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How to Write a Personal Code of Ethics for College

After nearly 30 years of teaching our 7 children at home, I would have to say the most important feature of teaching is discussion. (As opposed to training, where the most important thing you can help your children master is self-control.) Make your children think about hard questions as they become mature enough to understand the world around them. As their world widens, widen the scope of the debate. Offer them possible perspectives, but mostly help them to challenge presumption and recognize bias. Children are able to recognize disingenuousness and faulty reasoning well before high school.

By doing this, you will

  • motivate them to learn because they have a responsibility in evaluating what is beneficial
  • make them nicer to be around because they are more likely to be calm and rational in conflict
  • help them develop the ability to discern information that they will be bombarded with their whole lives

There seem to be two basic camps when it comes to education. One group thinks teaching should be value free. They live under the illusion that basic facts can be separated from truths about existence. Since this cannot be done, this group still teaches values, but just calls them something else. The second group thinks that values should be enforced. Follow the designated code or suffer. When you look closely, both of these groups tend to behave the same in their approach to education. They call it education, but it is indoctrination about what to think, not how to think. To suggest examining life differently than through their approved lenses is labeled both ignorant and hateful. I suggest to you that if a way of viewing the world cannot stand up to scrutiny, then it is suspect. If you teach your children to scrutinize, they will have a better chance of being solidly established in truth.

I’ve always said that the basic truths are simple. It can seem hard to make decisions based on those simple truths sometimes, but often the situations are really made hard because of societal or personal expectations about what should be done. People and their philosophies wherein they try to feel better about themselves make things complicated. Everything from what kind of toothpaste is best to how much money people should make is subject to moral evaluation by onlookers.

In spite of all of this, there is a general inhibition against morals. Or at least against there being any standard for them. Let me interject that I think part of the problem is that most moral codes tend to emphasize following rules for outward appearance and interfering in other people’s choices. But there is also the issue of how there can be any morals without some basis for them. If everyone gets to make up their own morals, why are any of them valid?

Maybe it is because the idea of morality has been so closely linked to ideas about what is religious. I will post about religion on another day, so I won’t go into that much here. Suffice to say that a moral by any other name is a moral. Call it ethics if you will, but that doesn’t change what is at stake and what the driving forces behind the decisions are.

This is what my 6th child, now almost 20 year old daughter, faced in a college assignment recently. For some reason, the government controlled college system is pretty sure that anything the students have learned about morals ethics up until now is insufficient. The students pay for the privilege of being molded into correctly thinking citizens while trying to obtain skills that might be useful in a job. Certainly, college is not always the best option anymore for job training, but the government system still has a monopoly on some areas, so we play the game when it seems like the “best” choice.

How do you define love?

How do you define love?

Our advice to our college bound students has always been to just pass the classes. They do not need to feel responsibility to change the whole entrenched system. If there are class discussions or papers for which it seems reasonable to offer their perspective, they can do it, but the professors are very likely to be entrenched in their own philosophies and will dig in their heels if they sense combat. Fellow students are old enough to figure things out and aren’t any more likely to want to be preached at.

The assignment was:

Drawing on the sample linked in the syllabus, develop your own “Personal Code of Ethics” in which you articulate at least six (6) and not more than fifteen (15) core values that you feel fundamentally inform your sense of self identity, your actions, and your beliefs.

In a short companion essay of 350-500 words, explain and defend those values.  Give one or more specific examples of a time when at least one of those values was tested — when you were forced to re-examine that value or by staying true to that value you had to compromise another value or belief.

When my daughter showed me her paper for ethics class, I was pleased to see how she had handled that assignment. She didn’t learn much while preparing it, other than how to use politically correct language and still try to get her ideas across. But she wasn’t preachy or combative. It was a reflection of what we have tried to teach her over the years (which I know was bold of us, influencing her with our values and all), and was also evidence that she has what it takes to deal with the world at large. She didn’t need a college class to show this to her, but since she wrote it all out so neatly, I’m going to share it with you:

    Personal Code of Ethics

1. Love – all other good things follow when the ultimate source of love is  found and kept

2. Responsibility – life is not fruitful unless we value and tend to what we have – both material and immaterial.

3. Communication – we learn irreplaceable things through thoughtful interaction with other people

4.Humility – admit shortcomings, mistakes, and insecurities when appropriate and improve, do not grovel

5.  Reliability – it is unreasonable to expect someone else to keep his or her word if he or she cannot depend on me to keep mine

6. Skepticism – common practice must be criticized otherwise populations follow blindly and all make the same wrong decisions

7. Joy – life should be fun

the professor's comments on the section below

the professor’s comments on the section below

Ethical values are impossibly intertwined. For this reason, I cannot help but base all of my own on one common element. If, by definition, ethics are distinct from spiritual beliefs, emotions, and law, then I would base my own personal code of ethics on love. When I say “love”, I am not talking about a fleeting emotion, but something that is cultivated, and which can only be known in its entirety through knowing its source in the spiritual realm. Thus, I link love to spiritual beliefs, but this I defend by clarifying that love itself is not a religion. It is the link between my beliefs and my ethics.

I am able to base my personal code of ethics on love because it inspires other ethical actions. For example, when I communicate, I do so because I have a sisterly love for the other person. Through communication, I build relationships out of honesty, reliability, and responsibility. Love even leads me to skepticism. I am skeptical and take time to criticize ideas and practices because I care that the people around me are not mislead. And lastly, love brings us joy.

Of the values listed above, I have been tested the most by communication. It is all too easy to only communicate when it is convenient for myself. There has not been one major situation when I decided to communicate even when it was hard, but I have needed to make a constant effort over the past few years in that area. My efforts are boosted when I think of the relational rewards and growth of love that follow good communication.

positive response to overall paper

positive response to overall paper

This professor gave her high marks. It is hard to predict. In a class last year, our daughter was definitely marked down for thinking outside of the film presentation about field workers, even when the assignment was just about Spanish translation. We encouraged her to ask that professor about it, and she was allowed the opportunity to “give the correct answer” in a way that did not violate her conscience, or, as we say, she figured out how to give an answer that will be marked correctly on the test. Not all people, college professors or otherwise, are willing to tolerate differing perspectives. If you think we live in a free country, you might want to sit in on a few college classes.



  • Ben

    Good post and good job Natalie. :)

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