Teaching Ethics without textbooks: Why?

In Croatia, where i currently work, teachers use textbooks in all subjects – whether  out of laziness of their own minds or to avoid any responsibility in front of their students, parents, colleagues in case of possible wrong informations or teachings.

But, what happens when you teach a subject like Ethics, you get to choose a textbook and you find out that one of the most infulential authors of ethics textbook is in prison, accused on criminal charges concerning financial fraud? Sounds like a rather ethical question. Do you choose his textbook and say – Dear students, this is a man who can teach you ethics! – or you continue your search elsewhere? I think that most people would agree with me and try to look some other authors, other textbooks, in order to help students in better understanding what ethics is. So, after i did a search on other sources, i found out that there are some other ethics textbooks but non of the publishers was able to print out the full set of four year ethics programme yet – so, the deal is that i could choose one publisher for first year of programme, other publisher and other authors for second year and so on. I wasn’t satisfied with that kind of work, it just didn’t fit in well with what i had in mind for ethics class.

That’s when i decided to go solo on this one. I was already teaching Croatian language and literature, where i was completely unsatisfied with any kind of so far published textbooks (but i had to choose one, because it would be practicaly impossible to work on literature without literary excerpts of every major classics of world or Croatian literature), i had just gotten to teach Ethnology, for which there still doesnt exist any kind of textbook on high school level – and i had Ethics, where i had to do something really quick at the beginning of semester, in order to better interest students for such a subject.

No, i did not choose to improvise, i did not choose to be the only source of ethical knowledge or truth, i did not choose worlds most famous or most influential philosophers as ethical authority for my students – I’ve chosen thinking. Critical thinking, analytical thinking, creative thinking, constructive dialogue, argumentation and conceptualisation are the notions on which all my ethics classes are based and as far as I can see in last two months, students are really enjoying attending these classes, they are active, interested in subject, they collaborate and they even try harder to understand each other and their reasoning.

Today, I’m trying to imagine how would my classes look like if i used any of those textbooks in ethics, with tons and tons of definitions, names, dates and all the other textbook stuff 21st century students ‘like’ so much…and i really, really dont want to know.

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