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Kiddie Morality

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How do we develop our sense of morality? Even toddlers know there is a right and wrong beyond the rules in a classroom. While Jad attends playgroup, Robert concludes that children are sociopaths. Dr. Judi Smetana refutes this claim while guiding us through her research on the development of moral and social knowledge. And then, more fighting. We'll witness, through a mother's eyes, a pre-school brawl that results in blood and one boy's burgeoning sense of empathy.

Telling another tale of classroom chaos, reporter Amy O'Leary takes us along on a trip to right a wrong. She'll confront her fourth grade teacher and drudge up former classmates to put to rest the legacy of the "Homestead" game. In the process, she'll peel back layers to reveal the dark side of formative experiences that shape an individual's morality.

Comments [14]

Cathoryn from future

Radiolab reported that brain scans showed that most people would not kill the fat guy face-to-face to save several people versus switch the train tracks remotely. Researchers should find out at what age that happens. I know that little kids don't have understand the concept of value versus number (like if you give a little kid 8 pennies versus a dime).

Jun. 22 2016 12:36 PM
John from US

Amy O'Leary = navel gazer

Jun. 09 2016 10:48 AM

Was Jack mortified because he had empathy for what the other kids was feeling (pain), or because he has been already thought that hurting someone will have consequences for him?

Sep. 10 2014 01:07 PM
Marc Johnston from Lancaster, PA

I never played the game myself but was interested in it anyway. After some digging I found this site which I am guessing is probably the game.
This appears to be mostly the rules and does not seem to include the fate cards as far as I could tell.
I was hoping for something that I could adjust to play with my family but it looks like it is more suited for the classroom, as the story suggested.
I hope you all enjoy!

Jul. 16 2014 01:40 PM
ANita from U.S.A.

While listening to the section on morality and children I was goofing off on my computer and pulled up "Calvin and Hobbes" for 07-13-2014. Calvin complains of boredom and his mother says it's a beautiful summer day, use your imagination. Calvin gets an idea and gets a bucket of water and douses her with it. While sitting in time-out he muses, "My upbringing is filled with inconsistent messages."

Jul. 13 2014 08:46 PM

I second the question, where can I get that game?

Nov. 16 2013 01:00 PM
Donna Volpitta, Ed.D. from New York

Morality has its basis in brain development. Yes, it feels good to get the toy by grabbing it, but when kids are actively taught alternate strategies, they can learn them at a very early age.

David Desteno wrote a very interesting book called Out of Character that outlines many very interesting psychological experiments about morality. He concludes that within our brain we have two forces that influence our decisions, one that focuses on ong term interests and one on short term survival, which he refers to as the ant (long-term) and the grasshopper (short-term).

When children are born, they are very focused in the grasshopper state (often known as fight-or-flight). As their brains develop, we have the opportunity to teach them pathways to strengthen the ant, which develops morality.

For more information, see

Nov. 16 2013 12:46 PM
Saire from United States

Very good audio presentation. However, the background chiming severely took away from the quality of the audio clip. It made it very hard for me to focus on the point of the presentation. Thought the feedback might be nice. Kind Regards.

Sep. 03 2013 05:57 PM
Linda from Michigan

This is for Dale, who told about his experience when, as a six-year-old, he and his buddy were riding their bikes across traffic. He made it through but his friend was hit by a car. He looked back and saw that his friend's leg was injured - but he didn't go back to help. He fled the scene and has felt guilty ever since.

I had a similar experie when I was five or six. I was walking with my younger friend on a city sidewalk. I noticed that the coming section of sidewalk was buckled: it was raised up, presenting a hazard. As we got closer to it, I noticed a tack sitting on this raised edge of concrete. I could see in my mind's eye that an accident was about to occur - and just as saw it in my mind, the accident I had foreseen did indeed occur: my little friend tripped and fell on the concrete, and the tack stuck on the tip of her nose. She picked herself up and went crying home. And I turned around and took off, too, for my home, in the opposite direction. I was terrified.

I felt guilty for not warning her - even though it happened so fast. And in the ensuing years I have felt bad for not going with her to her house to make sure she was alright and to tell her mother how she got her bloody nose. But I realize, too, that I was terror- stricken by the fact that I had foreseen into the future.

Maybe, Dale, you didn't go back to help your friend because you were terrified - to see him so messed up. And being so young, maybe you just weren't equipped to deal with that terror.

Thank you all for the great job you all do!

Apr. 08 2012 04:50 PM
Josh Brown from Dayton, OH

HOMESTEAD!!! Please let me know how to find this game! We played that game in 4th grade and I STILL think about it. It is one of my earliest experiences that I distinctly remember having the Machiavelli brought out in me. I NEED to know how to find this game! I have often remembered but have never been able to come up with a name or anything else that would give me hope to find it.

Jul. 15 2010 10:29 AM
jewel mlnarik from portland, or

I thought of this episode when I watched Jeremy Rifkin's excellent video on an empathetic civilisation. If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend checking it out @

What a wonderful application of science and concept to ponder.

Jul. 05 2010 04:21 PM
Callie Wheeler from Oregon

This story reminds me of an incident in Palo Alto, CA in 1967 in which a high school teacher uses a scenario game--similar to Homestead--to illustrate how situations like Nazi Germany are created. The classroom experiment got out of hand and the teacher felt so ashamed about what he had done that he didn't talk about it for 6 years. In 1981 a film called The Wave was made about the classroom experiment and more recently a German film (which I feel is even more powerful because of the direct historical implications) called "Die Welle" (The Wave).

In both situations valuable moral lessons are embarrassingly learned by their subjects, yet not discussed openly.

I would like to hear more on this subject. Maybe about cults or conformity.

Thanks, I love the show!

Feb. 09 2010 09:47 PM
Dorathy from ohio

interesting website

Nov. 19 2009 06:50 PM
Audriona Tartabini from Stow

I love this website!

Nov. 18 2009 03:46 PM

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