I start my new topic for the week of ethics classes on Wednesday (for historical reasons). The first thing I needed to do today was write the lesson plan! I’d advertised in advance that this week we’d be looking at “Prejudice”. But when I sat down to start writing a lesson, I realised it was going to be slightly tricky not to just give examples and questions that resulted in all the kids simply agreeing that prejudice was a bad thing.
So I looked for examples of positive prejudice as well, where people assume good things about people based on their appearance or other initial impressions. So I had a couple of examples of that, with some questions. Then I asked my friends what I could do with this subject, and one suggested a real world case where prejudicial thinking is actually used by a common industry: insurance.
Specifically, I used the example of car insurance. Statistically, drivers under the age of 25 are in around three times as many accidents causing injury or death than drivers aged 30 or more. And insurance companies (at least in Australia, whose figures I looked up) charge drivers under 25 roughly twice the premiums of drivers aged 30.
So I gave the kids the statistical fact about accidents first. Then I asked if they met someone aged 20 and someone aged 30, and didn’t know anything else about them, would it be reasonable to assume the older person was less likely to have a dangerous car accident? There was a 50/50 split among the 4 students in today’s class – two said yes, that’d be reasonable, the other two said no, you can’t make a judgement like that because for all you know the younger person might be a better driver. Then I asked them if they were an experienced 30-year-old driver, and they saw an 18-year-old driving nearby, would they drive more carefully around them, or not? The first two kids plus one of the others said yes they would, while the fourth doubled down and said no, they’d drive just as carefully around anyone.
Then I asked them about the insurance – was it fair to charge younger drivers more? Back to 50/50 split, the first two kids saying yes, the other two no. So this was good! There was a lot of good discussion, and I asked them all to give their reasons for their answers, so they heard a good deal about the opposing points of view.
Then came the crunch question. Imagine you run a delivery service and you’re hiring a new driver. You have two applicants, a 20 year old and a 30 year old. Their resumés are identical, except for their ages, and they agree to the same salary. Which one do you give the job to?
Well, almost predictably they split down the middle again. Two saying obviously the older one, because they’re a safer driver. The other two kids chose the younger one, saying you can’t just assume they’re not a good driver, and they probably have more energy and enthusiasm since they’re younger! I ended the lesson saying they should all go and think about everything we did today, and maybe talk with their parents about it and ask them the same questions.
So it ended up a fun class for everyone, and I enjoyed it too.
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