CHAPTER CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: THE CHALLENGE AND THE MODEL Concern for the values and morals of the young is an enduring adult preoccupation. Down through recorded history, this worry about the character of the younger generation is evident. Concern, however, has never been enough to ensure that the young possess the type of character that can sustain the individual and society. Some societies have failed to transmit their values to the young, and this has often meant their swift decline. The rubble of history is mute testimony to this failure. Societies, of course, must do more than merely survive.
They must also grow — in their understanding of what it means to be a human community, in the range of opportunities they offer each member for full human development, and in their capacity to handle the new ethical problems wrought by technology and other social changes. In addition, they must learn to function as part of an increasingly complex world community, where global peace and justice demand ever increasing levels of cooperation. But whether the task is survival or development, any society ultimately depends for its success on the character of its citizens — on the extent to which a critical mass of its people hold, find their identity in, and act upon a shared moral vision. Democratic societies have a special dependence on the virtue of their citizens. In the United States, for example, the Founding Fathers believed that universal schooling was needed, at least partly, because moral education was needed.
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Government by the people, where the people themselves ensured a free and just society, required that the people be good — possessed of at least a minimal understanding of and commitment to the moral foundations of democracy. Those foundations included respect for law and for the rights of others, voluntary participation in public life, and concern for the common good. Loyalty to these democratic values, Thomas Jefferson argued, must be instilled at an early age. Two centuries later, there are visible cracks in the moral foundations of democracy. Ed Wynne and Mary Hess, in Chapter 2 of this book, presents quantitative evidence that the conduct of United States youth, during the last 20 to 30 years, is marked by two disturbing trends: (1) a rise in self-destructive behavior (e. g.
, suicide, teen-age pregnancy, and drug abuse), and (2) a rise in destructive behavior involving others (e. g. , juvenile crime and disorder in schools).
To these two trends, we would add two others, equally troubling. The first is an attitude of ‘We ” re not doing anything wrong.’ In a 1981 survey by the National Organization to Prevent Shoplifting, for example, 50 percent of the one hundred thousand youths aged 9-21 surveyed said they had shoplifted, and most of those said they would do it again. When a ninth-grade teacher of our acquaintance asked her students how many had ever shoplifted, most raised their hands.
‘Don’t you think it’s wrong to shoplift?’ she asked. They answered, ‘We have a right to the material things in life.’ That answer points to a fourth disturbing change in the moral values of the young, namely, a growing materialism. In 1970, according to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California at Los Angeles, 39 percent of U. S. college freshmen said that ‘being very well off financially’ was an important objective in going to college (Astin, The American Freshman, 1989).
By 1989, that figure had risen sharply, to 78 percent. Meanwhile, less materialistic values had lost ground. By 1989 only 41 percent of freshmen felt that ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life’ was an important reason for attending college, compared with 83 percent who thought so in 1970. Finally, behind this materialism may lie something deeper still: a spreading privat ism, a detachment from community and commitment. That attitude, as Henry Johnson argues in Chapter 3, strikes at the very heart of morality’s recognition of our interrelatedness and the claims we have on each other. Privat ism makes a virtue of selfishness.
... In his essay “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem,” Erich Fromm discuses in depth the differences between ... the end of the world was always on people’s mind. He tries to convince his readers ... and disobedience goes hand in hand. He also states that although human beings have not lost the ... have serious consequences for human beings. He also states that if an individual decides to disobey, ...
BEYOND NATIONAL BORDERS There is evidence, moreover, that no country has a monopoly on these moral problems: they cut across national borders. Here is a Canadian magazine (Donahue, 1984) arguing the case for values education in the schools: 70 percent of Ontario’s children, grades 7 through 13, use alcohol; 33 percent of tenth-grade boys and 25 percent of girls have had sexual intercourse, accompanied by rising rates of teen-age pregnancy and abortion; suicide is the second leading cause of death among teen-a gers. Two summers ago we joined philosophers, psychologists, and educators in South America to share concerns and approaches to moral education. Here is what one woman, head of a university department of education, had to say about the state of moral affairs in her country: Moral values in my country are declining. It is a serious problem. First of all, more and more young people are living together without getting married so they can break up if they want to.
Their children grow up without a secure situation, and it has an effect. There is more crime among young people, and more dishonesty everywhere — in government, in business, among ordinary people. Part of the problem is people are spending more than they earn and need money to pay their debts. There is more materialism — people are following a new life style. They think it will make them happy, but it only makes them unhappy. And there is more divorce, which never used to be a problem.
CAUSES OF THE PROBLEM How did we come to the present state of affairs? In the United States, three social institutions have traditionally been responsible for shaping the character of the young: the family, the church, and the school. However, post-war United States, like many other nations, has seen significant changes in all three of these institutions, changes which in turn have had a major impact on their teaching functions. The Family At a 1985 symposium on character development sponsored by the American Educational Research Association, the well-known sociologist James Coleman began his comments with this statement: ‘I believe the causes of the downward trends in youth character lie primarily outside the school — in the changes that have taken place in the American family.’ Other observers echo that theme. John Ag resto (1982), a project director at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, writes of the erosion of family life and of the family’s function as moral educator, and traces that erosion to values that have long been part of our culture: The same principles [that led to the decline of neighborhoods] — individualism, love of mobility and change, self-interest, self-fulfillment, and personal privacy — have weakened many of the bonds of the central moral teacher: the family. These principles, when pursued as the greatest of worldly aims, are antithetical to the persistence of vital family life. For example, it has become progressively harder for liberal countries, such as ours, to constrain divorce or insist that family life be peaceful and harmonious…
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An emphasis on the principles of individualism and private right hardly makes family ties ‘for better and for worse’ a solid feature of our society (p. 156).
