Friday, March 18, 2011

KeFactors Friday: How to Plan a Good Murder

This is one of my favorite stories, from a veteran high school teacher, Mr. R., who was covering an ethics unit for a senior [critical thinking] class.

After covering the fine points of ethical thought and behavior, the big assignment was to get into small workgroups to plan the perfect murder.

Students who’d been disengaged lit up and got involved. Individuals who hated group projects re-engaged with enthusiasm. Kids in other classes said, “AwwwI wish I had that class.” For a couple days, even Facebook was deserted in favor of this assignment.

By deadline, these bloodthirsty students had their Powerpointed schemes all worked out. That is, until Mr. R. asked the showstopper question:

This is a unit on ethics. Did anyone at any point speak up against this?”

They stared at him the way a lab full of monkeys would stare when all the bananas are inexplicably removed.

“But you sort of gave us permission,” argued one student, “when you made it a homework assignment."

“And we all know it’s not for real,” said another. “No one really gets hurt.”

I know that in business many things can be forgiven if the right outcomes ($$$) are produced, and in recent years it’s become socially acceptable, even hip, to laugh over the “cleverness” of people who win profits by pulling off some ethical sleight-of-hand.

But here are the questions that teacher posed:

If someone in a position of authority initiates or sanctions what you know to be wrongdoing, does that make it all right?

If you’re told that it’s not for real, if you can’t see the victim, or are assured the wrongdoing is a victimless crime, does that then make it all right?

This teacher told me every once in a while he’d have a student who’d raise their hand and say, “Hey, Mr. R., I don’t get this. We’re studying ethics so why do you have us planning a murder? Isn’t that wrong?

Bingo—automatic “A” for that unit.

No comments: