The Bioethics Commission began its discussion on ethics education this morning by focusing on how ethics education might be implemented in different educational settings, particularly in schools. The Bioethics Commission heard from David Steiner, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Professor of Education at Johns Hopkins University, and Laura Bishop, Ph.D., the head of academic programs at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics.
During this morning’s session, Steiner discussed current standardized testing protocols, which often exclude potentially controversial topics that have ethical dimensions. He explained that this exclusion often acts as a disincentive to teachers to introduce such topics into the classroom, preventing the cultivation of deliberative skills in students. This exclusion, Steiner said, “reduce[s] the likelihood that teachers will help students develop the deliberative skills required for democratic participation.” Steiner explained that the kinds of topics that are often excluded from testing and teaching include common issues in bioethics, such as, “death and dying, evolution…family problems…serious illnesses…treatments for serious illnesses…and suffering.”
Bishop went on to discuss the importance of integration bioethics into high school curricula, and efforts to train high school teachers to teach bioethics. She noted the obstacles that need to be overcome to ensure that ethics is integrated into high school curricula, including structural and logistical challenges, parental and teacher concerns about controversial topics, focus on test taking and meeting state standards, and lack of resources, including a lack of clear and fully developed formal curriculum materials, and a shortage of committed funds.
Including bioethics in high school curricula, Bishop explained, can help students learn how to “listen, hear, and understand peers and others who have opinions that are different from their own, and help students be able to articulate what they believe and why.” Bishop also noted that, “the exciting thing is [those learning bioethics in the classroom] also report an increased interest in the subject matter in which they have these bioethics discussions, they are more interested, they retain information, they can work in a facile way with new questions.”
Up next, the Bioethics Commission will discuss potential recommendations for democratic deliberation.