In the United States, one of two marriages now ends in divorce. Within the last decade, the number of single-parent households has doubled; more than one in five children now lives with only one parent. That one parent, typically the mother, frequently has a full-time job, plus all the household chores from preparing meals to getting the car fixed. She must struggle to find time for parental guidance and connecting with her children.
Even when there are two parents, family life must compete, as never before, with the demands of commitments outside the family. Two generations ago saw the father leave the home — often a farm or shop — to go to work. This generation has seen the mother leave the home. In 1970, 40 percent of married women worked outside the home; by 1980 it was 51 percent, and by 1990 two of every three married women were part of the work force. The last decade, moreover, has seen mothers of younger and younger children enter or return to the labor market. What this means, quite simply, is that first the father and now the mother have less and less time to spend in face-to-face communication with their children.
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There are still other changes: the trend toward smaller families, reducing the number of positive role models and supports that brothers and sisters can provide; the fact that every year, one of five U. S. households moves, away from grandparents, away from long family acquaintances, and away from others who give children a sense of belonging and care enough to correct their behavior; the trend for parents increasingly to find their recreation apart from the family; and, finally, diminished opportunities for children to contribute meaningfully to the work of the family, as they once could to the family farm or store. There are certainly strengths in the modern family — greater attention, for example, to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, greater effort on the part of many parents to listen to children and to create relationships based on mutual rather than unilateral respect.
And as a later essay in this book (Lickona, Chapter 10) makes clear, we are optimistic about the potential of families to contribute to children’s moral development and help reverse the downward trends in youth character. But here we wish to note the very real changes in the family that threaten to undermine its crucial role in the moral education of the young. The Church The church not only speaks to our connection with our Maker, but is also a meaning maker. It addresses not only who we are, but what we ought to be and what we ought to do. By virtue of this concern, the church is directly involved in character development. However, the exact place of religion in U.
S. society is difficult to judge. We have often thought that if a visitor from outer space came to gather data on our society, landed in a motel and had only TV as a source of data, our extraterrestrial social scientist would have a very curious view of U. S. citizens, particularly concerning religion.
The visitor would observe that the heroes of our TV shows have no apparent spiritual life. They are often caring, involved, and admirable people. But they belong to no church and seem totally untroubled by ultimate questions. In effect, our ideal citizens appear to live admirably without God. Even the secular press has noted this phenomenon. Benjamin J.
Stein (1985) observed in The Wall Street Journal that ‘on prime-time network television, there is virtually no appearance of religion at all.’ Stein wrote: Whenever a problem requiring moral judgment appears — which is on almost every show — the response that comes is based on some intuitive knowledge of what is good and evil, the advice of a friend, a remembered counsel, or, more likely, the invisible hand of circumstance. When a cop goes bad and his partner must bring him in… there is no prayer, no ministerial consultation, no reference to scriptural precept. When a woman realizes she has sold her soul for a car and a condo on any number of TV movies, when a college student rethinks his behavior toward women, none of their analyses or actions has anything to do with religious tenets of any recognizable kind.
... religious minorities.This subject is important and should be clear to everyone. School districts should set clear policies about religion in public schools that ... prayer and other religions freely and without government interference. The prayer practice of individuals at school is forbidden but some religious clubs are ...
With the exception of an occasional attempt to put sex into the convent, … religion and the appeal to religious values in decision-making are simply invisible in prime-time television today (p. 5).
Does TV tell it like it is? Hardly. As Stein notes, ‘In the gritty course of real existence, Americans spend time and energy in the context of religious institutions and religious precepts.’ Those precepts are often a major factor guiding moral decisions. Some evidence of the role of religion in U.
S. life comes from a study carried out by Research and Forecasts, Inc. (1981) at the request of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. The purpose of the study was to probe the basic beliefs and core values of a diverse sampling of Americans. In pursuit of that goal, the researchers conducted 2, 018 hour-long interviews with 1, 610 randomly selected individuals.
In addition, they sent an eight page questionnaire covering the same issues as the interviews to more than four thousand leaders in business, law, education, government, the military, the media, religion and science; 1, 762 leaders responded. The researchers reported that they were quite surprised by what they found. At the beginning of their report, ‘The Impact of Belief,’ they write: ‘In investigating major aspects of American life… one factor that consistently and dramatically affects the values and behavior of Americans is… the level of religious commitment’ (p. 6).
The report goes on to say, ‘The impact of religious belief reaches far beyond the realms of politics, and has penetrated virtually every dimension of American experience’ (p. 6).
... reasons. These include the difference religion makes in life and how religious beliefs influence actions. Religion structures a religious person's life. More than three quarters ... and experiences no suffering. For him, becoming religious has changed his life for the better. Religion is widely spread across the world, but ...
The study found that Although less than half the public (44%) attend church frequently, three-quarters (74%) consider themselves to be religious. An equal number (73%) say they frequently feel God loves them, and nearly all Americans (94%) say they experience this feeling at least occasionally. Over half (57%) the public report that they frequently engage in prayer (pp. 17-18).
