In a perceptive essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Slip-Sliding Away, Down the Ethical Slope”, Robert J. Sternberg suggests that the educational system is contributing to society’s increasing ethical weaknesses by adopting misplaced priorities. He writes:
“Schools need to teach students the steps involved in ethical behavior and the challenges of executing them. And they need to do so with real-life case studies relevant to the students’ lives. The steps toward ethical behavior are not ones that students can internalize by memorization, but only through active experiential learning with personally relevant examples.
“There is a larger question our society must face: Have we abrogated what should be a fundamental responsibility of higher education? The financiers who helped to create the financial meltdown of 2008 were, for the most part, bright and well educated. Many were graduates of this country’s finest colleges and universities. Is it possible that, in placing so much emphasis on grades and test scores, we are failing to select for and teach the qualities that will produce not just ethical individuals but also ethical leaders?”
You can read the entire article here.
Sternberg also lays out an eight step process to achieve ethical action. There are many such lists, but this is a good, succinct one:
1. Recognize that there is a situation that deserves to be noticed and reflected upon.
2. Define the situation as having an ethical component.
3. Decide that the ethical component is important enough to deserve attention.
4. View the ethical component as relevant to you personally.
5. Ascertain what ethical rule applies to the situation.
6. Figure out how to apply the ethical rule.
7. Prepare for possible adverse consequences, such as retaliation, if you should act ethically.