my knowledge of Swedish current affairs is really patchy. In England I would definitely try that one.
How about doing the "lifeboat - desert island" scenario?
Suppose you would have to take survivors of a shipwrecking on a lifeboat to a desert island to rebuild human civilisation, whom would you take? Then you line up different characters with different assets and flaws, i.e. "doctor but HIV positive", "engineer but ill-tempered" etc.
Of course, it's a rather ghastly scenario that will trip up the kids: they will go puzzle at recreating civilisation by social darwinism/engineering but of course the only RIGHT moral answer is that no-one gets to social engineer nothing but that everyone just as much has a right to life.
It's a bit creepy, admittedly, but we were given this scenario when I was in school at age 13 and boy, it got me thinking!!
Mm, interesting suggestion, but that isn't quite the sort of thing I was thinking of. I was after more individual morality than political questions, especially since there is a really wide range of awareness of politics, particularly US politics.
That's certainly an option. I would have adapt some of them a bit to a modern setting, but you're right, that's exactly the sort of setup that is designed to get people thinking about moral questions. Thanks.
You could explain the different types of reasoning, if you're willing to go into theory of knowledge territory - Plato works by Occam's Razor - pick the simplest argument which satisfies the facts, and then use counterexample. Talmud works in the opposite manner: Anything which isn't banned is permitted. Therefore, pick the most complex argument which is permitted by the text, and that circumscribes banned practise. Anything remaining is allowed.
heh. Not useful, but fun.
"But what if his slave normally slept under the bed?" - Succot
I think the train scenario is usually phrased the other way round - that it will run into the wall, but you could change the points and it would save all the people on the train but kill the baby. Because it is generally accepted that "train full of people, including some babies" is more worth saving than "one baby", but the dilemma comes from "train running over a baby because I redirected it" is more your individual fault than "train crashing into a wall that was nothing to do with me".
Thanks. I don't really like those train tracks questions, because they are so ridiculously artificial. I wanted to come up with situations that they might find themselves in, or at least that aren't too stretched. Those kinds of puzzles can be useful for starting discussion though, because you can only talk about the morality, you can't start roleplaying all the possible variations of the situation.
rivka was asking for suggestions for a session on sexuality and diversity that she's teaching as part of a religious education class for kids about that age. In particular, for better ideas than the prepared curriculum had on disability issues with regard to relationships. Some of what's there might be useful. (It's two or three entries back in her journal now.)
Thank you so much for pointing me to that, that's some really fascinating and thoughtful discussion. I don't think I'm willing to handle disability and sexuality out of context though. As part of a course about sexuality generally, that's a critical aspect, but just bringing it up with no preparation would be jarring. If get into anything sexual at all, it will need to be at a really basic level, because it's not something that this particular group are comfortable with or expect to hear about from me.
Should people who are suicidal be able to volunteer to be live organ donors?
Is it better to have a short happy life or a long mediocre life? How far does this stretch? If a fatal drug existed which caused pure ecstacy for a few moments before painless death, might it be best to use it?
Why is concentual incest between adults wrong?
If someone really wanted to not have legs, would it be morally permissible to amputate their legs for them? If not, how does this relate to people who want other forms of surgery such as cosmetic surgery or gender reassignment? How do we draw the line?
Would it be moral to eat hyper intelligent sheep who could converse with you like a human being? Would it be moral to eat a human who had the intelligence of the average sheep? If you had to eat one of them, which one?
Is it moral for someone to have a baby if they know that their children will be severely disabled? Would it be moral if laser eye treatment caused severe birth defects in future children would it be moral to have it done? What if someone promised to never have children? What if they changed their minds?
I had come up with a couple I thought were good, and they are essentially covered and well more in this comment - I was going for ones on which I hold fairly strong positions that I know are not Western social norms, fwiw.
One could query whether you get a better argument from "Is consensual incest between adults wrong ?" than from the assumptions inherent in having a "why" at the beginning, but that is probably not a discussion I'd want to get into with twelve-year-olds.
To what extent should parents get to choose what is right for their children and where do you draw the line and call it child abuse?
This is one of the biggest moral quandries as far as I am concerned, and also very good to discuss with children, because you never know if some of them need to hear which actions are abusive (you can discuss the borders of emotional abuse, which is especially tricky).
This is hard for me, because I feel I should be able to raise a child in non-traditional ways even if society doesn't approve. Such as deliberately having a child out of wedlock. I feel that homosexual couples should be able to raise children.
But I worry about people who make very scary decisions, like Christian Scientists or Scientologists who do not believe in medical care, but believe that faith and prayer is sufficient for all healing. If the child has appendicitis and they deny surgery, should they be allowed to? At what age does it become the child's right to choose? What level of education should the parents have to give the child so the child has some vague hope of making an informed decision?
I believe that adults should be allowed to take some risks and make mistakes. I wouldn't force an adult to stop cooking in a manner I felt was unsafe if I mentioned my thoughts and they said they felt they knew what they were doing. I would with a child. To what extent is it okay to force children to do or not do things, and where does it cross a line?
These are very hard issues, and likely quite relevant to children.
