Santa Clara University

SCU Today
Hello Justice, Hello Fairness: Teachers Discover Ethics Camp

By MICHAEL WINERIP

The New York Times

 

 

Santa Clara, CA

 


WHAT do high school teachers do at science ethics camp?

 

They watch a lot of obscure educational videos: "The Whole Truth" (Wherein an ambitious scientist who fudges data is confronted by his intrepid research assistant!); "Of Mice and Mendoza" (A researcher for a pharmaceutical firm tragically learns too late that he is prohibited by his company from sharing data with university scientists!); and "The Cutting Edge" (A young woman must decide - to be tested for a genetic disease or not to be tested.)

 

Ethics campers learn nifty teaching exercises they can take back to their classrooms. One afternoon, counselors split campers into two groups and had them argue a hypothetical case before a bioethics committee also made up of campers. "It was great," said Laurel Valker, a teacher from Pacific Coast High in Orange County. "I can do an entire week's biology lesson centered on that - and it will meet the state standard on electrophoresis." They got ethics camp bags and coffee mugs decorated with daily reminders like "Was I fair and just?" and "Did I do more good than harm?"

 

The campers reviewed the American Chemical Society's code of conduct, ("Chemists should actively be concerned with the health and welfare of co-workers, consumers and the community.") And they took a field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to explore the ethical issues of studying animals in captivity. And wherever they went, they argued the fine points, sometimes quite heatedly. "Can I please finish what I was saying?" said Richard Lake, a Monterey County teacher who felt he was getting short shrift from the camp's bioethics committee.

 

"I think we need a break," said Steve Johnson, the camp's director. "Cookies will probably help to solve this ethical dilemma. We have some nice warm cookies just outside the door." This is the 10th anniversary of ethics camp here at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution near San Jose. The first year, there was a single, weeklong camp with 15 teachers, and it has grown to nine weeklong ethics camps with more than 350 teachers attending.

 

There are now ethics camps for science teachers, alternative school teachers, special ed teachers, Catholic and public school elementary teachers and high school teachers. The camps are offered by the university's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, opened in 1986 and named for A. C. Markkula, a founder of Apple computers. It's one of a handful of applied ethics centers nationwide; Duke and Dartmouth also have centers. They are not meant to be ivory tower affairs. "We bring ethics to everyday life," Mr. Johnson said.

 

Margaret McLean, one of 15 on the staff, has doctorates in clinical pathology and ethical studies. She is a consultant at nearby O'Connor Hospital, helping patients' families make hard decisions, like when to terminate life support. Judy Nadler, the center's government ethics specialist, said, "I was out this morning with the Santa Clara water district." She has been hired by the district to do management workshops on ethical issues like conflicts of interest.

 

Mr. Johnson, 50, ("he invented ethics camp," Dr. McLean said) has had a long and varied history in education, working mainly with poor children as an English and science teacher, at elementary and high school levels, in special education and at juvenile detention halls. He was the principal of an urban Los Angeles Catholic high school, and was, for years, a Roman Catholic monk. He had a strong interest in character-based learning that would mix the teaching of ethical values with high-quality academics, and in the late 1990's, he saw opportunity.

 

Like most states, California was moving to a standards-based curriculum, and to many educators, the approach seemed highly abstract and technical. Mr. Johnson studied those standards, and created an English literature curriculum that required students to read eight books a year, and he tied every daily lesson plan to a state standard. There was a value theme for each quarter, like "Responsibility Requires Action," with a subtheme every day ("doing what I should do;" "doing what I say I will do;" "doing what is best for everybody.")

 

In the "responsibility" unit, as they read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, they analyzed Cassius' and Brutus's actions through those values. Mr. Johnson developed his literary/ethics curriculum with the troubled kids with whom he'd worked in state detention centers in mind. "They need to learn good values - working hard, learning to get organized, taking responsibility for their actions," he said. "They're the group that causes society the most problems, and they're the most overlooked." His curriculum was first used at the juvenile detention hall in San Jose in the late 1990's and has spread to nearly 400 public alternative schools - for delinquent and neglected children - in 25 of California's 58 counties.

 

Anne Marinovic, a teacher who attended ethics camp, said the values part works because it is so well integrated into the curriculum. "If you just tried to teach a value like diversity, they'd tune you out," she said. "Because it's part of a novel you're teaching, they see how it relates to the story and then, to them." Paula Mitchell, director of 13 public alternative schools with 700 students in the San Jose area, said the number of her students passing the state English test had gone up 20 to 30 percent since adopting the ethics center's curriculum. "We've got away from work sheets and packets to lessons where kids are reading books, real literature taught in a way they can relate to."

 

Mr. Johnson's next project is developing an earth science curriculum that he expects to make a debut next year. It will prominently feature ethical issues in science. Indeed, that was a reason he started the science ethics camp three years ago, to test his ideas. The earth science curriculum will be taught through units based on natural disasters - earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes. It's an approach Mr. Johnson used with urban special education students and found effective. "Kids love reading about natural disasters," he said.

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