Teaching Ethics in Secondary Education

I believe it is important to address the ethics of all course matter in secondary education. Students in science courses should understand that science is about exploration and truth and that transparency and honesty are vital to a good report. History students should understand the lessons that history can teach us and that the accepted models of history are always subject to change. Engineering students should know that the goal of engineering is to benefit society. The question is not whether or not to address ethics, but instead the approach to doing so.

First and foremost, engineering courses should instill a natural curiosity in students. This needs to be drawn upon to help the students understand the topics that will prepare them for college level courses. I have had college level courses that make the ethics of engineering terrifying. I think, when implementing ethics into secondary engineering, it is important not to build a fear of impending lawsuits and complex responsibilities. Instead, ethics should be framed by showing the problems that engineering can solve and the measures of safety needed to achieve this.

The way this is implemented should vary from grade to grade. High school seniors can handle more than sixth graders. The ethics lesson needs to be light enough that students are not scared away from the field but serious enough that students get a taste of real-world ethics. In a sixth-grade classroom, climate change could be used to teach ethics. The teacher could frame the lesson by discussing the possible impacts of climate change. They could then discuss the probability of human impact and touch on the slight variation between separate scientific studies. The teacher could then discuss the importance of reporting results honestly. They describe how, even though some studies contradict the most accepted models for climate change, it was important and ethical that those studies were published. The teacher could also draw on the progress of Copernicus and the lack of accuracy in Dr. Emoto’s Rice Experiment.

Later in their secondary school careers, science students could be exposed to the more serious issues in engineering ethics. But again, this needs to be done in a way that helps build a natural curiosity for engineering. I think this should shy away from examples like the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse, where an engineering failure led to death and there is obvious fault to be had. The issue being that this example, and ones like it, would work to dismiss growth mindset. It would be dangerous to teach early engineering students that one failure could ruin their entire life. I think examples like the lack of credit given to H. Tracy Hall and the onset of GMOs can build a much more encouraging view of engineering ethics. The goal of teaching engineering ethics in high school is to show that there are problems, but they can be addressed. Students should envision solving these problems themselves. The selection of case studies is extremely important for that reason.

It is important to teach ethics in secondary school classrooms. This can and should be done in a way helps to build student curiosity for the subject matter.

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