The World Has Changed: Ethics in a Time of COVID

That meme that goes “Saying “When COVID19 is over…” is starting to feel like saying “When I win the lotto…”” is too close to home this week! This time last year, I’d had a month of activity all around Australia – songwriting, conference paper writing and presenting, travelling, recording – and was settling back into Term 3. And this July (and in fact this last 6 months), I haven’t left Melbourne! We are in a precarious situation here in Melbourne with increasing positive COVID test numbers and without clear goals as to whether the plan is containment or eradication. It turns out I was somewhat premature in celebrating the end of the lockdown at the end of May…

What has this July looked like? Teaching Year 11 and 12 on site face-to-face wearing masks. Realising that I lipread in a classroom often, especially against background noise. Reconsidering facial gestures used as encouragement which don’t work as well and replacing with a lot of eyebrow movement, nodding and thumbs up. Teaching Year 8 online in Home Learning Program 2.0 – without so many teething problems or self-consciousness in virtual teaching. Wearing a mask out of the house for everything except running.

One thing is certain: the world has changed. Yet, it remains unclear how exactly. What will the long-term impact of COVID19 be? Will work look different for most of us for the foreseeable future? Will we ever travel as freely? Teachers have certainly had to learn a lot of new technology skills. Will we be better able to blend face-to-face and digital learning and teaching? Will we have greater trust in professionals to do the job they are employed to do, whether they are at home or in a work building?

Getting to the point I wanted to make here, the situation of the world is at least provoking very interesting discussions in my Year 11 Religion & Society classes. We are studying ethics this term, and, of course, students want to apply every conversation we have to what is happening in the world. In this time of great uncertainty, I think it is comforting for them to be able to reason out the ethical frameworks people are (consciously or unconsciously) operating out of.

After we had investigated absolutist and relativist stances and theories, I asked the students to take a stance (physically, in the room) along a sliding scale from one extreme to the other, and to justify their stance. Interestingly, in one class everyone in the room was between the middle-ground and extreme relativism, whilst in my other class everyone was roughly spread around the middle, leaning only half-way into absolutism or relativism. We had a discussion about what they imagine a class doing that activity 50 years ago might have looked like. Then we talked about their own thoughts and, whilst they are fairly relativist, they are not as individualistic as I imagined. It was encouraging to hear from the majority that they are incredibly concerned for the common good, especially because of COVID. They have a concern for the more vulnerable people in society, which reflects their Marist formation. They are almost as weary as I am of the media highlighting individual cases of self-centred and self-aggrandising behaviour. The ethical thought-processes of these young people gives me hope. Whatever happens and whatever changes are long-lasting, the majority of young people I encounter are committed to making the world a better place.

And we had all of these conversations behind our masks. If 16 year-old boys can appreciate the need to wear masks, why can’t everyone?

stack of white yellow green and blue textiles

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

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