Students get ethics lesson

Students from nine local school districts gathered in Bremerton this week for the third annual Ethics in the Workplace Conference, receiving an intramural lesson about how ethics are acquired and applied.

“This is worthwhile, and needed,” said South Kitsap School District Director of Careers and Technical Education Dr. Thomas Mosby, who participated as a group leader. “Kids are unaware of these issues and their importance in the workplace. It gives them this needed background, and lessens the load of what the industry has to teach them when they are employed.”

“Kids need to learn about the consequences of their actions,” said session moderator Randy Doan. “It’s tough for teachers to include this content in their curriculum.”

The five-hour session was divided into a two-stage examination of a multifaceted decision and a scenario-based examination of an ethical dilemma.

Dividing into small groups led by a diverse group of business and industry representatives, they arrived — or didn’t arrive — at consensus decisions about purposely ambiguous situations.

In a role-playing exercise the students became a hospital committee, deciding which of five patients should receive a heart for transplant.

Assuming that each would die without the operation they were presented with five cases: Alfred, a 45-year-old white man with two teen-aged children who is on the brink of developing a cancer vaccine; Bill, 25, a black man with one child and a pregnant wife working as an auto mechanic; Cora, 27, a white female with five young children whose husband owns a restaurant; David, 19, a white single man who has been arrested several times at student protests; and, Edna, a 34-year-old single white woman who has worked in church and charity groups.

During the first round, Cora was chosen as an overwhelming favorite for the operation. As representatives of each group addressed the issue, most concentrated on her five children and how they would be left unsupervised if she was not there to raise them.

This could lead to the collapse of the family, since the restaurant would most likely fail because the father would be stretched too thin.

Bill came in second for his importance to his own family. Alfred and David tied for third, and Edna received no votes at all.

The students threw themselves into the choices, often making off-the-cuff, careless statements which they quickly retracted. Several tables were divided, while some reported a consensus while stressing that it was not really unanimous.

Said one participant early on, “I don’t like this game. It’s way too intense.”

During the first round, family emerged as the most important value. Potential, either to cure cancer (Alfred) or father a child that could change the world (David) was less important.

This changed after they received more information: Alfred is on the verge of an important discovery, which he has kept to himself. He also has the potential for mental problems.

Bill will maintain a steady job with little potential for significantly higher earnings.

Cora is self-centered, religiously obsessed, and her mother handles most of the childcare.

David is bitter and paranoid, but hopes to become a lawyer.

Edna is an aggressive career woman who has been unable to sustain a romantic relationship. She also may have lesbian tendencies.

Subsequently, Alfred’s support rose as Cora’s fell. Family and children were the most important value, so Cora’s delegation of childcare made her less important. Bill’s support stayed about the same, while Edna gained a few votes.

The students were asked about the information provided, and what was irrelevant. Edna‘s sexual orientation was mentioned as such, along with Cora’s characterization as a “professional Jew.”

Students disagreed about the relevance of the fact that Bill “is a black who does not appear to be swayed by the blandishments of black extremist groups.”

Many felt it was discriminatory, while others felt his identification with such groups could be a positive thing in terms of advancing his own ethnic group.

During the first round Alfred gained a low priority due to his “advanced age” — a disconcerting viewpoint to many of the adults present. In the second round his ability to “solve” cancer became more important and his potential mental problems were minimized.

Some of the groups came to an easier consensus during the second round, using the extra time to get better acquainted. After a break each group discussed an ethical dilemma drawn from the group leader‘s own experience.

On at least one occasion, “The kids came up with a better solution than what we had done in the real world.”

Group leaders, from diverse occupations such as veterinarians and recyclers, offered advice about their fields to individuals. “You have to ask yourself whether you want a career or just a job,” Doan said, encouraging this contact. “The people here can help you to find a career.”

“Kids give each other ideas,” Army Recruiting Commander Maj. Cameron Cashman said of the event. “They don’t know each other here, so they don‘t have that barrier of ‘I’m cool’ or ‘I’m not cool.’ Everyone is open and willing.”

This was seconded by Olympic High School junior Ben Erickson, who said his own friends are sometimes hesitant to challenge his statements.

“I’ve learned tolerance,” Erickson said. “After today I am more open-minded about listening to other people’s opinions.”

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