APPLY Ethics™ Articles


Can ethics be taught?

Financial Mail Letters to the Editor 6 September 2018


susan Financial Mail


SA has to find shared values for a deal that serves all

Business Day 19 November 2015

Susan Stos Business Day
Zapiro Comes to the Party!

APPLY Ethics™, a program used by a number of schools to teach ethical decision-making, has a new supporter. Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro, has granted the use of a number of his cartoons for the updated 2015 revision of the workbook.

Zapiro and APPLY Ethics™ are working towards the same end. While he uses humour and satire to draw the public attention to the deliberate flouting of ethics in South Africa, the APPLY Ethics™ program teaches how to become more ethical.

In granting the use of 15 cartoons, he hopes that corporates might display similar generosity. By contributing some of their social responsibility budgets, the program could be made more widely available to less affluent schools.

Ethics and morality tend to be concepts that are hard to pin down, but the 5-step program is concrete and easy to follow. It is a unique method as it provides a reasoned framework.

A reasoned framework is necessary, as it has been proven that our ethics are unreliable. We are more or less ethical, for example, depending on whether we are hungry, feeling attraction, lust, disgust, pressured by time or whether we smell something good. And teenage morality is compromised that much further due to a brain that is still under construction.
Currently in use by a number of private schools, Nicci Carboni, head of LO at
Roedean, had this to say after using the program:
“APPLY Ethics has instilled a deep sense of morality in the students at Roedean School … they (the students) are equipped with the skills needed to understand and apply these concepts to relevant examples in their everyday lives.”
Zapiro’s cartoons make the workbook even more interesting and accessible to students, pointing out the importance of ethics in a humourous way.

