Academic journal article Education

Needed: An Ethic of Caring in Our Schools

Academic journal article Education

Needed: An Ethic of Caring in Our Schools

Article excerpt

We live in a violent society. One that is cited by a Senate Judiciary Report as "the most violent and self-destructive ... in the industralized world" (Steinberg, 1991, p.40). Daily, we are bombarded with reports of rapes, muggings, stabbings, and shootings. Most recently, the O.J. Simpson case has dramatically refocused our attention on the fact that violence knows no socio-economic level. Both rich and poor are victims of a malaise that one writer has characterized as an "ecology of terror that has turned many poor neighborhoods into war zones" (Minerbrook, 1994, p. 33). More ominous, however, is the tragic rise in violent behavior among our youth. For example, almost 50,000 children and youth were killed by firearms during the period 1979 and 1991 -- as many as the American casualties in the Vietnam War (Dixon, 1994). Fighting, violence, gangs, and a lack of discipline were ranked as the biggest problems our public schools have to deal with in the most recent Gallup Poll on education Celam, Rose, & Gallup, 1994).

What can be done to stem this tidal wave of violence among our youth? With the significant social changes that have affected the American family between 1970 and 1990 such as increases from four to eight million single-parent households, 10.2 to 16.8 million mothers working, and married couples with children making up only 26% of U.S. households as compared to 40% in 1970 (Adler, 1994, p.,44), our schools need to become places where an ethic of caring forms the centerpiece of the school program. This will not be an easy task when one considers burgeoning enrollments, hated finances, and our obsessive preoccupation with academic standards. But, next to the home, what other institution do the majority of students spend more time at and in a better position to help students become responsible, caring citizens?

How can an ethic of caring become a central pan of a school's program? In my view, two interrelated factors are essential for its development. (1) individual teachers who care, and (2) schools as a whole becoming caring communities. In the rest of this paper I will discuss the importance of these two factors, first reviewing some research on the importance of adults as caring role models, then citing specific examples of teachers and programs where an ethic of caring has been an important part of the educational process. An ethnic of caring is defined as "acts done out of love and natural inclination" (Noddings, 1988, p. 1) with the goal of helping each student "grow and actualize himself" (Mayeroff, 1977, p. 1).

Adults As Caring Role Models

Dodge (1992) concluded from his research on high and low-risk children that one of the most potent factors in deterring violence in our young is a "stable, loving relationship with an adult" (p. 10). Wallach (1993) suggests that this ought to be the number one priority in helping children at risk. This idea is also validated by Werner and Smith (1992) who concluded from their study of high risk children, following the same group for 32 years from birth to adulthood, that one of the major factors separating those who overcame their pasts from those who didn't were supportive relationships with significant adults who "encouraged trust, autonomy, and initiative" (p. 192). More than 20 years ago Montagu (1970), citing earlier studies on love deprivation in infants, concluded that when a child isn't loved it responds in aggressive ways. He said, "The child learns to love by being loved. When it is not loved it fails to learn to love and responds with protesting behavior, with rage and aggression" (p. 466).

Research on the effect of teachers as "significant others" in the lives of their students has not been encouraging. Galbo (1989, p. 549), concluded from in extensive review of the literature that teachers are viewed by adolescents "occasionally" as significant adults. Furthermore, their importance depends on "... …

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