If I Made the Rules

All ages

We live in a world abuzz with lists of ethical rules, rights, and responsibilities: Buddhism's "Noble Eightfold Path" of conduct, school honor codes, Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, our Bill of Rights, the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the lists go on and on (see Appendix 2 for examples). And, of course, these days we hear constant discussion of the Ten Commandments. All of these lists include at least some pretty good rules. There are others that your kids will likely think should not make anyone's top ten list of the most important ethical ideas.

How do those rules come to be? People invent and discuss them, of course, and your kids can have a taste of the experience. Have each family member come up with his or her own list of up to ten rules to make a more perfect world, ones that each person would be willing to live by.

Then compare notes. Where do people agree or disagree, and why? That will stretch everyone's moral reasoning and might even get you to question some assumptions.

Bonus 1: Try cutting your lists down to just five rules. Deciding which rules are more important is another great exercise in moral reasoning. Can you get down to three? One? Bonus 2: Once you've got your rules to live by, enhance the discussion by talking about how you would get people to follow them. Should there be punishments for noncompliance? Rewards? Use Kohlberg's six levels of moral development (in kid terms) to frame it:

Level 1: Fear of punishment

Level 2: Hope of reward

Level 3: Desire for social approval

Level 4: Rules are rules

Level 5: Rules are good but changeable

Level 6: Follow universal principles

Should you start at the top, appealing to universal principles, or at the bottom, by threatening rule breakers with punishment? Why?

You Did What Now?

Ages 6+

Materials: index cards

Write a number of one-sentence scenarios on index cards, some embarrassing, some not, some ethical, some not. Examples:

• You put a frog down a bully's pants, and he punched someone else in the nose for it.

• You wrote nasty things about your enemy in the bathroom stall.

• You picked up someone else's trash.

• You started a false rumor that someone's father was in prison.

• You copied your older brother's paper from last year and never got caught.

• You didn't do so well on a test, even though you studied but did not cheat.

• You received a trophy for winning a race when you know you cheated.

• You turned in a friend for shoplifting candy, and now everyone's calling you a snitch.

• Seeing a glow out the window, you jumped out of the tub, ran naked to the neighbors' burning house, and woke them just in time.

• You hurt your ankle and didn't finish the walk-a-thon for homeless kids— but lied to your sponsors so you'd have money to give to the cause.

Now someone takes a turn as a reporter who does an on-the-spot interview based on one of the cards. The script goes something like this: "We're here with Mary who's had a pretty amazing day. Mary, we understand you started a rumor today that Sam's dad was in prison. Why did you do it, and do you think that was the right thing to do?" The interviewee (who didn't know which scenario would be thrown at her) responds on the spot by either justifying the act or saying why she wishes she hadn't done it. The reporter might then follow up ("Would you do it again?" or "Is there anything you'd do differently next time?").

This exercise is a two-for-one game. The interviewee has to practice empathy by imagining the feelings of the person who "did the deed" and engage in moral reasoning to explain whatever position she takes.

Invite kids to come up with their own scenarios combining ethical issues and social constraints (right versus wrong plus social approval/disapproval, punishment/reward, principles, etc).19

0 0

Post a comment