Updated: Feb 23
In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, an article that immediately struck out to me was Building an Ethical Company, by Isaac H. Smith and Maryam Kouchaki.
The central theme espouses the concepts of ethics training in the workplace, with specific cases of group discussions about ethics, cultivating a healthy environment for reflection, and mentorship programs. The authors wrote that “ethical learning doesn’t happen by rote… employers should foster an environment that encourages workers to become more ethical by practicing moral reflection.”
The article gives examples of corporations like Salesforce, which gives seven paid days off to employees to engage in volunteer work of their choice; the Savings Bank of Walpole, which started a campaign to give its employees $700 for random acts of kindness; Deere & Co, an agricultural company that invites farmers to speak to assembly-line workers about the difference that the workers make in the farmers’ livelihoods… indeed, there are definitive strides being made in the workplace ethics and morality fields. Not only that, but these same companies have also reported higher employee satisfaction, better ratings, and a far less chance of any scandal / slander used against them.
Even some colleges have started realizing the value of inculcating a sense of social and moral responsibilities in the students. For example, Princeton University developed The Novogratz Bridge Year - a nine-month, tuition-free program that allows newly admitted undergraduates to begin their Princeton experience with a year of community-engaged learning at one of five international locations. Bridge Year participants study the local language, live with carefully selected homestay families, and take part in a variety of cultural enrichment activities, while learning with and from community partners through their volunteer work. Princeton University also initiated a pre read program for its incoming students. This program also initiates the students to think more on the issues of honor and social issues. The program includes books like The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Meaning in Life and Why It Matters by Susan Wolf, amongst others.
But, what if this idea could be taken to the next level?
Those who have been educated in the United States may reflect back to their schooling before college. America’s education system embodies a variety of courses, but four core subjects are taught throughout: math, science, history, and English. Each school is a bit different; maybe a school could have an extra core class, or perhaps one less. As a student progresses in his/her schooling, there are more choices given to students about which classes they can take, or what we call “electives.”
But, almost no school in the United States teaches courses on morality, ethics, and values, except occasionally as an elective. Mr. Richard Weissbourd, a current senior lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, stated in a 2012 Harvard Education Letter that “polls indicate that about 70 percent of public-school parents want schools to teach ‘strict standards about right and wrong,’ and 85% want schools to teach values.”
There are a multitude of positive impacts that an ethics-in-practice class can teach its students. Students are not just taught one set of values, but are given any and all, even opposing, viewpoints to consider in a variation of issues, and are given a chance to mold and merge certain practices with other concepts and ideologies. This practice helps in becoming an all-rounded human, creating one’s own unique way of life while also developing critical thinking skills that can prepare students for post-graduation success in the workplace.
In a recent KQED Article, a student reported that the analytical framework she learned from her time at the Ethics Institute of Kent Place School continues to serve her in her education at her current institute, Yale University; she stated that she has become a better judge of her own actions, and her ethics education served as a “mirror,” allowing her to reflect on her and her community’s values.
My father himself, whose primary schooling was done in India, mentions that “in elementary school, we would start everyday with Morality,Respect and Values class. This was the primary focus of our elementary education.” he adds. Till this day, he still remembers the lessons he was taught, and still recalls word-for-word the proverbs that the class was to memorize about good values… a fundamental bedrock established in his mind and heart, what would later evolve into the Princeton Foundation for Peace and Learning.
The human brain is at its most impressionable stage when it is between 12-24 years old, yet efforts in providing ethical training are generally being conducted after schooling, rather than being conducted during school. It’s not exactly a new concept either: Students in ancient India were sent for the first quarter of their life to Gurukulam, an institute outside of civilization, and the “material” world they lived in. A Gurukulam was typically established in the middle of the forests to ensure complete dedication, focus, and the students’ retention of the necessary values needed to be a holistic human being.
Due to an increased polarization in the modern world (be it economically, socially, or politically), it is high time to re-establish programs that teach ethics and morality in school… maybe not like the ancients, but by creating a curriculum that reintroduces humanity into the bigger picture. There is a current nationwide, even worldwide shortage of programs that can truly help people become emotionally intelligent leaders. But, if we can remain cognizant of the fact that there is a need for ethical development in schooling, there will be change, and it will come through the already-primed human beings such as the members of Princeton Foundation for Peace and Learning.
· Capsim. “4 Reasons Why Teaching Ethics Is Important.” Capsim, Capsim, 2 Aug. 2021, https://www.capsim.com/blog/4-reasons-why-teaching-ethics-is-important.
· Flanagan, Linda. “What Students Gain from Learning Ethics in School.” KQED, Mind/Shift, 24 May 2019, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/53701/what-students-gain-from-learning-ethics-in-school.
· Smith, Isaac H., and Maryam Kouchaki. “Building An Ethical Company.” Harvard Business Review, no. Nov-Dec, Nov. 2021, pp. 132–139.
· Weissbourd, Richard. “Promoting Moral Development in Schools.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Education Publishing Group, Jan. 2012, https://www.hepg.org/hel-home/issues/28_1/helarticle/promoting-moral-development-in-schools_522.