Teal Pumpkins for Halloween

Halloween is here again—jack-’o-lanterns are being carved. Little Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Princess Elsas are practicing their best trick-or-treat choruses. Scary movies are being watched (and eyes are being hidden during the really terrifying scenes). Candy and snacks of all kinds are being stockpiled. Everything is almost ready for the little ghouls and goblins to run amok through our neighborhoods, but these preparations bring lingering concern for some.

Halloween should be a fun and festive time for those who celebrate it, particularly for its younger participants. Children who join in the holiday should only have to worry about certain things—having a great costume, wielding a bag big enough to tote their tasty treats, and maybe getting frightened by the creepy fun of the season. These things are easy to take for granted but for many families, it’s not so simple. Instead of just having to double check the kids’ candy stash for unwrapped goodies or rationing out the haul to prevent sugar overload, some parents and caregivers have to confiscate the entire bag or not take their children out at all due to their kids’ food allergies or dietary restrictions, thus depriving their sons and daughters of what should be an enjoyable night for the whole family. Some folks might be wondering what the big deal is—can’t safety-concerned family members just be thorough in their perusal of this year’s sweets? Shouldn’t an older child be able to read the label and know which foods are forbidden? In some households, yes, it might be that easy but for many, it’s not.

For children with multiple and/or severe food allergies, those allergens can eliminate an entire sack of sugary goodness, making the entire evening’s trick or treating a huge waste. For some kids, an allergic reaction just means an upset stomach; for others, the reaction might involve life-threatening anaphylactic shock or other severe bodily responses. There might be enough time at each house to stop and ask about the ingredients in question, but many people who are on door duty don’t have the time, energy, or nutritional knowledge to adequately address the concerns of caregivers. Unless candy providers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the ingredients going into their confections, they might not even realize that what they’re passing out could be dangerous to these sensitive children. This reasoning holds true for children who are just learning about the terminology associated with their medical conditions—they might know they can’t eat wheat bread or drink milk that comes from a cow, but things become less certain when they read the words “gluten” or “lactose” on a candy wrapper.

All of these dietary variables make adequate safeguards hard to find, but a non-profit called Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has created the Teal Pumpkin Project as a way to combat this problem. By situating a teal-painted pumpkin on the front stoop (teal being the color for food allergy awareness), a homeowner is able to signal to incoming trick-or-treaters that they can expect to find non-food treats—think glow sticks or monster finger puppets—available at that particular house. While intended to help those with food allergies, this gesture could also be useful for families whose diets are restricted in other ways—perhaps for religious reasons or by lifestyle choices. All the same though, passing out stickers instead of Snickers could have a huge impact on trick-or-treaters.

Choosing to paint or not paint a decorative gourd is a pretty small decision in the grand scheme of things. It’s just as small as the call to purchase a bag of blowing bubbles instead of some M&M’s. Many might think that an ethical reasoning strategy like the 8KQ should be reserved for the tougher situations, the choices that will have major effects on many people, but the determination to break out the paint supplies or not is one that will touch lots of little people, many of whom are keenly aware of their dietary difference and reminded of it on a daily basis. After thinking about those children and applying the 8KQ, will you be painting a pumpkin teal in order to pass out tiny toys this Halloween?

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“Resolved: Ethics Cannot Be Taught” …

…a public debate sponsored by the Madison Collaborative and JMU’s Debate Team drew a capacity crowd of approximately 180 to Miller Hall Wednesday night. Debate Team members Samantha Perez and Nathan Buchholz argued the affirmative contending that not only is the teaching of ethics ineffective, in a perverse way, it is counter-productive, producing better cheaters who more eloquently rationalize and justify their unethical decisions. The negative, contending that ethics should and can be taught, was set forth by Rachel Keith and Jacob Bosley. Keith and Bosley emphasized the contemporary crisis in ethics and, while conceding that improvement in ethics pedagogy is needed, they asserted that it is possible and, further, that abandoning the effort to teach ethics would exacerbate the problems.

Professor David McGraw moderated the session with craft and finesse, eliciting clear and substantive questions from those in the audience and adding his final commentary on the ethics of teaching ethics. According to McGraw ethics instruction should involve activities focusing on how to reason ethically, providing a strategic framework for ethical considerations, not lecturing on either what to do or what to think.
McGraw noted that clarifying different conceptions of what it means to teach ethics is essential to the debate.

In the affirmative, Perez and Buchholz characterized typical ethics instruction as settled ethical decisions being “crammed down the throats” of students who operate with fixed ethical dispositions. Because students’ ethical dispositions are emotion-based and fixed by previous experience, and appropriate ethical decisions are not a matter of empirical demonstration, the affirmative asserted there is no motivation for students to study ethics. When forced to learn ethics using “cherry picked” case studies, students subvert the process and develop more effective strategies for rationalizing their existing values and behaviors. The negative emphasized a conception of teaching ethics best characterized as providing an ethical reasoning framework and skillset, like that in the Madison Collaborative Eight Key Question framework. Implicitly agreeing with the rejection of the “force feeding” view of ethics instruction, Keith and Bosley highlighted the potential for ethical transformation via effective instructional techniques such as authentic case studies and open discussion about vexing problems.

