What Would You Do?

By BrittAnnie Spuhler

Students at work in Jeff Bernstein's 'Ethics' class at Village School

Students at work in Jeff Bernstein’s ‘Ethics’ class at Village School

Imagine you are driving a trolley and you see five workers on the tracks ahead. You try to stop but the brakes aren’t working. If you continue straight you will kill all five workers. Then, you notice a sidetrack to the right with only one worker on it. Do you continue straight and kill all five workers or turn right and kill only one? Most people might say to go right and take only one life rather than five.

​Now, imagine you are standing on a bridge. You look down and see a trolley, unable to stop, heading straight toward five workers on the track. You notice next to you is a very fat man leaning over the edge to get a better look too. If you push him off of the edge of the bridge and onto the tracks, you will stop the trolley from killing the five workers, but at the cost of the fat man’s life. Do you kill him? Is it still ethical to take one man’s life over five?

​This is just one of the many hypothetical questions that are discussed daily in Jeff Bernstein’s “Ethics” class. The class is based around what YOU would do, and why.  ​“This is not a typical history class where you’re looking at the past and there’s a set of facts,” Jeff points out, “this is the kind of class where you have to constantly ask yourself, ‘Hmm, what do I think about this and why’, and it’s the ‘why’ that’s really important.”

​Currently, the class is watching an online Harvard course, taught by Michael Sandel, that raises a lot of abstract philosophical questions. In each section they talk about real-life situations, and as the class progresses they will start applying the philosophies they discuss to real current events and political decisions.

​The class has become quite popular. Some students who are not in the class will ask Jeff if they can sit in and participate. Students often chat with their friends about the hypothetical situations, philosophies, and moral standpoints, bringing class discussion outside of the classroom.

This exciting class is not new to Village. Jeff has taught Ethics three times. Jeff regards it to be a very thought provoking class for both the students and himself, and it’s a class he can enjoy teaching each time.
“One of the things that fascinates me about this class is, every time I teach it, I find that I begin to look at things a little differently and ask myself different questions.” said Jeff.

It’s very rare to have a high school class where your participation counts more than tests, and homework assignments are for you to write your own opinions. Being a class based around debate on topics that generally have no right or wrong answer, you might wonder how class discussion doesn’t turn into real arguments.
“So far, there has been less arguing then I’ve experienced in the past,” Jeff said as he recalled the first time he had ever taught Ethics. There was a situation where two students were having a debate in class and one student ran outside, grabbed a handful of dirt, and then threw it at the other student. “People can get emotional when we talk about specific situations.”

Although debating can be a big factor of the class, most of the students can agree that it is their favorite part of Ethics.
“We debate, we argue, we interrupt each other, we fight. It’s fun,” said senior, Laura Li.
Another student, Henry Merritt (senior), said his favorite part was getting to voice his opinion and getting to hear his classmates’ voice theirs. “You get everyone’s point of view of how they perceive the different situations, and sometimes you completely disagree with the person. But then, you understand and relate because they say why they have that opinion and the moral principles behind it. It really makes you think.”

Even though the class is mostly students arguing their opinions, that isn’t the point of Ethics class. According to Jeff, the primary goal of the class is for students to become more reflective about how they make decisions and evaluate situations.  “It’s about getting students to look at larger questions of morality and how to make decisions that people have to make in life, both at a personal level and a policy level because, after all, one of our jobs as teachers is to educate you to be a good citizen in this democracy. When you graduate and become a voter, you’re going to constantly be asked to evaluate political decisions, policies, and candidates. And, hopefully, you’ll develop a way to think about these things.”

Eleventh grade student, Christopher Helms, said he has already seen a change in how he processes situations, “I was wrong about how much knowledge I would gain from the class. I learned a lot more than I anticipated I would.”
When it comes to opinions, everyone has their own, and in this class, everyone is willing to share. There are no right or wrong opinions when it comes to Ethics class. It’s just a matter of getting people to think beyond their initial reactions and, most importantly, begin to understand other peoples’ point of views regardless of whether or not you agree.

Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp/ Oscar earning his athlete nickname, "The Bladrunner"

Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp/ Oscar earning his athlete nickname, “The Bladerunner”

By Eli Cohen
        You may have heard in the news lately about the meteor in Russia or the cruise ship that got stuck in the middle of the ocean for a week, but how many times have you seen Oscar Pistorius’s face flash across the evening news?  How many of you even know who he is? Well, Oscar Pistorius is a world – renowned South African sprinter.  He’s won over 20 gold medals in categories 100, 200, 400, 4 x 100, and 4 x 400 meter dash. In case you couldn’t tell, he’s a very fast guy. He’d probably beat you in a race, but here’s the catch, he doesn’t have any legs!
      Oscar had his legs amputated from the knee down when he was 11. Running though, has always been his passion, so when he got older he put on some prosthetics and became a professional athlete. He was a participant in numerous Paralympics (Olympics for the physically disabled) and in the summer he became the first para-athlete to compete in the Olympic Games. He set the world record for the fastest time to complete the 100 meter dash in the Paralympics with a time of 10.91 seconds. He is considered by many sources, including Time magazine, to be one of the most influential people in the world. He became the darling of the Olympic Games, his story warming the hearts of viewers all over the world. Though he did not make the finals in his event, his appearance in the Games was considered one of the greatest athletic triumphs of 2012.
      But recently, Oscar’s name has been affiliated with anything but a happy headline. On February 14th, 2013, Pistorius’ girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot and killed at his home. Oscar was immediately taken into police custody and charged with murder the next day. Reeva was a South African model and television star. She had been dating Pistorius since November 2012. According to Skeenkamp’s Wikipedia page, at the time of her death, “Steenkamp was signed up to appear on season five of the reality TV show ‘Tropika Island of Treasure’ and had filmed the series episodes on location in Jamaica. The screening of the series began airing as scheduled on 16 February 2013, two days after her death. The first episode of the series was dedicated to Steenkamp and was preceded by a video tribute to her. Whether or not the show has taken a hiatus is unknown” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reeva_Steenkamp).
       At the scene of the crime, evidence found was several bullet casings, a bloodied rug, a bloodied cricket bat, and torn sheets in the bedroom. There was blood, more casings, and the body was found in the locked bathroom. Oscar’s story is that he woke up in the middle of the night, put on his legs and got out of bed. He then fired four shots into the locked bathroom door (three of which hit Reeva) killing her, believing there was an intruder in his home. He said he believed Steenkamp was in the bed with him. But forensic reports show that there are flaws in his story. These reports as well as accounts from neighbors paint a different picture–  he and Steenkamp got into an argument and in a rage, he shot her in their bedroom. She then ran to the bathroom and locked the door. Oscar pursued her, shot through the door several times, and finally killed her. It is also speculated that the cricket bat was used by Reeva to in self defense. Horrifyingly, when Oscar was given a toxicology test the night of the murder, the results showed he had steroids in his system.
On February 22nd, at a court hearing, Oscar Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder and had a bail set to 1 million Rand ($113,000) which he was able to pay. He will be facing a judge on June 4th, 2013. Personally, I think he’s guilty. It’s not looking to well in the eyes of the public either, since he was charged with assault on a woman in 2009, but the charges were later dropped. He just made a stupid mistake that cost the life of a woman that will be missed. What do you think?

Oscar Night

Oscars2013_SethMacFarlaneStage

via thegoldknight.com

 

By Laura Li

On the 25th of February, the stars poured out of their mansions and on to the red carpet for the 85th Academy Awards. The 3 and a half hour long marathon of a show started out with a bit by the host, Seth MacFarlane, being his smarmy slick self, and William Shatner, who returned as his role of Captain Kirk from the Star Trek series­­ two very different entertainers from two different generations. This contrast of new and old set the precedent for the rest of the show, with continuing efforts to bridge the appeal of both the new younger audience and the loyal older watchers with varying success.
The New York Times live vlogging of the Oscars (with chief movie critic A.O Scott and cultural commentator David Carr) complained about McFarlane’s crude, and often unapologetic/offensive style, and gave him a C+ for his efforts. But if anyone is familiar with Macfarlane’s work (Family Guy, American Dad, Ted) it’s obvious what the academy signed up for. If you hire someone like Macfarlane, you shouldn’t be shocked when you get some off­color jokes and a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”. For classy politically correct humor, look elsewhere.
There were live performances by Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger), Adele (Skyfall), the cast of Chicago, the cast of Les Miserables, Barbara Streissand, Jennifer Hudson­­ we see again and again the meeting between the nostalgia of the past and the innovations of the present. The new and old blood of Hollywood.
The major awards of the night went to Life of Pi (which cleaned up with Best Director, Visual Effects, Original Score, and Cinematography­­ the most of the night), Django: Unchained (Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay), and Argo (Editing, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture).
Other highlights include Jennifer Lawrence tripping over her Dior couture dress on her way up to the stage to accept her Best Actress award, the genuine and heartfelt speeches of Cristoph Waltz and Ben Affleck, the Best Picture reveal by First Lady Michelle Obama, and the addition of the Jaws theme music that preceded the mic cut off for rambling thank you speeches.