Assess; Principles; Philosophies; Loyalties; Yes/No Questions
APPLY Ethics™
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Ethics – Important for All, Especially for Teens
Teenage years are filled with raging hormones, uncertain emotions and an overwhelming desire to fit in; when adolescents are faced with, but often unequipped to make, big moral decisions. A new program, APPLY Ethics™, has been written specifically to teach morality to senior high school students.
A study by some North American doctors and scientists indicates that while 95% of brain growth takes place in childhood, the consequences of the developing 5% during adolescence are monumental, impacting behaviour and ability to make good choices.
The cerebellum, which controls co-ordination, changes and grows most. Physical, mental and intellectual co-ordination are all affected.
The ability to problem solve only fully develops after adolescence, and circadian rhythms change during this time. Struggling to nod off at night, teens are chronically sleep deprived. Their moods, ability to think, perform and react appropriately are all compromised.
The limbic system, involved in reward processing and risk taking, is particularly active during adolescence. They also have poor impulse control, seeking instant gratification.
The prefrontal cortex is often dubbed the ‘CEO’, and in a mature brain it reasons, plans and strategises. Teens are incapable of making those sound decisions.
The biggest time fatality these days is arguably family time. Where ethics were once developed around a leisurely dinner, families are no longer the stable units they were and few meals are eaten together. Adolescents are left to their own devices, and influences from technology are not always very desirable.
So, what to do? How do we begin to teach high school students today to behave ethically if they aren’t getting it at home, their physiology and hormones aren’t co-operating and the influences in their lives aren’t guiding them well?
Ethical decision-making is frequently about being between a rock and a hard place where neither option is desirable. APPLY Ethics™ is a practical program consisting of a student workbook with case studies that takes the guesswork out of moral choices. It provides students with a method of determining a reasoned response, and is an acronym for the process:
A – Assessing the situation
P – looking at Principles and values
P – choosing a guiding Philosophy
L – establishing the greatest Loyalties in the situation
Y – answering a few key Yes/no questions.
Designed for Life Orientation, APPLY Ethics builds leadership skills, teaches teenagers to think critically and provides them with valuable tools to use throughout their lives.
Morality can be Fickle
APPLY Ethics is a program for high school students that teaches ethical decision making by providing a reasoned framework. The program is based on creating self-knowledge, which leads to higher self-esteem and better choices.
Many of us may think that morals are instinctive, and we will know what to do. However, it’s been proven that they can be fickle.
We are born with some moral knowledge, innately understanding that taking care of family will best propagate our genes. However, we also once perceived anyone who looked and spoke differently as a threat, when that is clearly not acceptable now.
Our feelings of attraction and repulsion also slant our ethics, as do our senses of lust and disgust. When we are disgusted we automatically recoil. It is thought that disgust is ingrained to prevent us from parasites and poisons. But disgust has historically been used to morally reject entire groups of people and practices, such as homosexuals, Jews and inter-racial marriages.
Studies show that we respond better to a stranger’s requests for assistance in front of a bakery than in a more neutral situation. We are seven times more likely to help when we have scored a coin from a pay telephone. And it has been proven that prisoners are least likely to be granted parole when decision makers are hungry.
Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist, conducted an experiment about ethics and obedience, the results of which are chilling.
Volunteers thought they were taking part in an experiment about learning. They were told to administer an electric shock to ‘students’ who gave wrong answers, and to increase the severity if repeatedly incorrect. The ‘students’, in another room, weren’t shocked but were told to respond as if they had been.
These studies have been conducted frequently with the same results: Approximately 50% of people will obey, to the extent that they would kill someone they had never met and held no grudge against.
If we hope to evolve ethically, reason must be employed when making moral decisions. To that end, a program has been written to teach how to step back from emotion and use a framework of reason.
APPLY Ethics is a workbook, and is an acronym based on the 5 steps that should be considered in making ethical decisions:
A – Assessing the situation
P – considering one’s Principles
P – appraising one’s guiding Philosophy
L – determining the greatest Loyalties in the situation
Y – answering a few key Yes/no questions.
It has been used with great success in a number of schools, and teaches students a new way of approaching old problems.
For more information e-mail
Applying ethical principles in the high school classroom
Corruption is endemic in South Africa, according to public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela. One watches, with horror, visuals of gang violence in Mannenburg. And when Chief of Police and President of Interpol, Jackie Selebi, was charged with corruption it must have been confusing to the youth that the man charged with prosecuting criminals is a criminal himself.
According to Liz Dooley, former director of FAMSA, our families are under siege. The concomitant pressures of time and resources mean that family mealtimes, when children learn about values and ethics, infrequently occur. Teens need parental involvement and influence as much as they ever did, yet most adolescents now have their own entertainment systems in the form of i-pods, computers and cellphones. Parents who once had an idea who was calling and how often now have no clue to whom their children are speaking.
Coupled with that isolation, teens develop a ‘hypocrisy detector’ and see the gap between what their parents say, and what they do. They are told not to drink or smoke, warned that lying is wrong but may see their parents doing those very things. They are beginning to think for themselves about the big issues, often rejecting parental values. If our aim is to create authentic leadership among the youth, leadership that is based on morality and conviction, ethics must be a substantial component.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that governs right and wrong behaviour. As a concept it is sometimes difficult to teach. Susan Stos, an international and local journalist with 30 years experience and mother of two 20-something adults, has developed a programme for teaching ethical decision-making to high school students. It came about as a result of undertaking a Master’s degree on the subject.
“I realised that every decision in journalism is an ethical one – who to interview, what to ask, what to edit. Do we invade privacy to expose wrongdoing? Conceal our identity to implicate a criminal? My research indicated that most often those decisions are made unconsciously, based on a ‘gut feel’. I feel it is important to become conscious of the ethical choices we make, to be aware of the consequences of our decisions, but how do we do that? What framework do we use?”
“When I read about the King III report, which states that companies of a certain size and public profile must now have a social and ethics committee, it occurred to me that it may be too late to start teaching adults how to be ethical. Surely that kind of education should begin with our youth.”
To that end she developed a program, APPLY Ethics, which is pragmatic rather than esoteric, a simple series of steps to making an ethical decision.
“APPLY Ethics is an acronym: Assess, Principles, Philosophy, Loyalties and finally, Yes/no questions. It is not up to you or me to tell another person what choices to make. Everyone takes varying aspects into account when making a decision.”
Stos emphasises that the important point is the decision has been well thought through via the prism of one’s principles, philosophy and loyalties.
“We need to give our students the vocabulary and opportunity to think about what they believe in. Just as we exercise our bodies and brains to be fit and strong, we must develop ethical ‘muscles’.”
The APPLY Ethics program comprises of a student workbook and teacher’s guide and is pitched at the senior high school level. It begins by asking students about the people they admire and why. What attitudes do those people espouse? What kind of person do they want to become themselves? Most of us have never given thought to that question. Principles and values are discussed, wherein schools can include their own motto or mission statement. What does it mean to be fair? Why would one want to be dependable? What is the value in compassion?
“Next we turn to philosophies of life”, states Stos. “All of us need to consider what we believe in.” There is discussion around the ethic of reciprocity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“What is particularly great about this philosophy is that it is the basis of every major world religion, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Judaism, Hinduism, whatever. Each of these has some dictum about treating others as we’d like to be treated.”
Other non-religious philosophies are discussed, such as Ubuntu, which Desmond Tutu has called ‘the basis of humanity’, and the Random Acts of Kindness movement, about doing good deeds to those not expecting it and thereby creating a ripple effect of kindness. “There is only one rule in deciding on one’s personal philosophy: It would work if everyone did it. Students may want to come up with their own idea of how they’d like to function in the world and provided it follows that rule, it is valid.”
Loyalties are then considered. Wherein principles and a philosophy are constants, loyalties vary, depending on the situation. “The students need help when it comes to considering loyalties. They will instinctively choose to be loyal to a friend, regardless of consequence. In deciding on relevant loyalties, consequences are a big part of the consideration.”
Age-appropriate case studies are included in the workbook. In one ethical dilemma, students are asked what they would do if they have promised to keep a secret about a friend’s behaviour which is destructive to that friend. They learn that in this situation, their loyalty to their friend is actually loyalty to the friend’s secret, whereas they also need to consider loyalty to their friend’s health, safety, reputation, future, even their life. A technique is taught to discern their foremost loyalties.
So – if one believes in truth, honesty, kindness and compassion, and one’s philosophy of life is Ubuntu where we’re all part of a whole, and top loyalties have been determined, the ethical decision has just been made a whole lot easier. It can be justified and will sit well with the person making it.
The Yes/no questions are the final step. They must be able to answer yes to the following questions:
1. Is it legal?
2. Could you live with your decision if it were posted on a billboard?
3. Would you feel comfortable if your parents knew about it?
This programme was workshopped at Kingsmead College in Johannesburg where reaction from the students was overwhelmingly positive. Many said that learning the process would always inform life decisions. A number of schools, including St. Alban’s College in Pretoria have used the method to great effect. Head of Life Orientation, Esme Momberg, maintains that “this strategy really gives us the ability to avoid ‘knee jerk’ reactions. More thoughtful citizens can only be good for our country.”
Life Orientation is the perfect vehicle for APPLY Ethics as the programme incorporates a number of the preferred LO objectives such as critical thinking, religion, life skills, philosophical thought and human rights.
If we want our students, our future leaders, to act ethically they need specific tools to do so. These tools will be with them for the rest of their lives.

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