Vol 12 Nr 2022:2 (2022): Nordidactica 2022:2

Teaching and learning ethics in the Humanities and Social Science school subjects

In some of the Nordic countries, there is a school subject where discussions on ethical questions are central in the curriculum. For example, the subject that in Finnish schools since the 1980’s is the alternative to the non-confessional subject Religion is named ‘Secular Ethics’. Obviously, school subjects like ‘kristendomskundskab’ in Denmark, ‘religionskunskap’ in Sweden, andreligion og livssynsfag’ in Norway are subjects where ethical questions are as if by definition in the curriculum. The same applies also to the subject Philosophy. However, educational aims connected with development of the students’ moral judgment and processing of ethical issues can be present also in school subjects such as History, Biology, Economics, and Drama.

However, it may not be clear in the curriculum what teachers should do, and how, when addressing ethical questions in the subject(s) that they teach. Processing ethical questions is a cognitive skill that can be developed, but moral education can also be seen as a wider question. “Moral education” covers a narrow and a broad interpretation of what is also referred to as values education. In the Nordic countries the concept of Bildung (bildning) has had a prominent place in education. In the Bildung framework teaching and learning ethics typically is not seen as a separate part but integrated in all subjects and school activities. A tension may exist between promoting particular moral values or character virtues and emphasising skills of reflection and reasoning on ethical questions. Such a tension can be set against the relief of the developments in education policy where the keywords are competences and assessment. 

For this issue of Nordidactica, contributions were invited that focus on teaching and learning ethics in the school subjects History, Social Studies, Religious Education, Geography and Philosophy, and in cross-disciplinary settings that these subjects are part of. The contributions could be theoretical, empirical, or methodological. The invitation resulted in the following five articles that we are delighted to present.

Carla Nielsen's article, “Preparatory remarks concerning an 'existence didactics' in ethics education in the subject Christianity (Kristendomskundskab) in the Danish primary and lower secondary school”, deals with the existential perspective of the Christianity curriculum in Denmark.

In their article, “Students’ performance in ethics assignments in the Finnish Matriculation Examination 2017–2021”, Mika Perälä and Eero Salmenkivi discuss Finnish students’ knowledge in metaethics and normative ethics. They suggest that students’ competences in metaethics and normative ethics intertwine, and the challenge for the teacher is how to support the development of both of them.

The article “Ethics as intended, actualized and evaluated content in the subject Christianity/Religion in teacher education”, by Hanne Fie Rasmussen, Julie Nørgaard and Pernille Julie Östergaard Nielsen, discusses ethics as incorporated in other subjects in the Danish teacher education programme.

In her article Maren Lytje discusses what knowledge content to use in order to support democratic education in History teaching. In the article it is suggested that also when ethics appears central to democratic education, it is problematic if democratic education is reduced to ethics where ethics is about good life rather than justice.

The paper “Fiction-based ethics education in Swedish compulsory school – reflections on a research project”, by Karin Sporre, Christina Osbeck, Annika Lilja, David Lifmark, Olof Franck and Anna Lyngfelt, takes its starting point in a research project on fiction-based ethics education. The project builds on an earlier project concerning ethical competencies in Swedish compulsory schools.

Publicerad: 2022-06-28