Moral Education and Pluralism

By Mal Leicester; Celia Modgil et al. | Go to book overview

13

Inclusive Moral Education: A Critique and Integration of Competing Approaches

BILL PUKA


Character and culture

Character education has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the field of moral education. It is now clearly dominant. The character program is twofold: to nurture moral virtues and to promote moral literacy-the basic knowledge of right, wrong, and value. Six methods are key: (1) instructing students directly in certain basic values and ideals, (2) establishing behavioral codes and enforcing them, (3) telling stories with moral lessons, (4) modelling desirable traits and values, (5) holding up moral exemplars in history, literature, and current-day communities, extolling their traits, (6) providing in-school and community outreach opportunities (service projects) through which students can exercise good traits and pursue good values.

This diversity in moral content and function promotes cultural and psychological diversity as well. It spans a variety of favored ethical orientations. And each component can be pursued in particularly eclectic ways. Morality tales and exemplars can be chosen, for example, that are particularly beloved in the various cultural traditions.

Over several decades the character approach stood on the sidelines while alternative programs (values clarification, moral discussion) had their day. Now, in claiming to tackle urgent problems plaguing urban youth, character education has moved front and center. It is touted as the only direct and decisive approach available for addressing student drug and alcohol abuse, youth crime and gang violence, teen pregnancy and risky promiscuity. Approaches such as values clarification or moral discussion are held to be too indirect and intellectually remote to change actual behaviors and motivations on these issues.


Pros and cons

In concept, character education easily encompasses the competing emphases on moral reasoning, valuation, and socialization (cultural transmission). It deals with the full gamut of moral traits, proclivities, interpersonal orientations, and practices. It is also far more personally compelling and inspiring than these more limited approaches, featuring live personalities and their interesting features, not abstract concepts or general principles. Thus it can pique the peculiar interests of different groups, motivating them. The character approach does not merely consider how to think about moral issues or values, but how to feel, act, and relate to others in everyday practice.

To critics, character education seems limited by psychological individualism and its cultural boosters. Virtues appear to be personal traits nurtured within each individual, not features of groups or relationships. But any serious attempt to nurture virtues must rely heavily on social relationships and settings. Good character comes of good relationships and of ongoing participation in group practices. It is habituated activity of institutionalized sorts. And it can only be expressed in such ongoing relations and practices. In fact, personal virtue is a relational trait-a trait of friendships and communities themselves, and members within them. And it comes tailored to its varied social environments. Consideration, courage, or honesty take quite different forms in different cultures. A virtuous person is skillful in tailoring self-expression to such contexts.

Through its mere conceptual diversity, character education can offer “something for everyone.” It can provide some moral place for each cultural group to belong and find their preferred values

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