Using a behavioral index of religious activities and of the experience of religious feelings, the study also attempted to measure the depth of religious commitment. The authors report that slightly more than one out of every four U. S. residents can be termed ‘highly religious.’ The report claims to have identified ‘a comprehensive and powerful group of Americans, approximately 45 million strong, as intensely religious’ and states further that such persons are ‘likely to vote often and to become highly involved in their local communities’ (p. 7).
Religion, then, is clearly a larger influence in people’s lives than one would gather from watching TV, and that influence appears to be a force for participation in public life.
A more recent study of the religious affiliations and attitudes of 113, 000 Americans confirms the view that the citizens of the United States are strongly tied to their churches (Goldman, 1991).
A study directed by Barry A. Kos min of New York University, found that only 7. 5% of the respondents reported having no religion and only 2% refused to talk about their faith. On the other hand, 9 out of 10 Americans identify with a particular denomination. Ninety-six percent of these report themselves to be Christians.
As Martin Marty, the Protestant church historian, said about these finds, it is ‘astonishing that in a high-tech, highly affluent nation, we have 90% who identify themselves as religious. If such a poll were done in Western Europe, the ancestral home of many Americans, you would run at least a third or lower on every indicator (Martin in Goldman, 1991, p. A 18).
It would appear from these studies. then, that religion is a strong presence in the lives of Americans. Most observers, however, would agree that the church’s teaching authority has diminished significantly from what it was two to three decades ago.
The general rebellion against established authority in the 1960 s loosened the hold that religion had over the conscience of young people. But in part, many believe, the church had itself to blame for the loss of teaching influence. In the 1960 s and 1970 s, critics charge, the church stopped talking about duty, devotion, and doctrine, and joined the cultural chorus preaching growth and fulfillment. Religious education classes that once taught the catechism command to ‘know, love, and serve God,’ became indistinguishable from values clarification — a new movement which sought to have children look inward to themselves for values. Asked about her goals, one Sunday School teacher said. ‘We are teaching the children to grow, to become whole persons, to question, to choose values’ (Kilpatrick, 1983, p.
This wholesale of religion prompted one well-known psychiatrist (Menninger, 1973) to write a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? There is at least one more question one must ask in assessing the role of religion in contemporary moral life. If, as some studies show, religion is alive and well in today’s society, then why is there a rising tide of materialism and privat ism? The call of religion is to spiritual values and community, not to storing up treasures and retreating from commitments. It may be that we have always wanted God and a private prosperity at the same time. But any religion worth the name must put those values in tension. Whatever its past failures or present weaknesses, religion, like the family, is an enduring institution.
As such, it has important potential for laying the foundations of our children’s character development. Indeed, as several chapters in this book suggest, religion, with an eye to the Ultimate, provides special reasons and resources for leading the moral life. The School By virtue of the fact that they hold our children for so much time during their formative years, schools have — or ought to have — a strong effect on the characters of the young. Indeed, schools in this country and around the world have traditionally been seen as institutions where the young received both cognitive and moral training. Schools have been the place where children were taught important lessons of good citizenship and membership in community. In the United States, adults have looked to the schools to transmit certain social values the nation both needs and prizes, values such as fair play, concern for excellence, respect for law and property, willingness to work hard, the ability to delay gratification, and a sense of service.
In the nineteenth century and early part of this century, the school sought to instill these values in every way it could: through its rules and discipline, through the teacher’s good example, and through its textbooks and curriculum. When children practiced their reading, for example, they typically did so through McGuffey Reader tales of heroism and virtue, like the one about ‘honest Charles,’ who was trusted (because he was known to be honest) to guard a salesman’s oranges and who courageously repulsed ‘Jack Pilfer,’ the thieving bully who tried to steal them (Min nich, 1936).
With time, however, the moral consensus supporting this unabashed, old-fashioned character education began to break up. It did so under the hammer blows of several forces: Darwinism, which led people to see everything, including morality, as being in flux rather than fixed and certain; scientific empiricism, which, as in the case of the famous Hartshorne and May study (1928), seemed to show that moral behavior was highly variable, governed by external circumstance rather than by any consistent internal state that one could call ‘character’; and logical positivism, which permeated the universities and held that there were no objective moral truths — hence morality was a matter for personal choice rather than public transmission. The moral life came to be seen as a form of private life. In this climate, public schools retreated from their function as moral educators.
Similarly, teacher education became increasingly technical, summoning teachers-to-be not to shape the values of tomorrow’s citizens and leaders but only to transmit, with efficiency, a body of information and skills (Ryan, Chapter 14).
In the late 1960 s and early 1970 s, as both private and public morality seemed to be breaking down (as shown by a wave of scandals in all walks of life and increasing violence throughout society), there was renewed interest in the school’s role as moral educator. Both the 1975 and the 1989 Gallup Poll turned up strong public support: fully 84 percent of parents of school-age children agreed with the statement that schools ‘should provide instruction that would deal with morals and moral behavior.’ Such general support, however, still left schools facing hard questions: What kind of moral instruction should they provide? Whose values should be taught, and how? In the perceived absence of agreement about what moral content should be taught, the new forms of moral education focused on process: how to clarify one’s values (values clarification), how to reason with greater complexity about moral conflicts (moral dilemma discussions), and how to make systematic moral decisions (values analysis).
Each of these approaches made its own contribution to the revival or advancement of moral education, contributions which are reflected in this volume. But process without content did not meet the whole need. Schools were still shying away from the crucial question of what students ought to value.
