Ethical Dilemmas for Classroom Discussion
THE DAILY DILEMMA
by Charis Denison
(present this to your students)
Devon had just been elected school president of his boarding high school. He had chosen a student senate to serve under him, whose job would be to help make all decisions that affected the student body. It was the end of his junior year and he and the new senate were to begin their positions in the fall. Devon was well liked in the school community and respected by both students and faculty. Everything seemed perfect for the start of the new school year.
The following week Devon made a dumb mistake. He signed out with some friends to have dinner in town and came back with alcohol on his breath. When approached by the faculty on duty in his dorm, he, along with his friends, admitted he had been drinking.
In the morning Devon was asked to meet with both the current senior class president with her senate and Devon’s incoming senate. Here is where things got messy. The current senate was impressed with the fact that this was Devon’s first offense of school rules. Also, he had been honest when confronted and this had the potential to make him a role model for taking responsibility for one’s actions and learning from one’s mistakes. The students who comprised the incoming senate disagreed. They felt betrayed. They were still being reviewed by the faculty and Devon himself to see if they were worthy to serve their community, and they did not want someone who would break a rule before taking office to decide their position. They felt Devon should be removed from his position and a new election conducted.
There was one week left of school. A decision needed to be made by faculty and students within two days so that that the new senate and student leaders could be announced and in place by the last day of school. The school community was up in arms. Half the school agreed with the old student government and the other agreed with the new one. What was once a calm and promising ending to the school year was now a chaotic and divisive one. What decision would serve the school community best?
For an archive of previous dilemmas, click here.
haris (KAIR-iss) Denison, founder of Prajna Consulting, is an expert in Community Involvement, Human Development, and Ethics. She has built her experience primarily by working with schools and non-profits for the past 15 years.
After initially teaching middle and high school English and Creative Writing, Charis began to develop curricula and publish articles related to social justice, ethics, human development, community involvement, and experiential education. She has received national recognition for her work in those fields, as well as for her community-based work with American teens and Tibetan refugees in Central Asia.
Charis co-wrote Tolerance for Others, a middle school human development text, with Leni Wildflower. She currently works as the national Service-Learning consultant for the Durango Institute for Co-Curricular Education.
Charis also teaches at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California, and runs Prajna Consulting. Through Prajna she consults with schools, parents, students, and businesses both organizationally and individually. Charis also facilitates workshops and speaks on a wide variety of topics.
Charis can be reached at:
Elkind+Sweet Communications, Inc.
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NOTES FOR THE FACILITATOR
(this is for you)
This takes the age-old discipline conundrum and adds even more obstacles to prevent a clear ethical choice. I like this case because when it occurred both sides of the main issue had valid ethical points. Keeping Devon could, indeed, teach the students a lot about leadership, accountability, the merits of honesty, and forgiveness. Letting him go could teach the students about leadership, accountability, consequences of one’s choices. Clearly, whatever the school decides to do will set a definite tone and send a clear message to the community starting in the fall. What sort of tone and message might your own community want to establish?
I also find this case intriguing because it creates a powerful tool regarding getting adolescents to dig inside and use their value system to form their own opinions. In this situation, students within the same cliques, school teams, even families disagreed with one another. It was a marvelous lesson and a gift to have teenagers realize they might disagree with their best friend about something that will affect them in the long run.
I encourage you to preface any discussion around this case with a conversation about how conflict and disagreement get a bad rap. Get your group to acknowledge how powerful these concepts can be in creating positive change both in one’s community and in one’s relationships.
(also, debate topics, writing assignments, etc.)
- What is your first instinct after reading this case regarding what the school should decide about Devon?
- What points do you think should be considered in making a decision about Devon?
- Have you or someone you know ever made a decision that violated a position they held? What factors do you think contributed to making the decision?
- If you were arguing the position of the current student senate, how would you do so? What points would you include as important to consider?
- If you were arguing the position of the incoming senate, how would you do so? What points would you include as important to consider?
- What values do you think both sides might share that shaped their decisions?
- Can you think of any points both sides might agree on?
- Have you or someone you know ever disagreed with a close friend or sibling about something that would affect both of you? What contributed to your two positions? How did things end?
- Have any of you changed your mind since the start of this discussion?
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