Ethical education: in the classroom
As valuable in life as in the workplace
Leonard Mayer champions ethics at one of Mexico’s leading colleges.
Leonard Mayer has been a huge supporter of the International Baccalaureate for most of his life. He was instrumental in getting the IB Diploma Programme recognized by Mexico’s universities through his work with the minister of education.
So strong was Mayer’s belief in the future of IB education in Mexico that he campaigned for it in any spare time he had from his role as one of the country’s most successful businessmen. He’s imported equipment for the drinks industry, traded grain, set up Mexico’s first re-insurance brokers and operated three factories. He was on the board of Mexico City’s renowned business college, Escuela Bancaria y Comercial, when he was invited to teach ethics to its students.
“I’d never taught before,” he says. “But I had a very diversified career to draw on for ethical dilemmas.”
Mayer’s approach to teaching centres around getting students to discuss problems.
“The only way to understand things is by thinking about them,” he says. “Ethics is not a subject you can memorize.”
Leonard wants his students to become ethical business people, and so although he brings Confucius and Plato into the classroom, he tends to move discussions away from theory and into practical experience.
“One of the exercises we do,” he says, “is to define values – such as politeness and honesty – and discuss which ones are ethical. We usually come up with a list of about 16. I then get the students to take this list into a company and talk to the most senior person there about which of these values they practise and why. It shows that values aren’t just something for the classroom, they are in companies, too.”
Throughout the course, he keeps his eye on the papers for stories that highlight the importance of ethics, such as the Enron debacle and the USA’s handing out of dollar bills in Iraq.
“I also draw on my own experience of why you must treat staff fairly and be honest with customers,” he says.
Students bring their own problems into the discussions, too, which are not necessarily related to the workplace.
“Ethics is for all your life,” says Mayer. “Without ethics, society can’t hang together.”
There is no exam at the end of the course. Students are graded from their essays and the quality of their discussion.
“Whatever students learn in ethics will help them all of their lives,” says Leonard. “All their other subjects will
change with the times.”
“Ethics is not a subject you can memorize.”