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Nicole St.

Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

Debate #8: Should history and geography be taught as science, with the goal of knowledge, but without ethical judgment? (wild card) Ethical judgments are an integral part of the human experience and to teach social studies without using them is to do students a great disservice. There is a story of some fish, told by American writer David Foster Wallace, to a group of students graduating from university a few years ago. He began his speech by telling this story: There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, Morning, boys, how's the water? The two young fish nod back and continue on their way, yet as the young fish swim on for a bit, they think to themselves, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, What the hell is water? (Foster Wallace, 2005). In the words of this writer, The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about (Foster Wallace, 2005). In this story, the students are the fish and the moral is that educators have a responsibility to teach students how to understand ethics as present, even formative, in creating the reality, context and meaning of our world. Without this understanding, students are ill-equipped to think critically about this world around them. It is undoubtedly true that historians and history teachers should avoid teaching students to judge the past through the lens of present; neither should they be taught only the ethics of the teacher. Students can, however, learn to understand historical context with ethics and therefore learn to judge the past fairly based on societal constructs of morality at that time. They can be taught to understand moral or ethical considerations as common themes throughout history and learn to feel empathy. And the very basic human tenants of morality

Nicole St. Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

can be nurtured when the teacher is able to provide a framework where students can use history to shape their own ethics, which will in turn shape societies and their lives. Since the inclusion of history in the public school system over a century ago, ethical judgments have been accepted as one of the primary purposes for its place in the school curriculum. From this beginning, history has continued to be believed to be an observatory in which the consequences of human actions could be viewed and the appropriate lessons drawn (Gibson, 2012a). The teaching of social studies has since been an authoritative narrative passed down from academics to the masses in classrooms. There has been little room for interpretation by students; they were expected rather to glean life lessons from the historical names, dates, and tales that were told to them by the all-knowing teacher. This way of teaching ethics in the classroom is outdated and even dangerous. Research published in 2011 by Seixas and Ercikan concluded that many teachers do not explicitly teach ethics in their classrooms. Actually, the teachers surveyed listed ethics as the least likely of six identified concepts that they would teach at least once a month in the history courses (2011). This is completely undesirable for the education system for the reason that ethical judgments are a part of the human condition and are thus taught implicitly by teachers, not to mention seen throughout history. If teachers are not aware of how they use ethics, they turn out students who are also unaware and unaided to navigate both the history classroom and the world, to unpredictable consequences. Students should be able to formulate their own ethical judgments with teacher support, and they should know how to recognize these judgments and follow how ethics have changed over time.

Nicole St. Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

When students study social studies with the inclusion of ethics they are better equipped to interpret and understand historical meaning (Seixas, 2013). This is crucial for a richer understanding of history for the reason that the accounts we find in history books generally seem to be thoroughly value-impregnated; in fact, most historians feel it is psychologically impossible for them to avoid making moral and ethical evaluations in their writings (Gibson, 2010b). Value judgments are currents running through secondary sources for no matter how slight the bias, they are always interpreted as well as primary sources. Primary sources in particular will always have a bias a result of the authors own experience with morality; furthermore, most often the authors are no longer alive to tell their tales. Students interested in the past are often those who understand the importance of interpreting the ethical judgments of authors; or those who feel empathy for the characters. In short, empathy breeds interest. In the worldwide bestselling novel Harry Potter we can understand lessons on the importance of teaching ethics to youth, not only for the moral of the tale but for the story that inspired millions of youth to read. What this bestselling series widely regarded as responsible for the rebirth of reading among generations of youth teaches beyond any other lessons is the importance of moral instruction for children and young adults. More than any other qualities, Harry is known for his sense of justice, caring and respect for his teachers, adults and friends. While his time at school is spent practicing magic, he learns more of how to best Voldemort from his personal interactions with the morally sound Hagrid, Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Lupin than from any magic spells or knowledge. Confessed author Rowling, the tale of the boy who lived is a tale of morality. A superficial, but

