The Need for Ethics in Our Education System

12.30.09 – Richard Pan – Ethics, the study of problems of right or wrong, of morality, of obligations, of values, of fairness and justice, in ways consistent with a society, has roots in the historical origins of virtually every modern ethnicity.

The Need for Ethics in Our Education System click here for pdf 

Richard Pan, a scientist-in-training and a teacher, can be reached at


Ethics, the study of problems of right or wrong, of morality, of obligations, of values, of fairness and justice, in ways consistent with a society, has roots in the historical origins of virtually every modern ethnicity. Our great nation in recent times may wish to ask: how should sophisticated yet immensely practical notions of ethics be inculcated in our young adults from our education system? The nation’s educators might offer a historical viewpoint that teaching of ethics was and still is allowed within the nation’s grade school systems albeit without significant federal participation or funding. As early as 1975, a laudable teachers’ paper was published in the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Bulletin, “Teaching Ethics in High Schools” (Benson and Forcinelli, 1975), outlining general methodology for the teaching of ethics to high school students based on the authors’ experiences in Claremont, California schools. Now, more than thirty years later, the nation’s young adults are likely very responsive to formal teaching of ideas of morality and ethics, especially in the context of modern sexuality: witness the popularity of Rabbi Lookstein’s “Jewish Sexual Ethics” classes for over twenty years at Ramaz High School in New York City (Freedman, 2009). Our nation’s need for more and better ethics awareness among young adults is also demonstrated by current interest in the independent Josephson Institute of Ethics (2009) which studies teenage ethics abuses of lying, cheating, and stealing. These citations might be contestable, but the critical conclusion of ethics’ importance in a modern society isn’t. For young adults in today’s sophisticated world, the more ethics they learn, the more they may wish to know.

Is it true any proposal for the teaching of ethics in United States education might be criticized on grounds of ethics deficiencies within U.S. education itself? Are issues of teaching practices that condone or exacerbate unethical behavior, like cheating or academic piracy, valid? How about unstated preferences of name, ethnicity, race, gender, or family military prestige which contest ideas of education meritocracy? Is it possible academic biases exist for or against new research fields, for example theoretical biology? A credible probe into the academic ethics of U.S. education must determine the exact nature and scope of existing grievances, e.g. whether grievances are now more prevalent but less obvious than in the past, and whether such grievances limit capacity for teaching of ethics. Proposals for required teaching of ethics might be further disputed because gradual changes in public values such as sexual mores and personal freedoms contribute directly to modern education controversies.

Our nation’s heightened interest in education reform, evidenced from sharp increases of education and research monies in President Obama’s new administration (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (United States Congress, 2009), the Race To the Top Fund (United States Department of Education, 2009), and the Common Core State Standards Initiative (National Governors Association, 2009)), might give us pause: should United States citizens ask for greater in-writing guarantees of ethics teaching in our classrooms? The nation – people and institutions – is now far more international and more sophisticated and more dependent on education and technology than it ever was before the 1960′s and the Sputnik Space Program. For such heady times of social and technological change, it may be far-sighted to teach ethics as a formal classroom subject in United States classrooms, asking mature young adults to make a permanent personal ethics statement in high school or university study which helps them select better choices in critical modern moral dilemmas: race-based discrimination, hard-to-prove theft or piracy, cheating on tests, sexual permissiveness, or ultimately sophisticated institutional conflicts of interest. Encouraging all United States citizens to think about and give meaning to their own ethics values at an acceptable age can not be a mistake for a great and increasingly complex nation. Funded Department of Education provisions attached to school grants to ensure for each student a basic ethics class and a personal ethics and values statement, preserved as an individual document and revised over time, might prove very efficient at keeping a focus on personal and academic integrity, thereby eradicating sophisticated forms of fraud at the highest United States levels. A clearer element of ethics of this type may be needed for education to continue to wax superior in our United States classrooms.


Benson, G.C.S. and Forcinelli, J. (1975), “Teaching Ethics in High School,”  NASSP Bulletin , 59, pp. 80-89.

Freedman, S.G. (2009), “In a Manhattan Classroom, Judaism Meets the Facts of Life,” The New York Times , December 11, 2009, <> (December 28, 2009).

Josephson Institute of Ethics (2009), <> (December 28, 2009).

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) (2009), Common Core State Standards Initiative, <> (December 28, 2009).

United States Congress, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009), <> (December 28, 2009).

United States Department of Education, Race to the Top Fund (2009),<> (December 28, 2009).



  1. Rabbi Nochem Kaplan

    The time for seriously rethinking how we teach basic principles of ethics and morality has long been overdue. This issue goes to the very core of civil society and all segmants of the american mosaic need to engage in an honest debate. I belive recent events wehich indicated a complete lack of corpotare responsibilty for the common good and public interest is only the tip of the iceberg. It seems to me that our very futyure is at stake.

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December 30th, 2009

Richard Pan

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