Originally published in McGillis Musings, Winter 2011
In directing the Ethics & Cultures Program, I help build a community atmosphere that promotes student moral growth. But, how can the ethical climate of a place be understood? At McGillis, it is a combination of culture, community, values, everyday interactions, and social action activities. From Kindergarten through the Middle School, the students are engrossed in an atmosphere of academic learning that is fused with a morally grounded community.
Everyday life at McGillis reinforces our community values, while Ethics in Action events cement our understanding of the need to put our values into action. Some events coming up this year include our Freedom Seders in April and collecting Pennies for Peace, an organization that builds schools in Afghanistan. Social action combines hands-on learning with the application of a moral compass.
These values make up the fabric of our community:
Tikkun Olam- Repairing the World
Tzedakah- Giving to Others
Gemilut Hasadim- Doing Good & Kind Deeds
Derech Eretz- Having Respect for All
Limud L’shma- Learning for the Sake of Learning
In the Ethics and Cultures courses, my approach has been direct, but I also use a content-based pedagogy of ethics and history. We explore world cultures in both historical and current contexts, analyzing the ethical questions of history. This humanities course makes learning fun, while engaging students in meaningful moral growth.
Family Groups in another program that contributes to the ethical culture at McGillis. The student body is divided into groups of various aged children, each led by a teacher that meets for lunch every Monday. We discuss different moral dilemmas in order to trigger moral reasoning and growth.
Perhaps the most special aspect of character education at The McGillis School is its events based on a Jewish cultural tradition. As I write, we are in the midst of our introspective Tu B’Shvat seders where we explore our connections to the environment and celebrate the New Year of the trees. Yet, the most significant of these Jewish cultural events is that of Shabbat. Translated literally as the Sabbath or day of rest, McGillis Shabbat looks much different that at Grandma Zeeitle’s house. We fuse themes of rest, symbolic interactionism, community time, music, and fun into this fundamentally McGillis character lesson. Each Shabbat looks and sounds different as it is comprised of weekly themes and often highlighted by student performances.
The strength of the moral fabric at McGillis is due to the richness of our school. From programming, communal norms, and everyday interactions the ethical climate is vibrant and a critical part of our identity as a community and the education we offer.