Ethical Dilemmas for Classroom Discussion
THE DAILY DILEMMA
by Charis Denison
(present this to your students)
When Brian’s dad helped him land a job hosting at a popular restaurant near his neighborhood he figured his summer was set. The restaurant owner was a good friend of his dad’s and was letting him work four times a week with Brian’s choice of shifts. He could sleep in and make enough money to go to the beach and hang out with his friends the rest of the time. He had just finished the infamous grueling Junior year of high school and was ready for a break from stress and relentless juggling of so many responsibilities.
Always one to make friends easily, Brian knew everyone’s name at the restaurant by the end of his first week on the job. He often accepted the option to arrive early to work and eat with the staff before setting up the dining room. One of the members of the kitchen staff had been working at the restaurant for four years chopping vegetables for the salad bar and was especially kind to Brian as he was learning the ropes. Her name was Rosa and he often took his breaks with her because they made each other laugh and he felt comfortable with her. Rosa introduced Brian to her husband and children as well, and after his first month on the job, he felt like a real member of the restaurant “family”.
One night, during a break in the rush, all that changed for Brian. Rosa casually mentioned her hourly wage in the middle of a conversation they were having. Rosa was talking about the cost of childcare and how hard it is for her and her husband to find affordable help with their kids while they both worked. When Brian heard how much money Rosa was making he felt his stomach turn over. It was half what he was making. She had been there for four years and he had been there for less than three months! He felt guilty. He felt ashamed. And he felt angry. How could that even happen?
When he tried to talk to Rosa about how their wages were different, she grew uncomfortable and appeared nervous. “Please don’t say anything to our boss, Brian. Anyone who complains from the kitchen is usually fired. I can’t afford to lose this job. You don’t understand how hard it is for people in my shoes. You are young. Trust me, I’m not the only one with their families on the line back in the kitchen.”
Brian went home that night and felt torn in half. He knew this was a straightforward example of injustice. But he had never been face to face with it in this way. By taking a stand and saying something he could make things even harder and more unfair for Rosa and the rest of the kitchen staff. But, by staying silent he was allowing that injustice to carry on. If someone like him (young, white, middle class) wasn’t going to do anything, how would things ever change?
Brian wished things were as clear and outlined as they were in the classroom. But this wasn’t a textbook problem and there was no clear answer.
What should he do?
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 case provides a chance to talk about the “us” and “them” scenarios that pop up everywhere in the lives of adolescents. Often, teenagers find themselves put into this position of being labeled with one or the other and feel they have little to no control to change the situation.
I like this case because I can talk about the guilt that many of my students feel at times because they have what they need and someone else might not. I can also talk about what it feels like for those students who know the world is not set up in a way that gives them or their families the same privileges as others. It is a nice forum to bring up the difference between equality (sameness) and equity (fairness).
This case is also a great opportunity to talk about how doing the right thing can be difficult and confusing. The ideas of “right” and “wrong” are very different concepts when we step out of the classroom or out of our textbooks. I try to make sure in this part of the discussion that I emphasize the fact that yes, it is a big and challenging responsibility to figure out how to do the right thing but that it is also essential that we rise to that challenge.
(also, debate topics, writing assignments, etc.)
- What would you do if you were in Brian’s shoes?
- What do you think Rosa meant when she told Brian he was young when she was asking him to stay silent about their wage difference?
- Have you or someone you know ever been in a situation where you were treated more fairly than someone else? What did it feel like?
- Have you or someone you know ever been in a situation where you were treated unfairly compared to someone else? What did it feel like?
- What is the right thing to do in this case? Do you think Brian, the owner of the restaurant, Brian’s dad, and the kitchen staff would all agree? Why/why not?
- Have you ever been confused when you were trying to figure out how to do the right thing? What happened? What did you finally decide to do?
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