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Tips for Teaching Ethics

Why Ethics Education is So Important Today!

Earlier this week I blogged about “What Should Be the Goals of Ethics Education”? In today’s blog I expand on those thoughts to address tips for teaching ethics.

First, let’s look at whether the way ethics is traditionally taught is the best approach.

One thing I’ve learned from over thirty years of teaching ethics is it should not be expected to make students more ethical. Yes, we can teach ethics. Most of us do so all the time because positions we advocate reflect our values and values is the foundation of ethical behavior.

We need to realize that our focus on teaching students the particulars of various ethical reasoning methods may not be sufficient to get students to behave more morally. Why? Most students typically enter ethics classes as moral relativists and don’t feel comfortable advocating for the truth of one moral position over another. Moreover, students may lack the confidence to discuss moral issues, especially if they have not taken a course or two on philosophy.

So, what can ethics do to make students appreciate that moral issues arise that must be dealt with in life and the real world? We need to focus our education on more than moral thinking. We need to pay attention to moral action.

How do we do this? We should start by inculcating values in students. This is extremely important because our society has morphed into one that is based on self-interest, not the interests of the broader community. In accounting, this is antithetical to the public interest dimension of the work of an accountant and auditor.

Perhaps we don’t spend enough time understanding what values mean. Values are things that have an inherent worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor. Moral values then means the standards of behavior determined through principles of right and wrong with regards to proper conduct. It is related to a virtuous, ethically upright, principled way of doing things.

But let’s be clear. It’s not just any values we should teach. To do so just adds strength to the notion that it is alright to promote any values—the moral relativists view. It’s moral values that are important including honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, respect, responsibility, and civility.

We need to teach ethics to develop in students the critical thinking skills that will enable them to give voice to their values formed by character-based education. The ethical reasoning methods have a role to play here but we should realize that just because a student can figure out what to do and why, that doesn’t mean they will act that way when push comes to shove. Moral dilemma

Here are some tips for teaching ethics. They are drawn from a writing by the group, Capsim, that addresses a variety of teaching methods.

  1. Focus on relevant situations: place your students in specific ethical dilemmas they may encounter in their personal lives and in the workplace.
  2. Identify the stakeholders in each dilemma; those potentially affected by the decision or action being contemplated.
  3. Highlight reasons and impacts to expand ethical conversations beyond right or wrong and delve deeper into how specific ethical decisions or actions impact all the stakeholders involved.
  4. Expose students to a variety of ethical reasoning methods, not just on one. This provides them with the tools to handle a variety of situations.
  5. Challenge your students by adding complexity by introducing them to situational pressure such as unethical coworkers and managers.
  6. Give students the confidence that they can resolve ethical dilemmas they might face.
  7. Teach students critical thinking skills so they can analyze ethical dilemmas and decide on a course of action.
  8. Create an environment to teach ethics in more than one single class. Ethics should be integrated throughout the curriculum to make it clear ethical dilemmas are in many areas of life and many academic disciplines.
  9. Ethics is about more than teaching students ethical reasoning skills. It is to develop future leaders in society. We need it more now than ever before.
  10. Model ethical behavior!

There is a lot more to say about teaching ethics. Here is another blog of mine that addresses why ethics education needs to evolve.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I am giving away signed copies of my book to the first ten people who contact me at: [email protected] and provide a mailing address. May your 2021 be better than 2020. Let's face it, it can't be worse!

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 3, 2020. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: