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Chief Justice Endorses School-Based Ethics Centre


March 13, 2012
For Immediate Release

Chief Justice Endorses NZ’s First School-Based Ethics Centre At Diocesan

It’s not often that the country’s top judge finds herself in the firing line.

But curious young students from Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls subjected Chief Justice Sian Elias to a surprisingly rigorous cross-examination when she visited the school recently for the launch of New Zealand’s first school-based Centre for Ethics.

Dame Sian, who is patron of the Centre for Ethics, fielded a range of spontaneous questions from a group of 10 to 11-year-old students when she dropped into their classroom to chat after the launch.

“Have you done anything wrong as a judge?”, “Is being ethical about your opinion or the rules?”, “How many hours do you work?” and “Have you ever worn a wig?” were some of the questions asked.

Dame Sian confided that it was just as well she loved law because she was not very good at “work-life balance” and that she hated wearing a long, ceremonial judge’s wig.

“They are ridiculous because you look like you have a Spaniel’s ears. I’ve said to the other judges that we should throw them out. But so far my colleagues want to keep the tradition.”

Dame Sian also told students that being ethical was not just about obeying the rules.

“A lot of people know how to obey the rules. That’s just being sensible because it won’t get you into trouble. If you are ethical, you have higher standards which you have to question all of the time.”

Dame Sian, a Diocesan Old Girl who has two granddaughters at the all-girls independent school, said the Centre for Ethics was an exciting project.

“Ethics is a sound foundation of academic learning and a sound way to confront all sorts of assumptions. I think there is room for us to have more philosophical instruction in New Zealand schools and that it should be taught from a young age.

“We talk about values but we don’t always systematically explore the underpinning philosophies of those values. We tend to be a bit un-intellectual. One of the most important things that we can take away from school is learning how to think.”

Diocesan’s Centre for Ethics initiative includes more ethics teaching as part of existing curriculum subjects. Guest speakers from ethics-related fields, such as academics, scientists and journalists, will also work with teachers and students from Year 1 to 13 and will lead discussions and debates about ethical issues at parent and community evenings.

Diocesan teacher, Catherine Syms, who helped establish the Centre, said although students were already taught critical thinking in subjects including Science and Religious Studies, there was room to build on this and introduce it across more subjects.

“Often people’s decisions are based on upbringing and intuitive instincts rather than a carefully reasoned approach, “said Mrs Syms.

“In today’s world we are making all sorts of technological advances so we need to help young people think through the ethics related to those advances.

“Diocesan’s Centre for Ethics is about making people think critically about how we, as a society, make decisions around ethical issues such as stem cell research and organ donation and how we personally make decisions between right and wrong.”

Diocesan will launch its Centre for Ethics in its Senior School on April 2. Speakers being hosted by the school this year include Quijing Wong, the executive producer of Borderless Productions which makes documentaries to promote economic, environmental and social sustainability, environmentalist and healthy river campaigner Arron Wood and Australian animal rights advocate Lyn White.


ENDS

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