Moreover, much of the new moral education, because it avoided the question of what are worthwhile human values, frequently fostered moral relativism. Teachers commonly began moral discussions with the statement, ‘There is no right or wrong answer’ and ended with, ‘Make your own decision.’ Morality seemed to be a matter of personal opinion. Ironically, at the same time schools were trying to stay officially value-neutral in the curriculum, they began, in their institutional functioning, to reflect and reinforce a substantive value shift in the wider culture. That shift is the growing emphasis on individual rights over and against civic responsibilities. Writing in Dedal us, Gerald Grant (1981) reports how this shift has not been lost on the young. A new student entering the Boston public schools would, Grant writes, ‘be handed ‘the Book,’ a 25-page pamphlet detailing student rights, with less than half a page on student responsibilities’ (p.
He then goes on to describe how the pamphlet details an elaborate and exhausting process that teachers must go through to discipline a child and how many ‘protections’ are built into the system for the student. Grant reports an incident he personally encountered while doing his study: A female teacher was still shaking as she told us about a group of students who had verbally assaulted her and made sexually degrading comments about her in the hall. When we asked why she did not report them, she responded, ‘Well, it wouldn’t have done any good.’ ‘Why not?’ we pressed. ‘I didn’t have any witnesses,’ she replied (p. 141).
In schools that function like this, the traditional moral authority of the teacher is reduced to a narrow, legalistic authority. At best, students develop a strong sense of their rights and a weak sense of their obligations; at worst, they learn they can behave irresponsibly with impunity. Recent critiques of U. S.
education tend to say little or nothing about the schools’ failures or promise as moral educators of the young. That omission is itself part of the problem. But there is every reason to believe that the public still wants schools to help children become honest, decent, caring persons who are capable of leading good lives in a troubled world. Indeed, in a fragile and fragmented society, schools take on increasing importance.
Not every child has a stable and supportive home life; not every child goes to church; but every child does go to school. As this volume attests, we believe there is much schools must and can still do, even in our intensely pluralistic age, to elevate the character of our children and our nation. In addition to the home, the church, and the school, there are two other forces in the socialization of the young that bear at least brief mention here. One is new; the other is old, but has taken on new strength in recent decades. These forces are television and the peer group. Television Two later chapters (Johnson, Sullivan) analyze in depth the growing impact of the mass media as moral educator.
Of all the mass media, television looms the largest. In 1992, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the typical fourth-grader reported spending more than three hours a day in front of the TV set. Neil Postman, New York University professor of communication arts, calls television ‘the first curriculum’ because the typical high school graduate has spent more time watching TV (fifteen to sixteen thousand hours) than going to school (no more than thirteen thousand hours).
Postman reports that ‘television appears to shorten the attention span of the young as well as eroding, to a considerable extent, their linguistic powers and their ability to handle mathematical symbolism. It also causes them to be increasingly impatient with deferred gratification’ (U. S.
News & World Report, 1981, p. 43).
Similarly, the National Institute of Mental Health report, Television and Behavior (1982), surveying some twenty-five hundred studies during the prior decade, documents a variety of negative effects of television on children’s cognitive and social-moral functioning. Postman also calls our attention to the fact that ‘television is opening up all of society’s secrets and taboos, thus eroding the dividing line between childhood and adulthood’ (U. S.
News & World Report, 1981, p. 43).
Allowing children full access to the seamier side of adult life, Postman argues, flies smack in the face of what was until recently part of our civilization’s wisdom: that childhood is a period of relative innocence, to be protected and nurtured, a period necessary for children’s healthy development. The loss of that period was brought home to us personally in a recent conversation with a kindergarten teacher. Her five year olds, she said, now play ‘Guiding Light’ in the housekeeping corner. A typical play session will begin with the children saying things like, ‘You ” re pregnant by him,’ ‘You run away with her,’ and ‘You get shot.’ Clearly, television poses three serious threats to our children’s character development: first, it exposes them to all manner of shoddy moral content (violence, law breaking, casual sex, infidelity, put-downs as humor, the idea that things make you happy), which potentially affects their perception of what is normal and appropriate human behavior; second, it further reduces, almost to the disappearing point, the family talks, games, festivities, and arguments through which children’s socialization occurs and their values are formed; and third, it is an ever present pleasure machine, an addictive escape mechanism eroding the self-discipline of students.
The Peer Group Young people have always gravitated to age-alike groups. And peers have always offered the young important opportunities for moral growth: opportunities to interact on an equal footing, take the perspective of others, face and resolve conflict, be part of a team, and experience the special bonds and challenges of friendship. But in the past, adults were more likely to mediate peer influence: to keep track of whom kids were playing with and what they were doing, to discuss values or behaviors they were picking up from playmates that didn’t square with family values, to intervene to help solve a problem when an adult’s help was needed, to talk with teens about the dangers of running with the wrong crowd, and to put restrictions (e. g.
, ‘No unsupervised parties’) on a youngster’s freedom when that was necessary. As that kind of parental mediation declined for many children, a new kind of peer group influence arose: stronger than ever before and less tempered by adult values such as responsibility, prudence, and self-control. Schools also had an unwitting hand in the ‘liberation’ of the peer group by reducing demands on students’ time outside of school. A Nation at Risk (1983), for example, reported that U.
S. high school students, on the average, spend only 4. 5 hours a week on homework. Many teenagers use their after-school freedom to work; an ABC television special, ‘Save Our Children, Save Our Schools’ (1984), reported that 67 percent of U. S. high school students hold jobs.
