Saturday, November 10, 2007

Morals Ain't Just a Mushroom

by Troy Hickman

Not long ago in my blog, I posted some questions I asked my students about the general knowledge they possess (if you haven't checked it out, you might want to do so, as the results were fascinating.

In a similar vein, when my classes begin working on persuasive papers, we usually go through a few exercises to get their "argumentative juices" flowing. One such exercise is sort of a version of the board game "Scruples," where they're confronted with an ethical dilemma, and they say what they would do in a given situation, and why.

Below are the questions, then a brief summary of what the answers look like. Again, interesting stuff. Answer 'em yourself, and see what you get.

1. You're walking down the street, and in front of you is a well-dressed man counting a wad of money. He drops a $100 bill, but doesn't notice, and walks on. No one else is around. What do you do?

2. You accidentally find out your romantic partner's email password. What do you do?

3. You're friends with a couple, and one of them confides in you that they're having an affair with someone. What do you do?

4. You're in a department store, and you see a woman strike her young child hard across the face. What do you do?

5. You see someone's car stuck in the snow, and they're trying to push it out. What do you do?

6. Your neighbor's dog regularly barks all night long, sometimes keeping you awake. Then one day you see your neighbor kick his dog. What do you do?

7. You're working as a volunteer for a political candidate whose policies you strongly support. Then one day you find that they're secretly putting some campaign funds into their own personal account. What do you do?

8. You see a woman in the supermarket with three shabbily-dressed kids. You watch her put a jar of peanut butter into her purse, and walk out without paying for it. What do you do?

9. You're in a store and you break something expensive, but no one is around to witness it. What do you do?

10. You have a co-worker who regular slips out of work early, but the boss is unaware of it. What do you do?


1. Most of my students say they'd give the cash back. Of the few who wouldn't, the reason usually given is "he doesn't need it as much as I do." A couple would give it back hoping for a reward. A couple of them had the smarts to ask "What if he was dressed well because he was going to his wife's funeral, and he had the money to pay the funeral home" or similar hypotheticals. One guy said he'd sack the man and take the rest of his cash, but I hope he was joking.

2. This one went about 50/50. About half of them said they would either tell their partner, or they would just never use the info. The other half either said they'd look (mainly out of nosiness), or they'd only look if they felt "there was good reason."

3. Half the class said they'd basically stay out of it. About a third of them said they would tell the other partner (or give the person confiding in them the chance to do so first). A large number of them said it depended on which partner was the better or older friend to them. An alarming number of them said that if the confider were the same sex as them, they'd keep their secret, but not otherwise. Talk about your gender loyalty. One guy said that if it were the woman confiding in him, he'd use the info to blackmail her for sex.

4. About half the class said that it depended on (A) how hard the slap was, (B) the age of the child, and (C) what the child had done to provoke it. About a third said they'd do nothing, as it wasn't their business. The rest said they'd go to some kind of authority, whether it was the store's management, the police, or Child Protective Services (though there's a real fear of CPS and their overzealousness).

5. Most folks said they wouldn't stop to help, but they would offer to call for help on their cellphone. Of the ones who would help, most of them said they'd stop if it was a woman, but not if it were a guy (so if Laurie Dann or Aileen Wuornos were stranded, they'd stop, but bearded, scary-looking pussycat Troy Hickman would die from exposure).

6. About two thirds of them would do something, whether it was contacting the authorities, confronting the guy, or stealing the dog. Interestingly, a lot more folks were willing to help the dog being kicked than the little kid being struck in the face.

7. Most everyone said they would either turn the guy in, or confront him and give him the chance to do so. Wheeewwww. Unfortunately, a handful said that if they supported his causes, they would let it slide (what do you want to bet those are exactly the folks who WILL end up in politics?). One guy said he'd blackmail the politician (I sense a trend here).

8. Very few folks would turn her in. Some said they would offer to pay for her peanut butter. One guy said he'd slip a jar of jelly into her bag so the sandwiches weren't too dry. This question provoked a truly amazing interchange, however. I have an old hippie guy in one of my classes, and he's got some truly loco ideas. So when this question came up, he said he thought it was OK for her to steal it, because the store had more money than the woman did. Here's how the convo went from that point on:

ME: So, it's ok to steal from someone as long as they have more than you do?


ME: Soooo...if I'm living below poverty level, is it ok for me to steal from someone else below poverty level, as long as they make a little more than me?


ME: So what's the cut-off point? How much do you have to make for it to be ok to steal from you.

HIPPIE (without a hesitation): $24,000 a year.

ME (gasping for breath): $24,000 a year???? How...what...where did you come up with that amount?

HIPPIE: Well, that's assuming we're talking about someone who's single with no children.

So not only did he have an actual number at which you could be robbed, but he must've worked out some sort of chart that made adjustments for spouses and dependents!!!

9. About half said they'd tell the store owner, assuming they probably wouldn't have to pay for it anyway. The other half would either walk away inconspicuously or hide the item.

10. With this one, almost every person said it depended on whether they LIKED their co-worker. Of the ones who would act, most said they'd let the boss know indirectly.

So what about you?


  1. I would probably help - at least offer to place a call for you Troy :)

    I like the use of pictures in this blog, very well placed.

  2. My wife, the high school English teacher, loved this so much, that she wants to administer this same quiz to her students. (Time allowing of course.) If she does, I'll send the results to you Troy. (And you too Erin, if you'd like it.)

  3. I think that would be cool to see - how Highschool students fare vs. College students.

    I might have my little brother give this to the teachers at his school - I know one or two that would love to have this.

  4. Stumpy, you might want to give her the general knowledge test from my blog, too. The results will amaze and terrify her...

  5. I kind of want to do this with my class, Troy, but I don't know if I'd sleep afterwards.


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