Both sides called upon research. The case against teaching ethics relied heavily on a two-semester study that showed the inclusion of ethical reasoning in instruction actually decreased scores on an ethics assessment. To this was added multiple instances of bad ethical decisions being made by persons who had presumably been educated in ethics. In addition, external constraints on ethical behavior such as the law or recalcitrant administrations of business schools, hospitals, and business itself were pointed to as reasons to avoid teaching ethics. The case for teaching ethics relied upon other research investigations which demonstrated effectiveness in teaching ethical reasoning and the promise of making a positive difference in actual decision making. The many instances of bad “devilish” decisions were attributed to either ineffective ethics instruction or none at all. Calls from judges and medical leaders for more instruction in ethics provided support for the negative case.

Kudos go to JMU debate team members Perez, Buchholz, Keith and Bosley for a lively educational debate introducing those in attendance to the controversies raging over teaching ethics in institutions of higher education. Each debater represented their assigned position well. JMU’s debate team, under the leadership of Dr. Michael Davis, garners national recognition for their many accomplishments. Through public debates such as this the university community benefits from the team’s talents.
By vote of the audience the argument in the negative, namely that ethics can and should be taught, won the day. But everyone in attendance was a winner. We ran a rich and robust intellectual sprint through one of the more controversial topics in higher education today — can ethics be taught? We agreed that ethics can be taught. The challenge is to do it well.

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Think pink?

When October rolls around, it’s easy to be dazzled by the color of the season. No, I’m not talking about the beautiful scarlet, ochre, or burnt orange leaves falling from the trees. I’m not talking about the browning grass, the increasingly short and dusky days, or the golden gourds and pumpkins dotting the front stoops of many a house in Harrisonburg. I’m not even talking about the creamy froth on top of your pumpkin spice latte. What I’m referring to is the tidal wave of pink that takes over seemingly every product, fundraiser, and commercial in October, all in the name of raising breast cancer awareness.

Many people see this rosy cascade in a positive light—after all, the campaign for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) increases recognition and response to a terrible disease, one that strikes thousands of American women every year. JMU certainly isn’t resistant to the allure of this altruistic promotion; during the weekend of Oct. 10 alone, the university hosted two soccer matches, one football game, and one 5K race that were all connected in some way to increasing visibility for breast cancer research and raising recognition of those affected by the disease. Aside from that core intention and the athletic nature of each event, the main element that linked those disparate activities together was the color pink. Fans were asked to wear it, athletes were given special permission to wear gear emblazoned with the color…instead of uniting behind the usual purple and gold, the JMU community connected by going pink. What, might you ask, does this roseate riot of Dukes have to do with ethical reasoning?

The short answer is plenty. While we feel a sense of solidarity and pride when we look into a crowd of our peers and see everyone visually united for a common reason, we Dukes might want to think more critically about what’s actually going on when we participate in this movement. The most recent ethical dilemma arising from this push to make pink the color of October was a decision on the part of the Susan G. Komen Foundation to partner with Baker Hughes Inc., a company known for its focus on oil and fracking. Komen, one of the largest and most recognized breast cancer organizations in the United States, accepted a $100,000 donation from the energy company which then produced 1,000 hot pink drill bits that were distributed all over the world. These drill bits were to be used for fracking, a process that utilizes pressurized chemicals and other liquids to crack rock layers in an effort in extract natural gas. Since this isn’t the typical partnership or pink product that we usually see during this time of year, it raises the question—what are we actually doing when we go pink for NBCAM? What is being accomplished by this campaign, particularly through the Komen Foundation’s most recent partnership, and by JMU’s participation in the larger movement? If we apply the Eight Key Questions to this particular initiative, how might the JMU community respond—would we still make pink the color of the season?

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Student Blog – The Anti-Gay Preacher

JMU student and Madison Collaborative Advisor (new peer education group), Megan Sibley, sent me the story about the preacher on-campus at JMU in mid-September. I asked her to think about how the Eight Key Questions may apply to this situation and she wrote the following response.

By Megan Sibley, Junior, IDLS – Early Childhood Education

On September 16th and 17th, Reverend Jackson preached against homosexuality outside Carrier Library. His proclamations did not go unnoticed – instead, it instigated a massive retaliation in support of LGBT. JMU students sang hymns and held signs while drowning out the preacher’s words with chants supporting gay equality. This certainly posed an ethical dilemma. The complex perspectives can be seen when applying the 8 key questions to this scenario.

Fairness – Fairness applies to the reasoning behind both the reverend and the students’ decisions. The most objectively fair thing to do would be to allow both sides of the argument to voice their opinions. But from the students’ perspective, fairness was centered on equal human rights. They fought against this man’s opinion in support of a fair society.

