Book review: E is for Ethics

Ian James Corlett. Illustrated by R.A. Holt. E is for Ethics: How to Talk to Kids About Morals, Values, and What Matters Most. New York: Atria Books, 201. 111 pages.

Most people would say that ethics aren’t something that parents can teach, that they can only show them by example. That may be true, but discussing morality and values with your children certainly can’t hurt. Author Ian James Corlett, in E IS FOR ETHICS, gives parents a game plan: read one of the 26 stories in this thin volume once a week together, and over the course of a year you’ll have two lessons on the same subject.

It’s a good approach, and Corlett’s background in children’s television has helped him put together stories that quickly set up an ethical dilemma and either suggest a solution or leave it for the readers to puzzle their way out. Each story–they are really short vignettes–raises one major question, such as, “How did Elliott show PATIENCE?” that is the subject of the lesson. After Corlett’s answer, there follow several other questions, like, “Do you think you would have been as patient as Elliott was?” and “How can you show patience in your life?”

For kids of the right age group, this will surely provoke some thoughtful discussion. Because the pieces in the book are big on story and thin on plot, there’s not much to hold toddlers who aren’t quite ready to see the world in moralistic terms or to discuss shared values. For the right age, this will likely be a great book to read with parents.

I’ve got to take a little bit of exception to Corlett proclaiming that he’s not a PHD, but a POD (Plain Old Dad) in the foreword. “I’m a plain old dad, no degree, no letters, nothin’,” he writes. I’m not a big fan of the anti-intellectual, anti-expert advice trend, because it goes without saying that if you really want to be a better parent, or business executive, or whatever you’re writing your self-help book about, you’ll look for answers anywhere you can find them, which may include people who’ve devoted their professional lives to looking for the same answers. It’s ironic because Corlett uses quotes from from Plato, Confucius, Benjamin Franklin, and many other authorities to back up his homespun wisdom–an essentially academic approach. This is still a great book, but I could have done without that paragraph, because it sets up an opposition between intellectual and popular approaches to morality that I don’t think is really there.

Still, parents of 8 to 10 year-olds will probably get a lot of mileage out of Corlett’s book.

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