Moral Education in an Immoral Society

By Malveaux, Julianne | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 29, 2002 | Go to article overview

Moral Education in an Immoral Society


Malveaux, Julianne, Black Issues in Higher Education


People are talking about ethics these days, as well they should be. Our nation's business pages bear a close resemblance to the police blotter, and investor confidence is at an all-time low. It seems partisan to say that Republicans have taken the concept of greed to a new level, but from where I sit the moral climate in the White House has much to do with where we are. When the vice president of the United States runs his energy policy past those who would benefit from it, who is paying attention to the people who have to pay energy bills?

Sure, the Senate pushed through some corporate governance reforms. But on a scale of 1 to 10, those reforms are, at best, a 6. They haven't fully dealt with the issue of charging off stock options (if a perk reduces the bottom line, doesn't common sense suggest it ought to be accounted for?) And there is far too much jawboning and far too little action associated with new law.

Meanwhile, Congress wants to address the issue of individual bankruptcy in a law that is being pushed by the very credit card companies that have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the last election cycle. And while companies like Enron and WorldCom shrug off their responsibilities without many consequences (except to their employees and pensioners), Congress is considering making the individual who is forced to go bankrupt pay.

The hypocrisy and venality that fiddle our public policy seem both overwhelming and unstoppable. Tackling the issue of ethics is like hopping up a 45-degree angle hill -- nearly impossible. There are many who have the rhetoric perfected, but their actions cannot meet any form of scrutiny. But there are some who raise the right questions, some who may even have a few of the right answers. Harvard's Peter J. Gomes, in his book, The Good Life: Truths that Last In Times of Need has raised a series of questions about the ways we should live and also offers a few answers.

Of course, I've a bias to confess. I'm an unabashed Peter Gomes fan. I became enamored of his brain after reading The Good Book: Reading the Bible with the Mind and Heart, his 1996 examination of the ways that people misuse the Bible. One of the reasons I liked The Good Book was because it was a useful way to think about America's original sin -- that of institutionalized racism. How could people really talk about kindness, love, and charity, while enslaving others or treating them unequally?

In The Good Life, Gomes speaks of moral education, something that is woefully lacking in higher education. He is measured when he speaks about the way it used to be, the way that moral components of education were more universally embraced. Much of a fan as I am of Gomes, I regret that he relied on the "good, old days" to make a series of points about moral education, because the good, old days were only good for some folks. …

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