The following is a letter I sent to my Ethics students last night.  As an unconventional educator who consistently steps outside the bounds of traditional instruction, I am often reminded that leading others into uncharted waters must involve a back-up plan for those inclined to mutiny or abandoning ship.   

Hello folks,    
     Congratulations for making it through another class packed full of complicated, thought-provoking, emotionally-charged ethical questions.  By now you should all be reconsidering the warnings I extended in our first class that this is one of the most difficult courses you’ll ever take.  I’m sure many of you were skeptical when I explained that you would often be forced to consider questions that would evoke emotion and possibly challenge your entire educational and moral paradigm.  Well, here we are at the end of the fourth week and I’ve only cracked the surface of what is to come.    Buckle up; It’s a crazy ride.        I’m looking forward to the rest of the semester and exploring more with you.  On Tuesday, I’m hoping we can pull together some of the topics we’ve touched on so far and begin to weave a tapestry from these colorful threads.  Perhaps we can also begin a class discussion about the ethics of teaching and taking a course in Ethics.  For now, I’d just like to assure you that there is a method to my madness.  (:    

     I know many of you were disturbed by what was presented in our most recent film.  In all honesty, I would be surprised if you were not. In fact, it is my hope that all of the films we watch will stir you.  I apologize for any discomfort that it caused you, but I cannot apologize for my decision to show the film in class.  You see, there are two reasons why I use supplemental media in the classroom to teach Ethics.  First, we can never truly understand intellectually what we do not experience.  Deciding the morality of issues on paper will never compare to the reality of ethical questions as they present themselves in our lives.  Part of my responsibility as an instructor is to prepare you to apply the material to your life.  Unfortunately, ethical questions in life don’t arrive in black and white on neatly printed pages or contain themselves to emotionless theories.  To the contrary, ethical questions emerge in a spinning fit of frantic feelings and uncomfortable chaos.  If we are to learn how to apply ethical reasoning to ethical questions, we cannot practice our reasoning in a meaningless vacuum of philosophy.  An ethics class without emotion is like bootcamp without violence.  I force you to feel because those are the conditions of ethical questions. It is much less about applying logical thinking TO real life conditions and more about applying logical thinking IN real life conditions. The question is not whether you are capable of considering ethical questions in the absence of emotion, but whether you are capable of considering ethical questions despite your emotions.  If I am going to effectively teach the practice of ethical reasoning, I must teach you how to think logically in a hurricane of emotion.  Anyone can learn to think critically.  The real measure of a master is the ability to use logic and reason when your heart attempts to overthrow your brain.  (:

   The second reason I use media to teach Ethics is simply to expose information in a captivating and succinct format.  How can we possibly decide ethical dilemmas if we do not actually know what we are deciding?  Although many of you may adopt the idea that “ignorance is bliss,”  it is impossible to consider ethical questions using reasoning and logic without considering unpopular perspectives and ugly truths.  Each of us comes to the classroom with a very different level of familiarity with each of these topics and it is my job to make sure we all come to the table with an understanding that is sufficient to address the questions before us.  Answering ethical questions without accurate information is like going to war without a weapon. 

    Many times in life, we are confronted with things we’d rather not confront.  Education is no exception.  When I tell you in class that there are no easy answers, I really mean it.  We cannot explore all the most difficult ethical questions of humanity in 8 weeks without rattling a few cages and shedding a few tears.  Moral conscience is a double-edged sword.  Ethical reason  is both a gift and a curse.  For we have evolved to a level that allows us to consider the most complex questions about our place in the universe, but to truly consider those questions we are forced to illuminate our darkest secrets and face our greatest fears. 

    I’m including the link to the film below for those of you who missed it and those of you who are brave enough to accept the challenge to practice your ethical reasoning skills in some of the most advanced conditions. 

I leave you with these words…

“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its power of acting and reasoning as fear.” Edmund Burke

“If words are to enter men’s minds and bear fruit, they must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men’s defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds.”    J.B. Phillips

 “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle

       “It is not my job to teach you what to think.  It is my commitment to teach you HOW to think so that you may think for yourselves.”  Your Instructor (:

 

       

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