USING FAIRY TALES TO PROMOTE RETENTION OF ETHICAL SYSTEMS

Gary Stresman
1992 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


Rationale:

Using the assumption that a cross-curriculum application of ethical systems is a desirable goal, it is then necessary to establish an efficient method of presenting the systems so that their primary qualities are retained. The following protocol is intended to be presented at the beginning of the year. Consequently, throughout the year when an application of ethical systems is relevant, the student will have a "hook" by which he or she can recall the various systems.

Time Frame:

1 class period.

Intended Audience:

Average to accelerated high school students. (It should be noted here that this protocol is applicable in a multi-cultural setting because the ethical systems are universal. However, the insertion of culturally appropriate fairy tales or folk tales may be necessary.)

Background:

Five ethical systems will be applied. A brief summary of the systems is found in the previous module entitled "An Introduction to Types of Ethical Systems" by Janey Lasley and Ilayna Pickett.

Protocol:

Most high school students are familiar with a variety of fairy tales. Many of them, with deliberation, could pinpoint a 'lesson' or 'moral' inherent in the story. It is this familiarity that is exploited.

A. Introduce the five ethical systems mentioned above.

As review those are:

  1. Relativism

  2. Law of God

  3. Utilitarian

  4. Deontology

  5. Virtue Ethics

B. Review the following fairy tales - Biblical story.

  1. The Little Mermaid

  2. Noah's Ark

  3. Jack and the Beanstalk

  4. Little Red Riding Hood

  5. Pinocchio

C. Instruct students to match the ethical system used as the primary construct in each of stories.

D. After some discussion, review the themes as noted below.

  1. The Little Mermaid - Relativism

    Acceptance of a different lifestyle and culture is emphasized in this story. The "merworld" must learn to live with humans. Likewise, King Triton must learn to live with the desire his daughter (Ariel) to marry a human prince.

  2. Biblical description of Noah's Ark - Law of God

    Noah, as commanded by God, builds a huge boat. After much criticism and ridicule by his peers and neighbors he continues for one reason: God told him to.

  3. Jack and the Beanstalk - Utilitarianism

    Acting out of a need to better life for his mother and himself, Jack decides he is justified in stealing valuables from the Giant. In addition, a utilitarian theme presents itself when the Giant is seen as evil because he stole valuable objects from the "common folk". Jack's actions a ppear justifiable under the auspices of revenge (returning goods previously stolen) or improving the squalid conditions in which he and his mother live. In either case the end justifies the means. It could also be noted here that Robin Hood is another good example of utilitarianism.

  4. Little Red Riding Hood - Deontology

    Riding Hood is compelled by duty to visit her grandmother.

  5. Pinocchio - Virtue Ethics

    Geppetto, acting as Pinocchio's conscience, instructs Pinocchio to do the "right thing"; go to school, listen to his father, etc.

    As a result of his ability to resist temptation he is rewarded by becoming a real boy.

Conclusions:

After discussion, ask students to think of other stories, movies, poems, songs etc. that illustrate the ethical systems. REMEMBER the intent is to enable the students to develop a "hook" by which they can retrieve the ethical principle at a later date.


References:

The Bible. Revised Standard Version, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952

Andersen, Hans Christian. The Little Mermaid, Harper & Row, 1971

Still, James. Jack & the Beanstalk, Putnam, 1977

Perrault, Charles. Little Red Riding Hood, Walck, 1972

Collodi, Carlo. Pinocchio, MacMillan, 1963


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