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Ethical Beings (IL015)

"The journey to moral agency can be considered a second birth through which the child wakes into a new phase of awareness that transforms the individual into a being of a different (moral) order." Lisa Sainsbury, Ethics in British Children’s Literature

alice.t02.jpg"Who are you?"

"I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

Alice and the Caterpillar, Alice in Wonderland

Module Description

When did you start thinking ethically? What is it to even call yourself an ethical person? How would you become this? How could you help a child become this? What distinguishes childhood and adulthood here? How would you know if you or they achieved ethical status? Can you think your way to it or do you have to experience things? Is it even desirable to be an ethical person?

These are the kinds of questions we'll be asking on this module. In order to answer them we'll hear from speakers in a variety of departments, engage with works of children's literature, film, and theatre, analyse how they have embodied and tackled these kinds of questions, and use open-space, collaborative, and active learning techniques to help you build your own theories which you will express in your final assessments.

Ultimately, the module will:

  • Develop your understanding of different disciplinary theories concerning moral development
  • Critically engage you on an interdisciplinary level
  • Explore historical and contemporary conceptions of childhood and adulthood
  • Allow you to analyse and critique how ethical learning has been tied to literary and narrative experience
  • Delve into specific ethical issues such as abuse and ecological concern
  • Reflect upon the impact of adult/child relationships in ethical development
  • Engage you in innovative and active learning methods, workshops, and assessments and then allow you to critically reflect upon and articulate your preferred learning styles and pedagogical practice
  • Give you the chance to develop what you learn in a creative and practical way


"Even the most ordinary prose becomes magical when read aloud at bedtime. And even the simplest-seeming of our children’s books teaches something elegant and deep.” Seth Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History

“Coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict: I began to wonder whether there is any more precise way to describe the conditions children face as they are growing up. Maybe the contact zone formed by bedtime reading was more complex and vexed than I had imagined.” Maria Tatar, Enchanted Hunters


The module will consist of ten two-hour sessions which will involve a subject-specialist led session and an interdisciplinary, active workshop where the students and module leader will explore the ideas from the session and the week's reading. You will also be expected to attend three one-hour seminars led by the module leader which will engage with student ideas and topics specifically in relation to the module's creative form of assessment. The time of these will be decided by the group.

picture1.png“Every new child is nature’s chance to correct culture’s error.” Ted Hughes, ‘Myth and Education’

“My whole object in writing at all was to get the chance of preaching! When a man comes to my time of life and has his bread to make, and very little time to spare, is it likely that he will spend almost the whole of his yearly vacation in writing a story just to amuse people? I think not.” Preface to Tom Brown’s Schooldays

Assessment - further information

Devised piece and group discussion (50%)

Students will create a piece and accompanying explanation which engages with the question: "How can I help a child develop as an ethical being?". This question is not meant to be limiting and students will be free to answer the question negatively and interpret the terms of the question as they see fit so long as they support and express those interpretations.

Students will consider what issues, theories, and audience they want to address and then pick a form they feel best expresses and reflects those choices. As such, the piece can take any form the student wishes. It could be a story, essay, workshop, presentation, comic, painting, video, dance, website, poem, song...anything.

The piece will be pre-circulated or presented to the group and the theory and ideas behind it explored via group discussion.

Students will be marked on how well their piece embodies and expresses their theoretical ideas and their demonstration of a considered approach to the task when questioned. They will also be marked on their analysis of other's pieces and their demonstration of an engagement with theory and understanding of the module as a whole during group discussion.

Essay (50%)

Students will also write a 1500 (12CAT) or 2000 (15CAT) word essay. The topic of the essay will be chosen by the student and can focus upon anything from the module, including a reflection upon the learning process and methods utilised within the module. The essay question will be designed with the module tutor.


Full marking rubrics for each year can be found on that year's tab at the top of this page.

Student at event

Module Convenor

Naomi de la Tour


Term 1 (Autumn) 2017-18
Wednesdays, 14:00 -16:00

Plus 2 x 1-hour seminars focusing on core concepts and creating an assessment piece


Humanities Studio
Humanities Building


For 15 CATS:

Student devised piece with group discussion (50%)

2000 word essay (50%)

See further information for more explanation.

For 12 CATS:

Student devised piece with group discussion (50%)

1500 word essay (50%)

See further information for more explanation.