Ethics for Contemporary Society

Course Syllabus

Instructor: M. Laskowski
Office: Room 292, Upper School
Telephone: 919.847.0900 ext. 2643

This course seeks to look at the many ethical issues that confront people in contemporary society. It looks at how individuals go about developing their personal ethical codes and decision-making processes and then seeks to put those codes into effect through discussion of real and hypothetical situation that may arise in everyday life. Students must do considerable reading and writing as they work on developing their analytical skills. There is a Research Paper which allows the student to investigate a particular ethical question/issue in more depth. This also allows each student to demonstrate and further develop, in a more extended format, the analytical and persuasive skills that are a part of the daily give and take of in-class discussions
--Ravenscroft School Curriculum and Registration Guide, 2002, p. 47

Ethics, as a concept, is one of the most misunderstood and, therefore, most misapplied terms in the English language. Most people can recognize that “ethics” is intended to mean recognizing the difference between right and wrong and choosing to do the right thing. But how do we recognize that difference? What factors go into our understanding of what is right and wrong? Can something be right to one person and wrong to another? Or right today but wrong tomorrow? Or can it be right to do something wrong, so long as it’s only done in moderation? Or done to someone bad? Ultimately, to answer these very general questions as well as the day to day questions of individual morality and ethical behavior, we must delve a lot deeper into such eternal questions as: What is the nature of humanity? What is the role of the human in society? What are the obligations of humans to others? Where does morality come from? Only when we ask these questions can we find our own “moral compass.” This class is designed to help you find that moral compass, but, more importantly, to remind you that you need to use it. Every day, you are faced with these choices. What path you choose to take not only shows who you are and what you believe but what kind of person you are becoming. Do you steal that candy bar? Do you kick that puppy? Do you break up with that girl? This is not a class about how to be Ned Flanders; it’s a class about how to go from being a morally impressionable teenager to being an ethical human being, who has values and acts upon them. We’ll find out how far down the road you are already, and how far yet you have to go. Let’s get started.

Books: There is no designated textbook for this course, but do not mistake that for a lack of reading or a lack of work. Students will be given a series of readings, some short and some quite extensive, and be expected to both write on and discuss each of the topics.

Other supplies: You will need a notebook, and a three ring binder to hold all of your papers, of which there will be many. You will probably want to purchase a highlighter so that you can scan texts more thoroughly and effectively. Lastly, you will want to check your computer’s printer and Internet connection. You will have numerous research and writing assignments, and excuses will not be tolerated.

Effort: This will be a challenging course, but do not become anxious or overwhelmed about it. You can do it, and Mr. Laskowski will be here to help you along the way. The most important thing you need to remember is this: DO YOUR BEST! You are not expected to be perfect scholars of ethical principles; you are expected to make a real effort and show progress. If you do these things, you will succeed.

Preparation: A hefty portion of your grade depends upon your worthwhile contributions to class discussions. Therefore, you are expected in class EVERY DAY, and you must show up ON TIME. Tardiness is a sign of disrespect, and disrespect will not be tolerated. Also, when you show up, you should have already completed the readings for that class, be in possession of all of your supplies, and be ready to work when the bell rings. Consistent lapses in preparation will adversely affect your grade. Furthermore, if you are absent from class, regardless of the reason, you must get and complete the assignment by the next class. If you are absent on the day of a test, you must make it up the first day you are back. Special accommodations will be made for students who are absent for a number of days. Please let Mr. Laskowski know well in advance of expected absences.

Participation: It’s one thing to show up on time; it’s quite another actually to make meaningful contributions to class discussions. Accordingly, if you are hoping to succeed in this course, you will need to (1) come to class prepared and (2) make positive, useful, and appropriate contributions to class discussions. Do not just sit back and think, “Hey, I’m ethical; give me an A.” It won’t happen without your contribution. Come to class ready to be an active participant.

Quizzes/Essays/Message Board Postings: On a rather regular basis, you will be asked to demonstrate what you have learned by taking quizzes, writing essays, and making contributions to Mr. Laskowski’s Ethics Class Message Board, of which you will need to become a member by visiting Each of these assignments will be graded according to your ability to (1) read and analyze a given question, (2) determine the moral and ethical underpinnings of a problem, (3) develop a solution which upholds standards of ethical behavior and actually solves the problem and (4) communicate in an appropriate, professional, and grammatically correct manner.

Research Project: In lieu of a final exam, you will be expected to complete and present a serious and detailed examination of an ethical problem of your choosing. The form will be that of a formal research paper, probably between five and seven pages in length. You will have plenty of time to work on the project, mainly out of class, so do not wait too long to get started on your research.

Respect: In our class conversations, we will probably touch on some delicate issues. In order for the class to succeed (or, more to the point, for you to succeed in this class) you have a responsibility to be considerate, compassionate and respectful to your fellow students and your teacher. You will be treated as adults with all the responsibility that comes with that. Failure to show respect will not be tolerated and will be dealt with harshly.

Grading: It is hoped that you will do your best at all times. However, do not become preoccupied by grades. No one grade will ruin you or bring you eternal happiness. That said, the following factors will be considered in determining your grade: preparation, class participation, written work, and the research projects. Creativity and ingenuity will also be rewarded. The standards for grading are in line with those set forth by Ravenscroft. Your grade will be determined roughly (and therefore not absolutely) according to the following scale:
10% Preparation and Progress (Subjective)
35% Quizzes/Essays/Postings (Objective)
35% Class Discussion (Subjective)
20% Final Research Project (Objective)

Extra Assistance: Remember, Mr. Laskowski is here to help you learn. And if you feel you need extra assistance in completing your work or understanding concepts, see him either before or after class to discuss the matter or to set up an appointment.