This one is based on a real life situation, a story an acquaintance of mine once told me, the repercussions affected the family in question quite seriously and led to a great deal of ill feeling on all sides. I've changed a number of things about, but the basic dilemma was a real one. This may not be what you're looking for, it's ludicrously long-winded and may be also be overly simplistic.
A man lives and works in a country in which he was not born. Both pay and conditions are better in this country and the man is unable to return to his own country for political reasons. Since the man is living in this country illegally, he is unable to keep his family close by him. However, he decides to send money back home for the provision of his daughter, who lives with her stepbrother (the product of their mother's first marriage), and her maternal grandmother. Neither child has any other family members who can provide for their care and support. The daughter is fourteen years old and suffers from a severe physical and mental handicap. She requires constant care, nursing and support, and lack of this will seriously affect both her health and quality of life. The stepson is about seventeen. The family are incredibly poor and care of the daughter has fallen entirely upon the shoulders of the grandmother, who is in her seventies, becoming frail and can no longer offer the full time care her grand daughter needs. Both the grandmother and the stepson also have to work to provide financial support for the family. The immigrant worker sends just enough money to cover the cost of a full time support worker, and it is intended to serve this purpose. However the stepson intercepts the first letter referring to this matter. His grandmother is very short sighted and the lad reads the letter to her, but lies about the sum of money involved, leading her to believe that the amount involved is much smaller. He gives her this much smaller amount as a household allowance; this means that she no longer has to work to support the family, but this smaller amount cannot cover the cost of a full time support worker for his stepsister. The stepson takes the remainder of the money and uses it to pay for his education, he continues to do this for some time. He is in charge of the bulk of correspondence between the family and his stepfather, and he consistently makes misleading statements which imply that money is being put to its intended use. Without education the stepson will only be able to perform unskilled labour, which is poorly paid, with few chances of advancement. The form of work available will also lead to severe health problems in later life. Four years pass, by the end of this period, the stepson has used his education to find highly skilled paid work and no longer needs financial support. He allows the money from abroad to revert to its intended purpose. Ten years pass, and at the end of this period, the stepson has advanced rapidly in his career. He writes to his stepfather, who is growing old and has difficulties finding work, and offers to shoulder the entire financial responsibility for his sister. The stepfather agrees to this and the stepson looks after his sister until the day she dies.
First of all, which of these actions were contrary to the laws of the state, which were against the laws of society, and which were morally wrong? Did all of the actions fall into the same category? If not, why not? Do you believe that the ultimately stepson acted in a moral manner? If you believe that he did, would your opinion change if the stepson had not been successful in his later life, and had not used his education to benefit his family? If you believe that the son acted incorrectly, would your opinion change if the stepson had used his education in a way that benefited a great many people (e.g he found a cure for cancer, he became a brain surgeon, or a truly gifted teacher)? If your opinion does change in these circumstances, how many people must he have helped and what job must he have done, before you find his actions vindicated? Is there such a thing as retrospective morality, and do the ends really justify the means?
Many years later, the stepfather learns about his stepson's actions and becomes furiously angry. The stepfather states that not using the money for its intended purpose meant that the daughter had not received adequate care for a long period of time and that denying her this care, when it could have been available was a form of abuse. The stepson does not deny this, nor does he justify himself with his subsequent actions. Instead he points out that his stepfather married his mother when he was one year old, and since his own father had died, had agreed to bring him up as if he were his son. This meant that the step father had a series of moral responsibilities for him, one of which was provision for his education. The money sent back home should have benefited both children, and not just one, no matter how grave the needs of the daughter. The stepson only needed financial support for his education for a short period of time, while the daughter would need financial provision for her entire life, therefore in a situation where the stepfather had only a limited amount of available money, he should have chosen the short term needs of the stepson over the long term needs of his daughter.
To what extent are either of these statements true? Does the stepson's argument hold adequate moral weight? Does your view of the later argument change if the stepson is the product of the stepfather's first marriage (i.e. his son)? Does your view of the argument change if the stepson had been the product of his mother's husband's first marriage (i.e no blood relation to any of the people involved in this story)? If your opinion has been swayed by degrees of kinship, have you made a social or a moral judgment? And if your opinion has been swayed by kinship, how does the stepfather's responsibility toward the two children change in each circumstance, why does it change? To what extent do you hold responsibility for the wellbeing of family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers? Is the level of responsibility the same in all cases? Why?
Finally, is there such a thing as situational morality? If there is, what things should be taken into account, when making a moral judgment in any given situation? If you believe that the stepson acted correctly within the given the situation, which changes in the circumstances would make you change your mind? Likewise, if you believe he acted incorrectly, are there any changes in circumstance which would make you change your mind? For example, does it make a difference if the grandmother is aware of her grandson's behaviour and he takes the money with her knowledge and agreement? The stepsister has a mental age of eight, she tells her stepbrother that she wants him to take the money for schooling, does this make any difference at all? Having made a decision based on situational morality, do subsequent events change the value of the original judgment, and do they leave a moral debt on the person who made the decision – for example, if the subversion of medical care into education lead to the decline of health (or even death) of either the grandmother or the stepsister, was the stepson morally responsible, and did this event change the value of his original situational decision?
Sorry for the length of this comment, I have never been able to write short.