Teaching children to do the right thing

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Your friend wants to borrow your new Powerpuff Girls pencil. But it's yours, so you don't want to lend it to her. What do you do?

Such life-defining moral choices are being contemplated by 10-year-olds at a Pembrokeshire primary. Over a two-day programme, Years 5 and 6 at Manorbier primary have been asked to examine everyday decisions.

Dialogue Works, an international consultancy that has worked with civil servants and tax inspectors, is visiting the school as the first step in a scheme to provide lessons in the philosophy of decision-making for pre-pubescent pupils.

Using a six-step programme, pupils formulate moral hypotheses for various decisions. They then question who else would be affected by their choices.

Finally, they compile a list of reasons for and against each decision.

Karin Murris, director of Dialogue Works, said: "This isn't designed to turn crooks into better people. But following rules and making good decisions are not necessarily the same thing. Over the last 40 years, society has changed. Relativism has slipped in and we have to examine people's opinions."

Dr Murris now hopes to extend the scheme to younger children. She believes that even five-year-olds can benefit from extended moral contemplation.

She said: "By starting at this age, we hope to create a more just society."

But Rob Izzard, a parent at Manorbier, doubts whether the training session will turn his daughter, Sophie, into an arbiter of reason.

He said. "Her decisions come down to common sense. And when we have family debates, it certainly doesn't feel like we have a philosopher here."

And 11-year-old Sophie is equally bemused when asked to suggest how the training might apply to her own life.

She said: "Sometimes I don't want to let someone use my pens, but I want to be their friend, so I do it anyway. It's easy. I always know what to do.

"Most of the decisions I have to make now are obvious. I can't imagine a situation where I wouldn't know what to do."


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