Teacher Education Curricula and Moral Reasoning
Cummings, Rhoda, Wiest, Lynda R., Lamitina, David, Maddux, Cleborne D., Academic Exchange Quarterly
Researchers have noted that teacher education curricula fail to offer challenging theory-based courses that develop critical thinking required for making thoughtful decisions about ethical and moral issues (Beyer, 1991, 1997; Cummings, Dyas, Maddux, & Kochman, 2001; Goodlad, 1994; McNeel, 1994; Yost, 1997). To investigate this claim, the authors examined 526 courses in the elementary teacher education curricula of 30 state colleges and universities and found that only 12.80% were theory-based. Students who lack exposure to more theory-based courses may become teachers who are method-oriented "technicians" rather than individuals who are critical thinkers who reflect on their ethical and moral responsibilities to students.
Character education in the public schools has been a topic of concern in the recent school reform movement. Because of the fear aroused by what appears to be increasing violence in the public schools, the public, parents and politicians are demanding that schools implement programs to instill morals and values in students. According to Weber (1998), "The public school system has responded to this concern for the moral development of children and youth with efforts to strengthen or reclaim its historical role in the character formation of children" (p. 85).
Although the content of public school character education programs is open to debate, once schools decide to implement them, teachers will be expected to provide leadership in their development and facilitation (Cummings, Dyas, Maddux, & Kochman, 2001). To be effective moral leaders, teachers must be able to reflect critically on and make ethical decisions regarding student, school and community issues (Yost, 1997). A few of these issues include: (1) censorship of books; (2) appropriateness of sex education programs; (3) the legitimacy of creationism versus evolutionism in school science; and (4) discrimination or unfair treatment based on race, class, gender, and/or sexual orientation (Beyer, 1997). Beyer goes on to state that a teacher's ability to consider the moral dimensions of classroom practice is essential in a democratic society:
When teachers do not consider the moral dimensions of education, or the moral qualities of educative experience, other people and agencies including textbook publishers, individuals and organizations representing business and industry, politicians, and special interest groups have a relatively unobstructed hand in determining the moral perspectives communicated to students. (p. 247)
If teachers are to be placed in a role of moral leadership, then teacher education programs will have a responsibility to integrate coursework into the curriculum that will foster ethical/moral development of teacher education students (Beyer, 1991; Beyer, 1997; Weber, 1998; Yost, 1997). According to Weber (1998),
It is my belief that an effective teacher education program must begin with the personal ethical/moral development of the prospective teacher and, further, that the college or university bears responsibility for fostering such development in all of its students. If our future teachers are to guide others toward moral maturity, they must possess a certain level of moral maturity and be capable of making choices based on moral principles. We would not even consider the possibility that teachers who have not been prepared in math, science, or social studies should attempt to teach these subjects. Similarly, if we expect teachers to provide character education to children and youth, we should provide them with a background that includes an understanding of moral principles and experiences in ethical reasoning. (p. 86)
Although instruction in the moral and ethical domains of teaching is considered to be an essential component of teacher education programs, numerous authors have suggested that such instruction is lacking (Beyer, 1991, 1997; Cummings et al. …