Moral Education and Pluralism

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

16

What Value the Postmodern in Values Education?

JAMES W.BELL


Values education and postmodernism: a critical perspective

In educational theory postmodern critiques are on the increase. This chapter explores some of the limitations of postmodernism while highlighting the strengths of certain strands of postmodern thinking towards more responsive values-education practices. In particular it argues that a critical and liberatory postmodernism as expressed by liberation theology is an important framework for enhanced moral education.

This chapter questions the value of some post-modern perspectives in relation to values education in a multicultural society. The focus will be on the problems involved in assessing the topic of values approaches in any educational activity, particularly when these values approaches are informed by postmodern perspectives. The concern will not be with formulating a specific postmodern values framework for education. Of greater concern are the challenges facing teachers who wish to create for their students (and themselves) an awareness that their values must be factored into any educational environment which is neither nihilistic nor sentimental and neither guilt inducing nor given to overly broad sweeps of value relativism.

I come to questions of modernity and post-modernity as a worker in 'critical pedagogy' and as an educator with particular value positions and agendas. For me, this perspective might be summed in the following questions: How might we, as educators, reduce unnecessary human suffering in this world? And further, how might we act together to increase human dignity and work towards a vision of a radically more responsible and democratic world community:'

Further, I use the notion 'critical!' in a particularly value-laden sense, where I have a social vision with a particular agenda. This vision is inspired by Enlightenment sensibilities and intentions which hold that humans are capable of coming together to create a more just world.

A notion of the critical which is traditionally valued in formal teaching situations is less related to a social vision than it is to a well-developed 'critical rationality'. Svi Shapiro starkly describes this notion of critical ability:

The critical capacities that are developed in that strictly cognitive sense can be put to use to build better hydrogen bombs, and indeed are. They can be put to use to produce better, more manipulative advertising on Madison Avenue. And indeed they are. They can be put to use to find better ways to market products that are destructive to the environment. And they are. I mean the fact of the matter is that the people who sit at the heads of our corporate board rooms and governmental agencies …often are extraordinarily great critical thinkers. They have highly developed critical powers. They have been to good colleges and universities. (in Kanpol 1994:168)

Shapiro contrasts this with what he calls 'critical consciousness' in which we focus our critical abilities and our questioning capacities on the everyday world of our experience with specific moral purposes and vision. Shapiro continues:

And that purpose is rooted in a moral vision. It has to do with looking at the world as to whether, in fact, it treats people with dignity and respect; whether the world is one in which certain groups of people or individuals are limited or dominated, or whether the world that we live in, in fact, lives up to its democratic and humanistic promises. (ibid.: 167-8)

It is from this latter perspective of the critical that I

-171-

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