New Choices, New Responsibilities: Biosocial Ethics and Motives (BEAM) class explores the relationship between scientific engagement and social responsibility

New biotechnologies are being developed at an ever-increasing rate, often outpacing our ability to understand their implications. Integrating bioethics instruction into the classroom helps better equip Carolina Day students with skills necessary for addressing the ethical and policy choices that lie ahead in a range of fields, from healthcare to education to policy-making.

At Carolina Day, two Upper School teachers have developed a blended bioethics and humanities course that offers juniors and seniors an opportunity to explore the relationship between scientific engagement and social responsibility. The course is called Biosocial Ethics and Motives, or “BEAM” for short. As students progress through the course, they are challenged to investigate what is ethical and just—based upon the four principles of bioethics—in terms of life rights, environmental issues, biological concepts, social constructs, and medical rights. 

Team-taught by science teacher Dora Nelson and English teacher Susan White, BEAM is a dynamic class that incorporates guest speakers, professional interviews, and student community presentations. Students research topics independently and in groups. Using the scientific method, they develop and share informed opinions based on case studies, data analysis, laboratory investigation, research, literature, and discussion. 

“Because students explore bioethical issues that significantly affect people’s wellbeing, they are intrinsically driven to research, study, and process what is at stake and what is the most ethical course of action,” said Susan White. “We believe it’s important for students to appreciate the range of values and viewpoints of stakeholders involved in an ethical dilemma—the interconnectedness, complexity, and ambiguity inherent in real-world problems—which may help students transcend a stereotypical and oversimplified conceptualization of the world. Through scientific study, we learn facts; through stories, we become aware and emotionally invested.”

Students who participated in the class expressed enthusiasm for the challenge.

“I had an amazing experience in BEAM class this year!” said senior Janaki Beharrysingh. “When I signed up for BEAM, I expected that we were going to cover a lot of social issues that involved science, however I wasn't initially sure of the issues we were going to cover. I expected that there would be some debate on issues, and I was excited to see the connections between scientific inventions and topics and social justice issues.”

Janaki’s project topic explored the ethics of animal testing. “I feel better equipped now to think critically and research about bioethical questions because I have learned how to look at an issue objectively and research both sides of an issue. In my research, I can research the laws regarding an issue, the science behind it, and make an informed decision based on that.”

William Gay, a junior whose project topic was artificial-human-tissue development, also shared appreciation for the deep dive that BEAM class offered. “Every day, I looked forward to class. It was always interesting, and every article or issue made me think. When I started the course, I thought I would see pretty clear-cut answers to the ethical issues, but I soon saw that there are far more layers to every issue we examined than I had ever imagined! It challenged me and made me think from several different perspectives.”

William added, “I feel like I can see things from other people's perspectives more easily and I can understand their logic. After this class, I realized that there is more than just the umbrella of ‘ethics’ to consider—what is ‘ethical’ can be different when considering different facets of ethics. For example, comparing autonomy (which is respecting individual rights) and beneficence (which is bringing about good, or the most good for the most people, in all of your actions), something that may benefit the individual may not benefit the whole. I took these lessons and now I have a framework in which I can consistently and systematically look at an issue and determine whether I feel like it is ethical or not.”

We invite you to learn more about the course and explore students’ work in the Virtual Civic Engagement Museum, created by the students of BEAM.

BEAM was inspired by the principles of SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibility), whose national project focuses on empowering faculty and improving STEM teaching and learning by making connections to civic issues.

(Photo of Susan White teaching BEAM class in 2019.)