This is an archive of moral ethical discussion starters from the case files of Charis Denison. It presents a variety of age-appropriate, real-life dilemmas that usually ignite intense student discussions. These are just synopses. When you see something that looks interesting (and they all are), just click on the number and you’ll get the full story, notes for the facilitator (that’s you), and challenging discussion questions.
#1: Jeff’s best friend is getting into some pretty risky behaviors, including dangerous drugs. What can Jeff do to help his friend?
#2: Jennifer knows her parents won’t let her go to the big party if they find out the host’s parents are out of town. Should she lie about it?
#3: What’s the difference between cheating on a math test and lying about your age in order to save money on a movie ticket?
#4: Julia’s best friend has turned against her and is now organizing the other girls to bully and isolate her. What can Julia do?
#5: Corey is drunk and stuck at a party thirty miles from home with nobody sober to drive him. He’s not happy about any of his options. What should he do?
#6: Lea has been offered something she really wants. Unfortunately, it’s terribly unfair to a lot of other people and she knows it. Should she allow herself to benefit from an unfair situation?
#7: Stephanie was supposed to tell a certain guy that her good friend had a crush on him. Instead, Stephanie ended up hooking up with the guy, herself. And to make matters worse, she lied to her friend about it. Now things are spinning out of control. What’s she supposed to do?
#8: A stressed out honor student has plagiarized a term paper and been turned over to the school’s honor council. She is pleading with the council not to report her violation to the Ivy League university she is applying to. What should the council do?
#9: A high school sophomore faces a family crisis when his alcoholic mom relapses into drinking.
#10: An eighth grade girl starts receiving threatening notes in her locker and her backpack.
#11: A fifth grade boy is overcome with hurt and anger when a classmate spreads a lie about him.
#12: Maria is sure that her good friend, Pam, has an eating disorder. Pam s parents are in denial, and nobody but Maria and a few friends seem concerned. What should Maria do?
#13: You are stumped on an important math test and you have the perfect opportunity to cheat without getting caught. What do you do, and how do you explain your decision?
#14: The star student makes a bad choice involving alcohol. Now she has to decide what to do about it without ruining her reputation or compromising her ethical principals.
#15: Three of David’s classmates have created an offensive website that attacks students and teachers. The principal wants to know who did it and David is the only one who knows. Should he lie to the principal or betray his classmates?
#16: When Jay asks his mother how she would react if he tried drugs, he gets a stern warning. Then he discovers that she’s been smoking pot. What is he supposed to do with that?
#17: Kevin feels that his baseball coach has given him an unfair advantage over other members of the team. Should he do something about it, or just accept his good luck?
#18: What do you do when your friend’s dad comes to drive you home from a party, and you can tell that he’s drunk?
#19: Archer is facing a thorny, but common, ethical dilemma: should he lie to his parents in order to receive a reward he’s not entitled to, or tell them the truth and give up the reward?
#20: Bethany has confided in Stacy that an adult neighbor has been touching her in ways that make her uncomfortable. Should Stacy keep Bethany’s secret or risk their friendship by telling an adult?
#21: Peter s longtime close friend, Bridget, is wrapped up in an online relationship with some older guy on MySpace, a social networking website. Peter senses danger, but Bridget resents his warnings and wants him to butt out. What can he do without risking their friendship?
#22: Andrew is caught in a conflict between trying to please his overbearing father and doing what is best for himself.
#23: The incoming school president was caught breaking the school rules about alcohol. Should he be permitted to take office or should the student body hold a new election?
#24: Katy cringes every time she hears her friends use words like retarded or gay in a derogatory manner. Should she object when it happens, or should she let it pass so people won’t think she’s weird?
#25: Someone left money sticking out of an ATM machine and there’s nobody in sight. Nobody but Ben, that is. If he takes it, does that make him a thief? What should he do?
#26: Erin’s chemistry teacher made a huge mistake on Erin’s final grade. A mistake that was very much in Erin’s favor. Should Erin point out the mistake to her teacher, or accept her good fortune quietly and gratefully?
#27: Noah sees the same bully torment the same victim every day on the schoolyard, and nobody tells the teacher about it. Should Noah speak up and risk being labeled tattletail, or should he ignore it and mind his own business?
#28: Lisa is at a party where her friend Sarah is vomiting and losing consciousness from alcohol consumption. Lisa wants to call 911. Her other friends want to try to deal with it themselves so they don’t get in trouble. What to do?
#29: David has just joined a Facebook group and he discovers that somebody has posted an offensive and malicious photo of a girl from his class. David feels very uncomfortable about it. What, if anything, should he do?
#30: Brian has the perfect summer job, thanks to his dad. But when Brian finds out that some of his co-workers (including some with families to support) make significantly less money than he does even though they’ve been there much longer, he feels conflicted. What should he do?
#31: Georgia is a very good math student who does well on homework but falls apart under the stress of heavily weighted tests. Under these circumstances, would it be so terrible if she cheated just a little? (an exploration of situational ethics)
haris (KAIR-iss) Denison, founder of Prajna Consulting, is an expert in Community Involvement, Human Development, and Ethics. She has built her experience primarily by working with schools and non-profits for the past 15 years.
After initially teaching middle and high school English and Creative Writing, Charis began to develop curricula and publish articles related to social justice, ethics, human development, community involvement, and experiential education. She has received national recognition for her work in those fields, as well as for her community-based work with American teens and Tibetan refugees in Central Asia.
Charis co-wrote Tolerance for Others. a middle school human development text, with Leni Wildflower. She currently works as the national Service-Learning consultant for both the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education and the Durango Institute for Co-Curricular Education.
Charis also teaches at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California, and runs Prajna Consulting. Through Prajna she consults with schools, parents, students, and businesses both organizationally and individually. Charis also facilitates workshops and speaks on a wide variety of topics.