Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Teaching Morally and Teaching Morality

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Teaching Morally and Teaching Morality

Article excerpt

Student achievement is not the only topic of conversation in teachers' lounges, parent-teacher organizations, and teacher education classrooms. There is also much discussion of the moral features of teaching and learning. Sometimes this talk centers on such issues as prayer in schools, sex education, and whether there are just grounds for teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. At other times, the conversation is about a teacher's own moral values and whether or not these values should be communicated to one's students. When the talk turns to a teacher's own moral values, it often becomes entangled in whether it is even possible to provide a thorough and adequate education in the absence of certain moral values, as well as whether teachers are and should be the proper agents for the transmission of such values. These are thorny issues, which all too often get pushed aside because of their complexity and the ease with which they seem to foster disagreement. We believe there are ways to sort through these issues, ways that are not only helpful in resolving many of the tensions in the moral education debate, but ways that enable more powerful approaches to teaching and learning.

To make our argument we introduce what we believe is an important distinction between teaching morality and teaching morally. In P-12 schools, the moral education debate often focuses on character education programs or other moral curricula. Such programs and curricula are championed as a means of teaching morality and transmitting moral virtue from one generation to the next. They are also derided as programs that have no place in the school curriculum because of the concern that morality is a matter of personal preference, religious conviction, or cultural commitment. Although this concern is worthy, it has, we believe, blocked us from attending to the more subtle ways that teachers, the larger society, and the state bring moral matters into the classroom, even when they do not adopt specific moral curricula. We understand these other ways of attending to moral matters as teaching morally.

Is there any difference between teaching morally and teaching morality? We will argue that there is, and that there is much we can learn from exploring this difference. There are, however, many complexities and subtleties encountered in the course of distinguishing teaching morally from teaching morality. Our hope is that the value of this article will be found in its attempt to describe these complexities and subtleties, and to explain why they are important to our understanding of how teachers assist or impede the moral development of their students. The argument will lead to a number of vexing places, places where we have only questions and no answers. Perhaps there are readers who have answers and will contribute them to the growing study of the moral dimensions of teaching.

Distinguishing between Two Forms of Teaching

To teach morally is to teach in a manner that accords with notions of what is good or right. That is, to conduct oneself in a way that has moral value. To teach morality is to convey to another that which is good or right. In the first instance, the teacher is being a good or righteous person; in the second instance, the teacher is providing to another person the means for becoming a good or righteous person. Once distinguished in this way, the difference between teaching morally and teaching morality seems clear. Unfortunately such clarity does not last long, for there are a host of questions that follow from this distinction.

The first of these pertains to modeling, as when a teacher conducts herself in a way that is morally good in front of her students. An observer might say that she is modeling good conduct for her students. In the case of modeling, might we say that the teacher is both teaching morally and teaching morality? That is, might she be teaching in a morally upright manner and also conveying to her students a model of morally upright conduct? …

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