Jobs have meant money in the hands of teen-a gers, who now support, almost by themselves, whole industries. In this context, a distinctive youth culture has emerged with its own music, magazines, clothing styles, diversions, and values. Those values are often orthogonal to the values of deferred gratification, self-discipline, and service to others that have been part of the nation’s tradition — and part of the moral heritage we want to pass on to our children. One could argue that the weakening of traditional socializing institutions and the rise of new forces such as the media and peer culture are producing a new kind of character in the young. The data on increasing youth crime and suicide suggest the impact of the new influences and altered institutions. There is other evidence, however, that adults are still powerful figures in the lives of most youth.
The New York Times reported the results of a Columbia University research project which studied, over an eight-year period, 300 adolescents of all social class levels in urban, suburban, and rural settings. The principal finding, which held up across five different states, was that teenagers are more like their parents in their attitudes and values than they are like their peers (Collins, 1984).
By itself, of course, that finding can be good news or bad news, depending on whether the values parents hold are ones worth emulating. But at the very least, this study offers hope. Despite all the competing influences, adults can still have a formative influence on the character of the young. The present volume is written in the spirit of that hope.
Our task has been to address three questions: How can schools (both public and private), the family, the community, the church, higher education, and even the mass media, contribute to the moral growth of the young? How can we educate so as to develop ‘full moral agency,’ that is, the kind of character that can translate moral knowledge and feeling into effective moral action? What obstacles confront us as we undertake such an enterprise? The editors of, Morality, Moral Behavior, and Moral Development (Kurtines and Gewirtz, 1984), state that the current pluralism of psychological models of moral functioning reflects the ethical pluralism of the larger culture. It may no longer be possible, they suggest, to construct the kind of theoretical synthesis that inspires the support of a range of scholars. We were more optimistic when we undertook the present volume but soon found ourselves struggling with pluralism in our own ranks. We represent, for example, a variety of religious traditions.
Ideologically, we run the gamut from neo-conservative to neo-Marxist. Educationally, we differ on whether the ideal school looks more like a participatory democracy, with students helping to decide rules and policies, or more like the traditional school arrangement where adults make the rules and delegate limited, carefully supervised authority roles to students (such as tutor, monitor, or team captain).
Psychologically, most of us subscribe to the general notion of ‘moral development’ — the idea of a developmental progression, with later levels being more mature than earlier ones — but this, too, is challenged. Wynne (Chapter 4) thinks that ‘formation’ is a more accurate metaphor than development,’ and Beck (Chapter 8) rejects the notion of vertical development, arguing that adolescents are ‘as good at morals’ as adults.
These theoretical differences underlie the wide range of character development strategies (teacher modeling, cooperative learning, direct moral instruction, moral discussion and debate, role playing, research on moral issues, teaching empathy through literature, study of the classics, self-esteem-building activities, reflective discussion of values such as friendship, work, responsibility and religion, ‘problem posing’ the media, class meetings, cross-age tutoring, school assemblies, the school wide just community, and community service and guided reflection on its meaning) proposed and illustrated in the various chapters. Beneath all this diversity, however, is a set of shared assumptions. These assumptions, we think, are the unifying threads that bind the different chapters into a whole and differentia te that whole from other approaches to moral education. These shared assumptions are: 1. Moral values are not relative, in the sense of being purely subjective or arbitrary; rather they are objectively grounded in human nature and experience.
For example: To be fair, honest, and caring in our relations with others is to act in ways that are consistent with, and enhancing of, our essential human dignity. To be unjust, deceitful, and cruel is to act in ways that violate our essential human dignity. Philosophers speak of fundamental values such as justice, honesty, and love as being inherently and objectively good because they flow from the ‘constitutive human good’ — that which constitutes or defines our very humanity. These values are what make us human. When we are faithful to them, we are faithful to our human nature — to what enables us to live and grow as individuals and communities. 2.
Moral action is not due simply to rational or cognitive factors, but springs from moral personality, which includes affective qualities as well as intellectual processes. 3. Religion, defined as a stance bearing on ultimacy (What makes life worth living? What is our ultimate purpose and destiny? ), is rooted in our human nature, and the working out of a religious understanding provides a foundation and support structure for moral development. 4. Current models of moral development and values education are not sufficiently comprehensive to capture the full complexity of human character. 5.
An adequate approach to moral education or character development must build on a comprehensive, integrative view of the moral agent, a view which does justice to the multi-dimensionality (thought, feeling, action) of the moral agent and its interactions with the moral environment; moreover, character development programs must include moral content (What values are worth holding? ) as well as process (How should we reason about moral problems? ) and be grounded in a non-relativistic stance toward the human good. 6. One task of the moral life is to hold competing values in balance. We are, in our own society and in much of the Western world, only beginning to recognize and recover from an imbalance created by a surge of ‘personalism’ during the previous two decades.
Philosophers (e. g. , McLean, 1983) describe personalism as an ethos which gave rise to a ‘new subjectivity,’ a new respect and concern for the individual person. Existentialism, through both literature and philosophy, contributed to this personal ist ethos by portraying persons as creating themselves through their freely chosen actions. From this new personalism came many good things: the civil rights movement with its concern for the freedom and dignity of all persons, a new respect for the child as a person, a heightened valuing of personal conscience (reflected in religion and theology), and a deeper appreciation of the idea of human development and the importance of enabling each person to develop his or her full potential (reflected by the growth of developmental psychology and the human potential movement).
