· Respond to your peer by evaluating the extent to which you think the ethical theory helps to resolve the issue or problem, or by considering how a different ethical perspective may address it more effectively.
Engage the community:
The ethical/social problem I am choosing for this post is the mask mandate occurring in the public school system in Great Falls, MT where I am currently living. I have a son who is in 4th grade and a daughter who is in 2nd, and so this affects them every day they go to school. Ever since the covid pandemic started, schools have taken pretty severe measures to deal with the virus. Initially it was remote learning for most of the first year, and then it turned into masking and social distancing and so on. With this being the second year now that we have been dealing with this virus, the schools are still mandating that all staff and children wear masks nearly all the time and socially distance as much as possible. There are many who support these measures, and there are also many who strongly oppose them. There was recently a rally at the Montana state capitol with representatives from both perspectives present. This divide (Links to an external site.) is a microcosm of what is occurring at the national or even international level. I am firmly in the camp that believes these mask mandates in the schools (and nearly everywhere else for that matter) are a dramatic overreaction and misstep of government at all levels. In the beginning, when we knew close to nothing about covid, I was understanding of the drastic measures. As time has progressed though, and as our understanding of the virus has grown exponentially, it has become clear that some adjustments and refinements of much of the original policy surrounding covid are needed. First, let us examine some important facts. The science now shows that masking and social distancing had little to no impact on stopping or even slowing the virus. Masking is really only effective if using a proper medical grade mask (N95) and if one knows how to properly use it (meaning not reusing the same mask over and over, not touching it or contaminating it in some other way). Even then, the masks are not extremely effective as tests on their effectiveness have all been in sterile lab environments, not the real world. Most children, especially young children, aren't using N95 masks and they definitely aren't properly trained on how to use masks so that they aren't just disgusting, soiled, face diapers. Young children aren't capable of adhering to such strict training requirements. So, with most kids running around school all day with dirty cloth masks on their faces, the health risks for contracting disease (including covid) are actually higher. Children (ages 0-18) are the least affected age demographic by covid, with risk of serious illness or death comparable to influenza. To date in the United States, fewer than 700 children have died of covid since the beginning of the pandemic. While every death is a tragedy, this number is relatively low and hardly warrants the kind of alarmism and government overreach we see in schools today. Also, the detrimental psychological effects of developing children not seeing faces all day is well documented. Schools have also never been a vector for transmission of covid, as children also do not contract or spread covid anywhere close to the levels of adults. And if teachers and staff are concerned about covid, there is now a vaccine available to protect them against severe illness and death from covid. I say all of this to say that the mask mandates in schools (and more broadly) are an antiquated strategy for dealing with covid. They are now merely an example of an inept and cowardly ruling class. Solid science now strongly suggests that they actually do more harm than good, especially for school-age children. These drastic measures restrict freedom and cause harm, and the school district in Great Falls (and elsewhere) needs to change its policy regarding masks.
Apply the theory:
I would like to apply virtue ethics to this issue. An Aristotelian would certainly argue that these mask mandates in schools are wrong. They would argue that those imposing these mandates lack the virtues of practical wisdom and courage. Practical wisdom for being unable to properly discern what ought to be done given all of the information, and courage for taking drastic measures for such small risk. An Aristotelian would also argue that these policies certainly do not aim at happiness and human flourishing. They are restrictive and harmful to a child's health and psychological development.
Evaluate the reasoning:
The application of virtue ethics to this issue is obviously quite different than what is currently going on, which I hope I have made clear by now. I think it could be easily argued that utilitarianism and deontology would also oppose the school mask mandates, if for slightly different reasons. I think that the utilitarian would have a rather important point to make about the amount of harm these policies cause relative to the pleasure or happiness. And the deontologist could argue about the duty of protecting children's freedom and well-being over the whims of a panicked ruling class. But, I think that virtue ethics gets at the heart of the issue in a way that the others don't. An Aristotelian would be sympathetic to the arguments of the other two ethical theories, but in addressing the lack of virtue in dealing with these issues, virtue ethics makes clear that these mandates stem from the heart's of people who are lacking in a fundamental way that prevents them from ever getting to the consequences or duties of their actions.
Ambarian, J. (2021). School mask policies: advocates and opponents rally at state Capitol. 3KRTV Great Falls. https://www.krtv.com/news/montana-and-regional-news/school-mask-policies-advocates-and-opponents-rally-at-state-capitol
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