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The Experiences and Challenges of Science and Ethics: Proceedings of an American-Iranian Workshop Ethics and Education Hassan Zohoor and Wilhelmine Miller Summarized below are the highlights of the discussions concerning ethics in education, drawing on both Iranian and American background materials that were of relevance to the topic. The other participants in the group were David Challoner, Gholamhossein Ebrahimidinani, Fatemeh Faghihi Ghazvini, Ali Mohammad Kardan, and Mary Claire King. SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES IN APPROACHES TO ETHICS AND EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES AND IRAN The group discussed the similarities and differences between approaches in the United States and Iran in addressing the following issues. • Structure of the Education System Iran has a centralized system of education for primary and secondary schools. Most teachers are employed by the Ministry of Education, and all textbooks for use by public and private schools are authorized by the Ministry. Iranian science textbooks are written by Iranian authors, based in part on similar texts used in France, Canada, the United States, and Germany. Primary school comprises grades 1-5; middle school grades 6-8; and high school grades 9-11. Vocational studies are conducted at the secondary school level. For university applicants, there is one additional year of pre-university coursework. While vocational students account for less than 30 percent of all students, they are increasing as a proportion of all students. High school students take national examinations in some sub-
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The Experiences and Challenges of Science and Ethics: Proceedings of an American-Iranian Workshop jects before graduation; but not all subjects involve tests according to a national standard examination every year. Annually, about 1.4 million high school graduates take the public university entrance examination, and 10-12 percent from public schools are accepted into public universities. Private universities, which are operated by nonprofit organizations, serve about an equal number of university entrants. All high school graduates can enroll in the first semester of the public distance-education system. If they pass the first semester, they can continue their higher education. Many public schools have active parent councils that work with the school administrators to address some of the near-term school policies. Public schools are geographically distributed and/or neighborhood-based. Private schools in Iran provide education for less than 10 percent of primary and secondary students, and they are for the most part limited to economically and socially elite groups. Private schools must also follow the Ministry of Education’s curriculum guidelines. The salient features of the American education system that were discussed were that primary and secondary public schools are institutions of local governments or of local school systems, with curriculum and examination policies established at the state level. The proportion of students in private schools varies substantially among states and geographic regions, with less than 10 percent of students in private schools in the Midwest and West, and over 10 percent in many states in the East. Private schools are of two kinds: elite private schools, primarily for wealthier families, and religious schools, predominantly Catholic schools, with enrollment of a broader section of students. Primary and secondary schools extend through 12 grades in the United States, with the majority of graduating students enrolling in some type of post-secondary school, usually a two-year community college or a four-year college or university. As in Iran, vocational students are less than 30 percent of high school students. Few vocational high school programs are thought to be technologically up-to-date and effective as preparation for immediate employment. • Religious Education and Explicit Ethical Content in School Curricula. In Iranian schools, students take mandatory religion classes throughout primary and secondary school in one of four state-recognized religions, depending on their professed belief and background—Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism. Examinations are given in each of these four curricula, as appropriate to the student. Prayers are conducted in schools for Muslim children. Children of other faiths are exempt.
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The Experiences and Challenges of Science and Ethics: Proceedings of an American-Iranian Workshop The U.S. constitutional provision for the separation of church and state limits the extent and content of ethics education in public schools to virtues and principles important for functioning within and participating in a democratic society—citizenship education. However, at different times, the extent of citizenship education has varied, depending on the social understanding of the boundaries of private and public (civic) morality. Religious education classes in the United States are devoted mostly to elective comparative religion classes (religion as culture, history, and sociology) of one or two semesters maximum at the high school level. Philosophy or other ethics-related classes such as peace studies may also be offered at the high school level, but they are not commonplace. • Ethical Values Implicitly Taught in Science Education. The group agreed that ethical values and behavior that are cross-culturally accepted, such as virtues of honesty, benevolence, and mutual respect among persons, should be implicit in science education. For ethical training to be implicit in science education, teachers must be trained to teach science as a practice—not by rote. If teachers do not understand, communicate, and model the practice of science for their students, there is nothing within which to incorporate ethical practices and behavior as a scientist. • Conveyance of a Universally Valid Set of Ethical Principles. In addition to translating current explicit curricula in ethics and values education into practice, scientists and educators in both countries should find ways to convey to students a universally valid set of ethical principles and practices that do not depend only on nationality or belief systems. • Content of Science Teacher Training. This topic is a matter of concern to practicing scientists in both countries. • Low Status and Wages of Teachers. The status of primary and secondary school teachers and teacher wage scales are viewed by scientists and professionals in both countries as too low to attract enough talented, well-trained, and exemplary teachers into the workforce. • Centralization of Education. As previously noted, an important difference in the educational systems of Iran and the United States is the centralization of Iranian primary and secondary educational policy within a central Ministry of Education and guided by an appointed High Council on Education. In the United States, in contrast, state governments and, even more importantly, local school districts control curricula, textbooks, testing policies, and employment of teachers. This basic difference makes the locus of action different in each country and affects the role that national academies can play in each system.