But from this same ethos came a host of other, less positive changes: hostility to authority and rules, the notion that morality is entirely subjective, a ‘look out for Number one’ individualism, and a general weakening of personal and social commitments.
Prior to personalism, McLean (1992) observes, people were likely to view themselves as part of something that defined them — a member of a family, a son of the church, a citizen of their country — part of a community, an ongoing tradition that limited freedom (because it carried obligations) but supplied roots and identity and social purpose. When personal freedom became the reigning value, we experienced ourselves as able to choose our identity, our life-style, our values, our destiny — and saw any constraining influence as an intolerable restriction of our rights and individuality. Now the challenge facing many societies is to construct a new balance: to reintegrate the person into community, to restore responsibility to freedom, and to recruit moral choice in the service of social values and goals. The effort to create a new moral balance shows up in all sorts of ways: less permissive child rearing, greater discipline in the schools, restoration of a core curriculum in our universities (part of an effort to rebuild a common culture), and a recovery of the place of traditional values and tested wisdom in the moral life. Part of the task of reconstruction is to ensure that the new trends are not reactionary but integrative: combining the deepened appreciation of freedom and individuality that is the positive legacy of personalism with an understanding of how to exercise freedom so as to enhance rather than undermine moral growth and community. AN INTEGRATIVE VIEW OF THE MORAL AGENTThe chapters in this volume share, in addition to the above assumptions, an ‘integrative view’ of the person as moral agent.
This view or model (see Figure 1. l) holds, first of all, that human character involves the interplay of three components: knowing, affect, and action. Let us consider each of these in turn. Knowing Moral knowing begins with learning moral content: those values which constitute the moral heritage passed on from one generation to the next. Each new generation and each individual may alter or add to that heritage, but the heritage provides a foundation.
In our own culture, that foundation typically includes values such as cooperation, courtesy, courage, fairness, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, religion, forgiveness, helpfulness, love, work, learning, democracy, freedom, equality, and respect (including respect for self, others, animals, property, and the environment).
‘Knowing’ a value also means knowing what behavior it requires in concrete situations. What does ‘love’ mean in terms of how you treat your little brother or sister? What does ‘respect’ tell you to do when someone passes on information that is damaging to another person’s reputation? What does it mean to be ‘helpful’ when there is someone new in your class who doesn’t know his or her way around and doesn’t have any friends? Moral knowing includes moral reasoning. Reasoning asks, ‘What are worthwhile values, ones that are for our good and the good of our fellows? Why are some values and their derivative actions good, and others bad? Why is it important to keep a promise? Help around the house? Share what you have with those in need? Why is it wrong to cheat on a test? Shoplift from a store? Lie to your parents?’ Moral reasoning also seeks to formulate principles (e. g. , the Golden Rule, ‘Respect the rights and worth of all persons’) that help us to establish a hierarchy of values and decide what to do when values conflict.
What principle should guide the eleven-year old (Lickona, Chapter 7) whose friends take a package from someone’s mailbox and then slough off the objection that ‘that’s stealing’? What did loyalty and justice require of a German citizen under the Third Reich? Of a U. S. soldier ordered to shoot Vietnamese civilians at My Lai? What principles should have guided Truman when he faced the decision of whether to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Moral knowing also includes cognitive strategies for making decisions in a systematic way. Your best friend in high school confides to you that she has been raped but is not sure whether to report it.
What should you do? What are the alternatives? The likely consequences of each alternative? The moral values or principles involved? What course of action would most likely maximize the good consequences, minimize the bad, and still be faithful to the important moral values or principles at stake? Moral knowing, especially in complex matters, also means becoming informed: trying to find out what’s true before you decide what’s right. Consider, for example, the continuing proposal, despite the demise of the Soviet Union, that the United States spend billions of dollars to build an outer-space ‘Star Wars’ defense against the possibility of Soviet attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles. Would such a defense really work? It is any longer needed? Does the threat of nuclear war launched by, say, a third-world power warrant such an expenditure? What alternative defense systems are available and what is their likely effectiveness? If Star Wars is funded, what does that do to the national debt and the country’s ability to finance domestic programs such as reformed health care and repair of its infrastructure. Moral knowing also depends, in a very important way, on moral imagination. Making a good moral decision — whether about how to help a raped teenager or how to prevent a nuclear war — requires that we project ourselves imaginatively into the situation, into the roles of the parties affected. Choosing the best course of action is only partly a matter of having the facts; it is also a matter of imagining what consequences might occur from this or that decision, and how it would be actually to experience those consequences.
‘Imagination,’ writes Elizabeth Simpson (1976), ‘invests meaning and saliency in persons and events’ (p. 167).
In Shaw’s St. Joan, Simpson observes, ‘an elderly priest blames the repetition of evil in generation after generation on the failure of imagination; he himself had to actually see the young girl burned to realize the enormity of the act. He asks, ‘Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination’?’ (Simpson, 1976, p. 167).
Finally, there is the quality of good judgment — what Aristotle called ‘practical wisdom’ — that is indispensable to mature moral knowing. Philosopher Jon Moline (1982), proposing good judgment as a central goal of character education, argues, ‘If our students learn to be judicious or wise, it is likely that in the long run they will arrive at right answers’ when they face hard moral problems (p. 197).
