If you want to teach students to be ethical and socially responsible, you have to develop their moral imaginations, critical thinking skills and evoke their emotions or passion to act on what is morally right. Moral learning must reach the body, the head, and the heart. Punishment and rewards act on the body to behaviorally reinforce lessons about right and wrong. Teachers educate the head by giving students information about the world that is necessary for ethical decision making. Educating the heart is perhaps the most difficult and ignored part of teaching ethics, because it is about cultivating the emotions and feelings necessary for morality, and the will or desire to be moral. In this paper I focus on educating the head and the heart. I argue that critical thinking skills are crucial to ethics education and that the point of ethics courses should be to develop moral sentiment, will and imagination. My comments will specifically address the relevancy of these areas to leadership studies, but what I have to say applies in general to the liberal arts.
The Ethics & Leadership course is at the heart of SEGL’s mission. It is the lens through which students view their other academic courses, their social life, their collaborations with area institutions and leaders, and their future.
The course has two principal goals:
- To introduce students to ethical, critical thinking, using current national and international events and issues as case studies
- To develop students’ leadership skills, including public speaking, debate, constructive activism, and an understanding of group dynamics
The course will not attempt to advocate a particular set of values (in fact, it will encourage students to develop their own ethical credo) but does reflect the school’s belief that thinking seriously about issues of right and wrong is imperative.
Details: The course frames the school’s weekly schedule, with two 120 minute sessions on Monday morning and Friday evening. In addition, SEGL has devoted the entire day on Wednesday to allow students to make information-gathering site visits, to collaborate with local leaders and institutions, to work with the local community on service initiatives, and to pursue their Capstone Projects. All students attend each section, though frequently students will work in small groups. Some of the projects for this course count as grades in other classes, and students receive formal comments on their work twice a semester along with those for other courses.
A week in the ethics & leadership course
A typical E&L case study will begin with a Monday morning introduction to the week’s issue, which may include a lecture from a faculty member, a documentary, or a hands-on ethical leadership challenge. The students then have until Wednesday to prepare for their visits and interviews. An E&L case study culminates in a formal Friday event. In past case studies, SEGL students have presented policy proposals to former Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, have held a mock Congressional subcommittee meeting on healthcare reform, and have formulated social entrepreneurship plans for their own communities.
In one case study, our students spent Monday morning learning about the history and culture of Afghanistan. They then split into small groups to discuss business and interview etiquette. After a brief reading assignment, they opened their Wednesday session with a meeting with Jane Marriott and Dereck Hogan, two of Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s five top advisers. Then, breaking into small groups, they visited either: Will Davis, the United Nation’s top representative in Washington, DC; Andrew Exum, one of the leading authorities on American military policy in Afghanistan, at the Center for a New American Security; or several staff members from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Afghanistan Desk at the Pentagon. These meetings were just in time for that afternoon’s release of General McChrystal’s new Counter-Insurgency Policy for Afghanistan.
Reconvening on Friday, the students prepared a policy paper answering the question “Should the United States provide aid to Afghanistan, and if so, how much?” Each group then chose a representative to present their position at a mock Congressional hearing, complete with intensive questioning and political grandstanding. Finally, the next Wednesday morning the students rose early to attend the House Subcommittee on Oversight’s hearing on the new strategy’s budget implications.
Some Other sample E&L topics:
- Methods of Ethical Inquiry
- The HIV/AIDS Pandemic
- Social Entrepreneurship
- Gun Control
- American Strategy in Afghanistan
- Congressional Ethics
- Climate Change and the International Economy
- The “Arab Spring”
- Leadership Techniques and Group Dynamics
- Healthcare Reform and the Politics of Change
- Iran’s Changing Role in the Middle East
- The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- The Global Peace Index
- The Ethics of School Choice
SEGL’s three Capstone Projects represent the culminating work of the semester and provide a bridge between a student’s work at the school and at home.
- Collaborative Policy Document: The Collaborative Capstone brings together the research, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills learned from interdisciplinary case studies presented in the Ethics & Leadership course. During the third month of the term, the student body selects one urgent international challenge, investigates that challenge, and drafts a collaborative written document that proposes a practical solution to the selected challenge. Each academic course spends time connecting its subject matter to the research process, while the Ethics & Leadership course will provide a forum for discussion and consensus on the document’s recommendations. The Collaborative Policy Document is published and shared with leading academic institutions, media sources, and political officials; students will lobby these leaders (engaging academics in debate, soliciting media coverage, and lobbying political players) to implement their recommendations in the weeks following the document’s publication.
- The Ethical Credo: The Credo capstone brings together the ethical reasoning and public speaking skills students learn over the course of the term. Each student presents her or his Credo to the entire school community at the end of the semester. The challenge of the Credo project is to answer the following two questions:
- Given all that you have learned as a result of this semester, where do you stand on the questions of ethics and leadership that are most important to you?
- Given your answer to the above, how are you going to live your life?
- The Social Venture Project: The Social Venture Project brings together a student’s academic studies and developing leadership capabilities. It also represents the first major opportunity to fulfill the second part of a student’s Credo; that is,
“Given my ethical views and developing leadership skills, how am I going to live my life?”
Chosen with the help of a student’s advisor, peers, and teachers, the Community Capstone allows a student to identify and confront a challenge in the local, national, or global community. In order to do this, a student might choose service, activism, or social entrepreneurship; no matter the path, the Community Capstone ensures that students will reach out to real people affected by the issues about which the student feels passionately.
Work on this Capstone will begin while enrolled at SEGL, and is designed to continue when the student returns home. SEGL partners with local and international social entrepreneurs to assist in this process, and provides opportunities for students to apply for grants.