Modern Times, Ethics, and a New-Fangled Approach to Teaching Children 

Photo Credit Susan Solomon

The Ethical Culture Society of Northern Westchester (ESNW), a humanist congregation dedicated to ethical living, is applying the principles of Narrative Medicine in their Ethics for Children Sunday School Program to help children and their parents navigate the dicey and sometimes divisive topics of today.  

For Anne Cunney, the head of ESNW’s Ethics for Children Program, who studied Narrative Medicine at Columbia University’s medical school, bringing the elements of this discipline of listening and sharing with non-judgmental compassion to the Sunday School is giving the children an opportunity to think for themselves, in a safe and supportive space. 

The program’s academic year runs from September through June.  

Cunney describes her classrooms as “an ethical experience. More like a conversation and less like school.” She kicks off discussions by asking the kids, “What happened during the week?” Where traditional Sunday schools use Bible stories to teach a moral, at the Ethical Society’s Sunday sessions, the children engage with a work of literature, art or film, and then create their own response to a certain topic such as can masturbation be forgiven?

“The kids do a lot of thinking in a kind of open and sharing way which is very special,” Dr. Bob Berson, ESNW clergy leader, said of the way in which Cunney works with the children. Parents are not left out of the conversation. They are concerned with the bombardment of information in their children’s lives and they support the work Cunney is doing. She keeps parents in the loop by sending her curriculum to them beforehand and discussing any issues with parents which might come up during her classroom. 

“Parents who come to the Ethical Society value this process of wanting their kids to learn, to question, to raise hypotheses, to think of alternatives, to think for themselves,” Dr. Berson said. 

Also, starting in October, the Ethical Society as part of their Adult Program will hold a speaker/film series on the theme “Raising the Next Generation: Children Yesterday Today and Tomorrow” highlighting topics such as foster children, LGBTQ kids, children with special needs, immigrant and refugee children, children with incarcerated parents, and so on.  

To be held once a month, each discussion will be led by an expert on the particular issue.  

The Ethics for Children Sunday School Program runs from September to June and registration is still open. The cost of the program is $250/child. Additional contributions are welcome. To ensure inclusiveness, a sliding scale is offered. 

The “Next Generation: Children Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” Series starts in October and is open to the public and more information can be found by going to their website: 

The Ethical Culture Society of Northern Westchester is located at 108 Pinesbridge Road, Ossining, New York and is a congregation based on the teachings of Ethical Culture, a non-theistic religion of ethics founded in 1876 in New York City. It is one of 23+ members of the American Ethical Union (AEU) nationwide, and one of two in Westchester (the Ethical Culture Society of West Chester is based in White Plains). 

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About the Author: Wendy Mbekelu