We know, Moline says, what the qualities of wise judgment are: hearing both sides; avoiding hasty decisions whenever possible; seeking advice in decision making; considering how others have treated equivalent problems; trying to moderate the pressures of self-interest; giving special weight to the opinions of more experienced persons.
As educators, Moline says, ‘We can describe such judicious traits to students, point out role models who have displayed them, and ask them to act in an equivalent fashion’ (p. 198).
We can also have young people practice being judicious when they make personal and group decisions. But however we do it, we should make the cultivation of a judicious manner of judgment a basic objective of moral education. Knowing moral values and what they require of us, reasoning about why such values are important and good (and how they differ from values which are not good), formulating moral principles to handle value conflict, systematic decision making, moral imagination, and judicious judgment — these are the elements we see as constituting moral knowing.
All must have our attention if we wish to educate for the full development of the cognitive side of moral agency. Affect Moral affect is broadly defined to include the whole range of factors, often neglected in discussions of moral education, that constitute the affective or emotional side of our morality. These affective factors are usually linked in some way to cognition but clearly go beyond it. How deeply do we hold the values we say we hold? Do they lie at the center — or the edge — of our consciousness and personality? A half-century ago, McDougall (1936) argued that moral ideals are powerless unless they are rooted in a moral self. Elaborating on that idea, Blasi (1984) observes that for many people, being a just or honest or caring person is not part of the ‘essential self’ that comprises their identity; hence those values are not powerful regulators of their behavior. But if, on the other hand, I do experience justice, honesty, or compassion as essential to my identity, then that identity becomes a strong motive for moral action consistent with those values.
To act otherwise would be to violate my sense of who I am. Do we love the good? In education for virtue, Kilpatrick (1983) points out, ‘The heart is trained as well as the mind, so that the virtuous person learns not only to distinguish between good and evil but to love the one and hate the other’ (p. 112).
That is why wise teachers have always looked to literature as a way to teach a sense of right and wrong. We can talk to children in abstract terms about deceit and hatred and loyalty and love, but when they come face to face with those qualities en fleshed in unforgettable characters, like the Wicked White Witch and the great and gentle Asian in C. S.
Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (1970), they feel repelled by the evil and drawn, irresistibly, to the good. How committed are we to living the moral life? Are we willing to do the right when it carries a cost? Does our conscience bother us (and how much? ) when we betray a principle or fall short of an ideal? Do we have the capacity to feel the kind of constructive guilt that impels us to make amends and strive to do better? Do we have the ability to enter emphatically into another’s suffering, the willingness to make ourselves vulnerable to another’s pain? Moral identity, attraction to the good, commitment, conscience, empathy — all these are part of the affective side of our moral selves. One could reasonably argue that these factors, taken together, constitute the larger part of our individual moral personalities. These affective factors, we submit, also constitute the essential bridge between moral knowing and moral action. Their presence or absence explains why some people practice their moral principles and others do not. Hence moral education which is merely intellectual — which touches the mind but not the heart — misses a core component of character.
Action Moral action is the component of moral agency which brings knowing and affect to fruition. Moral action has three components: will, competence, and habit. Will is what mobilizes our moral energy — the energy both to think through a problem and weigh choices and to act once the choice is clear. Will is what enables us to overcome — to press through — inertia, anxiety, pride, or self-interest, to do what we know and feel is right. Competence is also crucial. Good will alone will not ensure effective moral action.
To solve a conflict fairly, for example, we need skills of listening, communicating our view, and finding a middle ground. To aid a person in distress, we need to be able to conceive and execute a plan of action. Staub (1979), for example, found that children who had role-played a series of situations in which one child helped another were subsequently more likely than children without such experience to investigate a distress cry from another room. Similarly, Huston and Korte (1976) report that ‘people who are capable of effective intervention and who feel competent to deal with emergencies are more likely than others to help’ (p. 281).
These findings suggest that moral competence may benefit from a general feeling of effectiveness as well as specific skills.
Finally, moral action, in many situations, also benefits from habit. Aristotle believed that morally good actions arise from a steady state of character, a deeply rooted disposition to respond to situations in certain ways. People who have good character, as Bennett (1980) points out, ‘act truthfully, loyally, bravely, kindly, fairly without being much tempted by the opposite course’ (p. 130).
Often they do not even think consciously about ‘the right choice.’ They are good by force of habit. Habit begins in freedom, of course — with consciously made decisions to do the kind, courteous, or fair deed.
An important part of our moral training, then, is developing good habits through repeated choices, habits that will serve us well not only when the going is easy but also when we are pressured, tired, or tempted. To recognize the role of habit in the moral life is to acknowledge what Aristotle argued: that virtue must be practiced, not merely known. The implication of that principle is clear: Character education, wherever it occurs, must provide many and varied opportunities for young people to act — to live out their developing values and ideals, and to reflect on what they value in light of their lived moral experience. The three components of moral agency — knowing, affect, and action — obviously do not always work together. We may think that we should give more money to charity or more time to our children, but not care enough to do so; we may feel we have wronged a colleague or subordinate but be too proud to apologize; we may be distressed about a deteriorating situation in our marriage but lack the imagination or will to effect an improvement. But in any situation, full moral agency involves a unity of knowing (whether conscious or not), affect, and action.
AN EXAMPLE OF FULL MORAL AGENCY As a brief example of fully functioning moral agency, we would offer an Associated Press story that appeared one winter on the front pages of many U. S. newspapers. The article reported an incident that happened on a downtown street corner in St. Paul, Minnesota, during near zero weather.