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The Experiences and Challenges of Science and Ethics: Proceedings of an American-Iranian Workshop • Religion as a Required Subject. A major substantive difference between the Iranian and American systems of public education is that religion is a required subject in Iranian schools while U.S. public schools are prohibited from teaching religion as a belief system. In Iran, studies in ethics and values education are not adequately developed in either religious education or in studies of other subject matter. In American public schools, values education is similarly underdeveloped and inadequate within current curricula. • Need for Values Education. Ethics and values education need to become a greater part of the education of children. In Iran this means that education in ethics should be integrated more fully into both religious education and other subject areas. In the United States, ethics and values education should be incorporated into the current curricular areas. The introduction of values education in public school curricula should be independent of and apart from any religious education. • Identification of a Common Set of Ethical Values. A common universal set of ethical values can be identified for introduction within kindergarten-grade 12 curricula. A shared set of ethical principles and values to guide the conduct of scientific research could command the endorsement of the scientific communities in both countries. A definition of ethics or values education is as follows: ethics or values education aims to develop good character in students throughout primary and secondary school in developmentally appropriate and effective ways. Good character can be defined as “knowing, caring about, and acting on core ethical values such as fairness, honesty, compassion, responsibility, and respect for oneself and others.”1 Such core ethical values are not specific to particular cultures or traditions. Scientifically oriented and technologically developed societies all rely on and benefit from inculcation of values and character traits that support responsible individual behavior, concern for others, and awareness that people everywhere belong to an increasingly interdependent global community. These values affirm human dignity, promote individual and social good, and protect human rights. • Differing Deficiencies in Learning. Iranian and American educators perceive somewhat different deficiencies in the learning environments in the two countries. In Iran, educators believe that the strong emphasis on training in the sciences and technical professions provides too little time for education in the humanities 1 Schaeffer, Esther F. “Implementing Character Education.” Education in the United States: The Pre-University Years. Vol. 5 (no. 2), June 2002.
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The Experiences and Challenges of Science and Ethics: Proceedings of an American-Iranian Workshop and in humanistic values. In the United States, educators are concerned that most students do not receive adequate education in science. The group agreed that education in both the humanities and science are critical for children and that ethics or values education in public schools should not be limited to science subjects only. OPPORTUNITIES FOR COOPERATION BETWEEN THE AMERICAN AND IRANIAN ACADEMIES There are many commonalities in the understanding of the challenges facing the educational systems in both countries with respect to values education. The next step is to move beyond the consensus on characterizing the issues of concern to identifying opportunities for collaboration between the academies that involves educators and students. • Hands-on Science Curriculum. The hands-on science education curriculum sponsored jointly by the National Academies, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Science Foundation is one model that is of particular interest to Iranian educators. It conveys values as well as an understanding of the practice of science to students. The Iranian participants were interested in featuring this project at subsequent interacademy meetings. • Educator-to-Educator and Scientist-to-Scientist Exchanges. The academies should arrange for educator-to-educator and scientist-to-scientist exchanges to observe model practices and foster appreciation of limitations within specific cultural, economic, and educational environments. Such exchanges should be project-focused to allow the counterparts to share in the experience of practicing science and devising integrative ethics-related curricular materials appropriate in each country’s setting. • Student-to-Student or Class-to-Class Communications. At the student level, the academies should promote student-to-student or class-to-class communications, primarily by the Internet, but also through other media. This strategy could promote mutual student understanding of each other as members of a single global community and could help counter negative views and stereotypes among American and Iranian youth about each other’s nations. In conclusion, the participants agreed that science is best learned through projects, that is, through the practice of science, and joint projects between Iranian and American scientists, educators, and students should be encouraged. Projects in many areas of scientific investigation can contribute to national development as well as bring specialists from the two countries closer together.
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The Experiences and Challenges of Science and Ethics: Proceedings of an American-Iranian Workshop APPENDIXES
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