What do we teach?

Ethics is a branch of Philosophy that examines ethical concepts and issues. Our curriculum comprises age-appropriate lessons on a wide range of topics that primary-aged children find interesting. You can see the K-6 curriculum here.

How do we teach ethics?

The approach taken by Primary Ethics is that ethical exploration in the classroom is best done through dialogue and discussion - a tradition of philosophical inquiry that goes right back to Socrates. This approach has significant social benefits. By learning to think about ethical matters together and through the give-and-take of reasoned argument, students will learn properly to consider other people’s points of view and to be sincere, reasonable and respectful in dealing with their differences and disagreements.

What curriculum is available now?

We currently have curriculum available for primary-aged children from Kindergarten to Year 6. All students starting school in 2015 will be able to access ethics classes from the beginning of the school year, providing we have trained volunteers to teach and organise the classes.

Who wrote the curriculum?

Dr Sue Knight, our contract curriculum author, co-wrote two terms of Stage 3 curriculum with Dr Carol Collins, but has written the rest of the K-6 curriculum herself. Our curriculum is examined for philosophical rigour by the Primary Ethics Curriculum Subcommittee, chaired by Dr Simon Longstaff, reviewed for instructional design integrity by Ms Lisa Bracken and deemed as age appropriate by the NSW Department of Education and Communities before it is published for use by our Ethics Teachers. 

What happens in an ethics class?

A picture paints a thousand words. Please see this short video, filmed at Crown Street Public School during the ethics pilot held there in Term 2, 2010.

Thank you to Angela Robertson, Dr Simon Longstaff, Lesley Holden, Sally Fryer, Stephen Salgo and David Rae and for the time and talent they donated in the creation of this footage.


How does our curriculum work?

Our Primary Ethics’ curriculum spans all seven years of primary school, teaching children how to approach ethical issues while developing their capacity for moral reasoning.

The very first topic in Kindergarten, Questions, puzzlement and what is OK, introduces children to the concept of a ‘community of inquiry,’ which is the foundation of ethical thinking. This theme is followed throughout the curriculum, being revisited in different years through topics such as Respectful Disagreement, Courage and Getting Even.

Year 4 students at Putney Public School

Most of the topics in the curriculum provide students with the opportunity to develop increasingly sophisticated knowledge and skills in moral reasoning. Children in the younger primary years examine topics such as being left out, sharing and bullying, while older children reflect on issues such as homelessness and child labour to help them consider the feelings and interests of others – one important aspect of moral reasoning. Other aspects include understanding consequences, having empathy, appreciating difference, recognising common capacities, recognising and acting on duties and giving equal consideration. These are tackled through a range of topics as diverse as Beauty and blindness, Is it important to understand the rules? Pride, Teasing and Animal rights.

A series of lessons on our treatment of animals and the environment throughout the curriculum encourages thinking about how far our individual moral responsibility should extend. These lessons engage students in considering the consequences of certain practices.

The idea of moral character is introduced in Kindergarten in Friendship and is then extended over the next few years in topics focussing on courage, pride, boasting and greed.

Our students will learn to recognise good and bad moral reasoning very early on, by introducing notions such as relevance, the difference between relevance and truth and the idea of weighing reasons against each other. Throughout the curriculum, children are asked to provide reasons to support their arguments/positions and Ethics Teachers are trained to test the validity of given reasons. Blind appeal to authority and moral relativism are exposed as bad moral reasoning in Beliefs, opinions, tolerance and respect; Appeal to authority; and Are some things just wrong?Later lessons progressively introduce logical concepts and processes, including conditionals, assumptions, induction and validity.

Evidence shows that well-reasoned moral judgement does not come automatically as young people mature and that these skills are best developed by engaging children in collaborative dialogue about a wide range of issues that matter to them. That’s how our Primary Ethics’ curriculum works. Once acquired, these skills accompany individuals into adulthood.