Ethical Reasoning of High School Seniors Exploring Issues of Free Speech
John W. Saye
Because ethical decisions about what is fair or just are at the heart of most controversial issues in the public sphere, understanding how high school seniors reason ethically about conflicting democratic values is important. Teachers and teacher educators would be assisted in leading discussions if they know the ethical frameworks most often used by students and how the facilitator might encourage consideration of alternative ethical viewpoints. By creating a professional community of practice between four U.S. government teachers, a university researcher, and a political science professor, we asked high school seniors to discuss their position relative to the Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson (1989), which upheld flag burning as an expression of free speech. We were curious to know what ethical frameworks students used in wrestling with the value conflict in freedom of expression. We found all students used Lawrence Kohlberg’sethic of justice framework almost exclusively and reasoned primarily in stages four and five on Kohlberg’s hierarchy.
Keywords: civic education, discussion, ethical reasoning, moral reasoning, ethic of care, ethic of justice