Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Ethical Dilemma

            Let me tell you a story. I’ll call the main character boy child. (It’s a true story, so as you would expect, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.) He’s a delectable mess in that special way of a fifth grade boy. At the same time, his struggle captures an essential dilemma for many students.

            Boy child walks into his parents’ bedroom right before dinner, and he’s lacking his usual bounce. With a truly perplexed look, he shares, “I’m not sure I made the right decision about something today.”
            Alarmed but feigning calm, the parents ask, “What’s that, bud?”
            Boy child goes on to explain the he had received back a quiz that day. It was in an area in which he had been struggling, but he had worked extra hard to be ready for this quiz. “I made a 97, but I could have had a 100. I saw that Mr. Teacher had made a mistake and I told him, so I lost those three points. I’m not sure that was the right thing to do.”
            Relieved parents hug boy child extra hard, tell him it definitely was the right thing to do, and let him know how proud they are of him for every part of this story. Boy child bounces extra high on his way out of the room.

There are so many wonderful aspects to this story. It captures the emergence of a young person’s ability to grapple with abstractions and moral constructs. For boy child, this marks a defining moment in his identifying how he wants to lead his own life. He receives affirmation of  all his positive decisions.
            The story also raises some obvious questions: What do you think of boy child’s actions? What about the parents? What about the teacher? What would you have done if you were any of those people? Those apply to any ethical dilemma.
            When you broaden the focus, the story begs another huge question: What does it say about our educational system and our culture and our parenting that a student faces such a struggle over a mere three points?

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