Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Preparing Moral Eductors in an Era of Standards-Based Reform

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Preparing Moral Eductors in an Era of Standards-Based Reform

Article excerpt

Introduction: Moral Education is Essential

Debate over the aims of public education never ends. However, preparing a new generation of citizens is one of the aims for which there is a broad consensus (e.g., Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2003; Goodlad, Mantle-Bromley, & Goodlad, 2004; Ravitch & Viteritti 2001). Citizenship has both political and social dimensions, and each inherently involves ethical issues. It is neither possible nor desirable to leave moral issues outside the realm of schooling. Consequently, moral education must be one of two generic aims of education; the other is teaching academic content and skills.

The current standards-based environment, embodied at the federal level in the United States by the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001, typically treats teaching content and skills as paramount. This frequently has the effect of diminishing the status of moral education. However, success in teaching content and skills while slighting moral education can produce unacceptable results. Consider Theodore Kaczynski, the "Unabomber." Shortly after Kaczynski's arrest, Frank Rich (1996), in his New York Times column, asked whether Harvard University should, in its recruiting materials and elsewhere, claim the Unabomber as an educational success story--a distinguished alumnus. After humorously debating both sides of the question, Rich concluded, with irony, that Harvard should claim Kaczynski as a success because, "After all, who but a Harvard man [sic] could outwit the Feds for eighteen years?" (Rich, 1996).

The Unabomber's abilities went beyond avoiding capture. Kaczynski was a prodigy in mathematics. He enrolled early in Harvard, earned a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Michigan, and taught at the University of California at Berkeley. While Kaczynski's prose was turgid, his Manifesto would probably pass the high school standards for current high stakes tests throughout the nation. Kaczynski knew chemistry (obviously). Finally, the Unabomber demonstrated skills often associated with vocational education in the construction of the explosives and the boxes that carried them (e.g., Chase, 2003). If judged by acquisition of skills and academic content alone, Kaczynski constitutes an educational success story; if judged by moral standards, he was a failure.


Moral education helps students to recognize and respond to ethical issues. The question of whether morality or character can be taught was posed to Socrates in The Meno. Socrates expressed some skepticism about the endeavor, but through his dialogues, he engaged in moral education. Today, advocates of three major approaches to moral education argue that moral education is both possible and inevitable: that is, an educator cannot avoid moral education. Ryan and Bohlin conclude that moral education "simply comes with the territory.... Children cannot enter the educational system at age four and stay until age sixteen or seventeen without having their character and their moral values profoundly affected by the experience (1999, p. 22)." Moral education may appear in a deliberately-planned way through a specific curriculum or program (e.g., Child Development Project, 1996), or it may be integrated into academic disciplines (e.g., Simon, 2001). Even if a school has not implemented a specific program or consciously integrated ethical issues into existing curricula, the school still engages in moral education through its hidden curriculum. This hidden curriculum includes the quality of the interactions and relationships, classroom management, and methods of school governance (e.g., Dewey, 1975; Sergiovanni, 1992, 1994; Sizer & Sizer, 1999).

Many educational theorists agree that moral education in schooling prepares the next generation of democratic citizens (e.g., Banks, 1997; Dewey, 1966, 1975). …

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