Outcomes – The ultimate outcome was the students’ successful reprisal with a message of love and acceptance. It gained media attention, which helped spread the word of equality, as well as giving empowerment to the gay community. If nobody had retaliated against the preacher, gay students who heard his negative talk would not have realized how accepting and supportive our school actually is.

Responsibilities – The students didn’t have an official obligation to stand up against Reverend Jackson. They could have walked right by and not said anything. However, they felt it was their moral responsibility to stand against his negative message. That was a responsibility that many would not have considered their own (i.e. the bystander effect), but these JMU students stepped up. The reverend thought he had a responsibility too – to spread the word of his religion.

Character – When speaking out, the preacher and students expressed their character. The students showed compassionate character when defending the targeted group. The reverend considers being Christian as part of his identity, but he should think about whether his words reflected the person he wants to be.

Empathy – Reverend Jackson did not appear to use empathy when making his decision to preach. He was not thinking about the impact his words had on others’ self-esteem. He also did not try to understand the point of view of the students who were trying to reason with him.

Authority – To the reverend, his authority was God and the Bible. But he interpreted it in such a way, it ended up hurting rather than helping his message.

Liberty and Rights - Liberties and rights were at the core of this situation. Each party exercised their freedom of speech. The students took their right to free assembly to combat the reverend’s message. But possibly the most important innate right was for safety and peace of mind. The gay students at JMU deserve to feel as safe and welcome as the straight students. Removing the preacher from campus created that safe, loving environment for them.

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Making Ripples

On September 17th, Justice William C. Mims, a Harrisonburg native, opened the Madison Vision Series with a brief history of the word Justice and ended with a challenge to the men and women of JMU to “make ripples, do justice.” His reference was inspired by Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 “Day of Affirmation Address” in Capetown, South Africa. For more information on this speech by Robert F. Kennedy visit www.rfkcenter.org. Justice Mims also proposed that the Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action, is a pathway toward making ripples at JMU. As a Madison Fellow this academic year, I welcome opportunities to work with all faculty interested in incorporating ethical reasoning into their courses. Visit the MC website or email me at mccarthb@jmu.edu Let’s make waves!

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Does Science Make You More Moral?

This question was addressed in a research article where subjects were “primed” – given a word or phrase – from science and then asked to weigh in on various ethical issues and dilemmas.  Those subjects which were primed by the science terms actually showed a statistically significant improvement on ethical decision making.  [Forwarded by Judith Dilts, associate dean, CSM.]  http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057989

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College Students Do The Right Thing

A group of students who found themselves in an untended store decided to do the right thing.  See: http://news.yahoo.com/video/4-ny-college-students-honest-052657464.html  [ Nick Langridge, senior vp university advancement, forwarded.]

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Reflection not Reflex

Philip Zimbardo’s notoriety came from the Stanford Prison Experiments in which students who role played prison personnel treated students who role played prisoners so harshly that the experiment had to be stopped. It was actually Zimbardo’s wife an outsider who saw what was going on that forced the end of the experiment. Zimbardo is now designing ways to teach against the “bystander effect.” He calls his training a training for heroes.  According to the article, “The hero project’s curriculum teaches students to use a mental “pause button” so that they can avoid falling prey to automatic assumptions (“Someone else will take care of it”) and choose a more thoughtful response instead.” The MC’s pause button is the eight key questions, i.e. a little more content than simply stopping to think. Just stopping to think about anything — reflecting–  causes better thinking and acting. See:  http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2013/09/you-can-train-humans-be-good-people/6806/  [ Forwarded by Tom Adajian, philosophy.]

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Deciding on Life and Death in Katrina (Real life parallels to the Hurricane Sharon “It’s Complicated” case)

In a book titled Five Days at Memorial doctor/author Sheri Fink tells how doctors at the hospital decided who to save first, who to save last, and who to assist in dying as the floodwaters from Katrina rose higher.  According to the author, doctors tend to be utilitarians (outcomes oriented) “and other considerations might not be taken into account, like justice or fairness..” [The book was mentioned on NPR and the link forwarded by Jenne Klotz, interim associate dean, library.]  http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/220687231/during-katrina-memorial-doctors-chose-who-lived-who-died?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=share&utm_campaign=

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Speaking of Plagiarism

Richard Posner is a noted federal judge, jurisprudential scholar, economist, and prolific author. A number of years ago he wrote a brief article on plagiarism that asks the question, What is wrong with plagiarism? See:  http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2002/04/posner.htm  He turned the article into a book–The Little Book of Plagiarism– which strikes similar themes, i.e. what is really wrong with plagiarism? Judge Posner  argues that plagiarism is a way of life in the law and in literature.  He claims that copyright infringement is a real problem because it amounts to taking property. However, plagiarism he classifies as a kind of fraud but it is a fraud that is problematic only in special circumstances.

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