Nicole St. Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

no less important, argument for the inclusion of ethical judgments for empathy is the interest it inspires in students in the shades of historical grey. Ethical judgments and empathy are also essential parts of participatory democracy and they truly hold merit in the real world students will graduate to live on their own. They allow us to appraise the actions of others and affect the behavior of whom we judge (if they are alive) or learn from the actions of those who have passed on (Gibson, 2010b). Currently, the UBC education program is celebrating its year of indigenous education; in a move that is reflective of a wider cross-country acknowledgement of the importance of the indigenous people to Canadian heritage, present and future. This concept carries importance because as a community, the university has made a judgment to value and celebrate indigenous knowledge. Without an empathetic understanding of the history of First Nations in Canada and an identification of the value associated with teaching indigenous knowledge it is doubtful the university would have diversified our program in this way. Without continued understanding and empathy across a variety of groups who have experienced historical turmoil, it is doubtful that we would have much of the peace, or evolution of political relationships between these groups, that we see today. To teach with ethical judgments is an inevitably. This is also true for science where although the goal for many may be concrete knowledge, science is often taught with ethics, and a science classroom or laboratory without ethical judgment can be a dangerous one. One of the greatest scientists of our time was also one made of the greatest moral fabric. When the question of dropping Oppenheimers atomic bomb came during the Second World War, Einstein vehemently opposed the idea, despite his contributions to the project, as a result of

Nicole St. Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

his concern for its implications for the future of humanity. Even Oppenheimer himself, when asked for advice regarding the use of the bomb was wary of its implications for the human race in this moral dilemma. When it came down to the use of the product of scientific knowledge (and this is true for many scientific discoveries), moral judgments often factor highly into any outcome. And if they dont, the reality is they often should. If students do not have an ethical basis from which to ground their knowledge and teachers attempt to teach without morality students will use words like inhumane, tyrant, murder, and cruel without placing the act or person in relation to the past, their present and themselves. They will not be able to critically discuss fairness, or words such as just, righteous, heroic, and many more. In the reality where ethical judgment is absent from the history classroom we either present these words as facts or labels, or we ignore them completely; however, neither scenario will aid students to gain a full understanding of history or the present. In short, our students should be able to use these words with a personal understanding, for they will need to understand the meanings of these words to navigate their world. This navigation will be based the set of ethical principles that they are forming in our classes with or without our help. We want to produce people who are able to name our past horrors in such a way that they are so far removed from the standards of the time that they become unthinkable to the same degree. We want them to be able to celebrate past and present achievements and to make note of their strengths to remember in the future. Even making the assertion that we should not be teaching ethics is a normative ethical assertion. In this assertion, our ethics should not intrude into our study of history, but the reality is they do and they will we are human. Our awareness of them is what is necessary for

Nicole St. Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

us to be able to construct a conversation with our students and to challenge them to continuously negotiate their meaning and place in our society. To conclude with the example of the fish, David Foster Wallace finished his speech thusly, The capital-T Truth is about life before death. [The story of the young fish] is about simple awareness - awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water (2005)."

Bibliography

Ercikan, K., & Seixas, P. (2011). Assessment of higher order thinking: The case of historical thinking. In G. Schraw & D. R. Robinson (Eds.), Assessment of higher order thinking skills (pp. 245261). Charlotte, NC: Information Age. Foster Wallace, David (2005). This Is Water. Published in The Guardian, 20 September 2008. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/20/fiction. Gibson, Lindsay (February 2012a). Ethical Judgements in School History. The History Education Network, 12 February 2012. Retrieved from http://thenhier.ca/en/content/ ethical-judgments-school-history. Gibson, Lindsay (November 2012b). The Impossibility of Avoiding Ethical Judgments. The History Education Network Retrieved from http://thenhier.ca/en/content/ impossibility-avoiding-ethical-judgments. Morton, Tom & Seixas, Peter (2013). The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts. Toronto:

Nicole St. Pierre EDUC450B Final Assignment

Nelson Education. Parker, Ian. Mugglemarch: An Interview with J. K. Rowling. The New Yorker, 1 October 2012. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/01/ 121001fa_fact_.