It is a rare high school that offers its students a specialized course in bioethics. Bioethical reflection, however, may be embedded within the standard science offerings. To some degree this is an outcome of what has been called the "STS" movement—the acronym standing for "science, technology, and society." This movement reflects an attempt by U.S. secondary schools to include within the science curriculum the profound ethical and policy issues raised by developments in science and technology. This movement is not without its obstacles. For example, the training of science teachers, shaped by the traditional division of science from the humanities, has often placed little emphasis on developing teaching skills for ethical reflection. Nevertheless, the integrative movement has made inroads.
For example, bioethics issues may be raised in high school biology courses, during discussions of genetics, human and animal research, or environmental science. The treatment of such topics may be limited to brief case presentations or to discussions designed to help students with values clarification. There is a growing body of opinion, however, that such strategies can be insufficient; not all opinions are of equal value, and students need to develop the critical reasoning skills to evaluate their stances in the light of scientific evidence, material implications, and logical consistency. This approach, emphasizing the evaluation of ethical positions, may eventually prove most appealing to science educators for it dovetails well with aspects of the scientific method they are trying to transmit.
Bioethics teaching on the secondary level need not be restricted to the science curriculum. The High School Bioethics Curriculum Project of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics seeks to train and support teachers in using bioethical case studies in a wide range of courses, including those in social studies, civics, history, philosophy, and religion. The project has prepared curriculum units covering topics such as neonatal ethics, organ transplantation, human subjects research, and eugenics. High school teachers are introduced to these units through workshops and are assisted with ongoing curriculum development, networking, and resource identification.
Was this article helpful?