An Ethical Learning Community

An ethical learning community:

Teaching students to respect and care about each other.

Key Ideas

  1. Just as children need caring attachments to adults, they also need caring attachments to each other. They are much more likely to accept the values and rules of the group when they feel accepted and affirmed by the group.
  2. The peer culture is a powerful moral teacher and influence on student behavior. If teachers do not help to shape a positive peer culture -- one that supports the ethical values adults are trying to teach -- the peer culture will often develop in the opposite direction, creating peer norms (e.g., cruelty to kids who are different, disrespect for rules and adult authority) that are antithetical to good character.
  3. When students are part of a legitimate ethical learning community in the classroom, they learn morality by living it. They receive respect and care and practice giving it in return. Through daily experiences, respect and care gradually become habits -- part of their character.


Teachers can create an ethical learning community in the classroom by helping students to:

  1. Know each other as persons
  2. Respect, care about, and affirm each other -- and refrain from peer cruelty (both abuse and exclusion)
  3. Feel valued membership in, and responsibility to, the group (including practicing an ethic of interdependence: "Who has a problem the rest of us might be able to help solve?").


Laura LoParco, resource room teacher: stopping a third-grade class's cruelty to Rhonda, a child with a learning disability:

What you are doing is hurting Rhonda here [pointing to her own head], in her mind. You can't see the hurt, but it's very real. You can make her think that she is stupid and the kind of person that nobody will like. That may stay in her mind for a very long time, even years. It may affect her ability to learn and her ability to make friends with other people. You have a decision to make: Do you wish to continue doing this?