Who is to judge right from wrong? Why educate high school students in relativism and absolutism? Why explore ethical dilemmas at all?
According to Louis Pojam, a professor of philosophy at West Point Military Academy, "to educate ourselves in the matter of ethics is to realize that we are the ones to judge what is right and what is wrong… and we must do so on our best reasoning in order to bring forth sympathy and understanding."
Welcome to a slice of the academic pizza that our seniors are sampling in Mr. McCafferty’s Christianity and Ethics Class. Relativists, conventionalists, absolutists and their various viewpoints and perspectives are concepts generally dissected in college. But at STA, we bring our students to the edge of high level discussion because a) they are up to the challenge; and b) it is through information and debate (and the wonderful idealism known to youth) that these subjects are best pummeled, punctured, and permeated. The result? To gently press our students closer to Truth.
Throughout their entire lives, young people (indeed, all of us) have been told what is right and what is wrong. These labels are placed on situations and actions in accordance with our 1st World American lens. In Mr. McCafferty’s Ethics course, our Saints examine things more acutely. Is there actually a right and a wrong? Or are these just a matter of how I (the individual) or we (our culture) defines them? How can we know that something is right or wrong? And what, if anything, do these concepts have to do with what it means to be human?
Time spent in one of these classes with STA students who are on the brink of soaring into adulthood, college, and beyond is a gift. Their perspective is uniquely filled with an intellectual curiosity and a fresh fusion of appreciation and query regarding other peoples, other cultures.
When contrasting, for example, how the United States and nomadic societies care for its elderly population, the students caught some stark differences. Both cultures want to preserve their elders’ dignity and pride. Both aim to treat the older generation with respect. And yet the way in which American and nomads seek to do this is very, very different.
Nursing homes and hospice centers in the United States draw in many elderly Americans. Nomads, on the other hand, leave their aging members near a water source and bid them farewell before moving on. Being left behind is regarded not only as acceptable but necessary by all members for the overall health of the nomadic tribe. Abandonment is not considered cruel but rather a natural step to preserve the rest of the tribe, which relies on traveling and following their food source.
Comparing, contrasting, and considering the myriad of philosophical viewpoints on these and similar examples ignite within our Saints the flame of scholasticism. Like Thomas Aquinas himself who spent his lifetime reconciling the relationship between theology (faith) and philosophy (reason), our St. Thomas Aquinas students use their senses and their minds to do the same. And, of course, to inch closer to truths of any kind and to attempt to bridge dissonances of thought means moving closer to the ever-abiding presence of God.
We are grateful to our faculty for fostering debates and discussions in an environment of respect and care.