As a city bus stopped at the corner to pick up passengers, a middle-aged woman got on. Despite the bitter cold, she wore only a thin, tattered coat, no shoes, and socks that were nearly worn through. As she put her coins in the meter, a 14-year-old boy got up from his seat, walked to the front of the bus, and handed the woman his shoes. ‘Here, lady,’ he said, ‘you need these more than I do.’ According to the bus driver who phoned in the incident, the woman accepted the shoes, and began to cry. A simple act of human kindness, one person responding to another’s need. And yet contained in that act, we believe, are all three components of moral agency.
This young man saw a human need and made a judgment that he should respond. Underlying that judgment, it seems safe to say, was the value of helping, and moral imagination enough to appreciate what it must have felt like to be out in a cold wave without warm clothing or shoes. It seems equally clear that the boy was touched by the woman’s condition and felt impelled to act — affective responses that suggest a moral personality in which caring lies at the core. Finally, this 14-year-old took action. Acting in this situation didn’t require any special skill but surely sprang from the virtue of helping, from a habit of responding to others’ needs. One can imagine that there were many people on the bus who saw the woman’s need and even felt compassion for her, but lacking a strong disposition to act (at least in this public situation), they failed to take the initiative to help.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MORAL AGENTThe fact that a 14-year-old boy helped the woman on the bus while many adults did not challenges facile generalizations about ‘moral development.’ One could offer other examples of how the moral responses of children often seem more direct and honest, more immediately empathic, and less inhibited by social roles than the moral responses of their elders. Acknowledging that, we would nonetheless assert that human persons, at least under favorable conditions, do on the whole develop — toward a greater maturity, a fuller realization of their humanity. It is evident that people can and do develop physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. Our model holds that they develop morally, too. (Even Beck, who in Chapter 8 challenges conventional assumptions about development, states that development occurs within the different periods of life. ) Moral development has been variously described by Piaget (1932), Erikson (1961), Kohlberg (1981, 1984), Damon (1977), Selman (1980), Gilligan (1982), Perry (1970), and Knowles (1992).
Some of these accounts have focused on changes in the structure of moral knowing; others have addressed affective or behavioral aspects of morality, such as caring, identity, virtue, and commitment. Considered together, these various accounts offer persuasive evidence that people do in fact grow morally: toward greater ability to take and coordinate social perspectives, to balance the needs of self and others, to imagine fully the situation of others, to distinguish values which advance the human good from those that do not, to construct moral principles, to make moral decisions that are based on principle rather than self-interest or social pressure, to judge judiciously, to make and sustain commitments, to deal with moral ambiguity and uncertainty, to be aware of one’s own moral shortcomings, and to function in an integrated way that seeks to bring conduct under the consistent dominion of one’s moral ideals. All of this we might call ‘vertical development’ — the term which develop mentalists use to describe growth toward more differentiated, more integrated. more comprehensive ways of understanding and relating to the world. In Kohlberg’s (1984) scheme, for example, vertical development proceeds from pre conventional to conventional to post conventional or principled morality. But our model asserts that there is another kind of development which is at least as important as vertical development, and that is horizontal development.
Horizontal development is the extension or application of a person’s most mature capacities over a wider and wider range of life situations. When horizontal development is weak, a child may say in a moral discussion that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ but then practice eye-for-an eye vengeance on the playground. An adult may rail against dishonesty and corruption among politicians but use a different standard when filling out his own income tax. When horizontal development is weak, we may have a moral capacity — moral reasoning, for example — but seldom use it. A common moral failure is moral blindness — the failure to see the moral dimension of situations and ask moral questions. Moral education for horizontal development seeks to develop persons who see the world through a moral lens, persons for whom it is second nature to stop and think, ‘Is this right?’ ‘If we take the idea of vertical development seriously, we will provide educational experiences of increasing variety and complexity, roles and responsibilities that meet young people at the cutting edge of their development and challenge them further.
Elementary school students, for example, can be challenged by social roles, such as helping a classmate with his math, tutoring a child from a younger grade, leading a class meeting on how to reduce put-downs, or serving on a student council to prevent school vandalism. If we take the idea of horizontal development seriously, our commitment to fostering character will be wide as well as deep. In a school it would show up across the board: in the curriculum (in how many subjects do ethical questions get raised? ); in instructional methods (do students work together as well as alone? do they reason and discuss as well as listen? ); in classroom and school management (do students share responsibility for creating a good learning environment and solving problems that arise? ); and in school relations at all levels (is there a whole-school climate of fairness and cooperation? ).
Finally, our model of the moral agent says what we take to be obvious: Character develops in and through human community. We grow through membership. Roles to play, perspectives to consider, conflicts to resolve, commitments to fulfill, relationships to care about, responsibilities to juggle — these are the social matrix in which we live and have our moral being.
Moreover, the relationship between the individual and community is best conceived not as one-directional (with the social environment shaping the person) but bi-directional: interactive, dynamic, one influencing the other. Translated into character education, this emphasis on community means that the family, the school, the church, the university must be human communities — interactive, participatory, morally authoritative but not authoritarian, making demands, providing support, challenging and helping youth to work together, think together, and take the risk and responsibility of relationships. This kind of participation in community provides obvious opportunities for intellectual growth, but it provides something deeper, too. When we interact with others in positive ways, we become attached to them, learn to value them — and eventually all people — as persons of worth and dignity, and come to know and feel from within our essential interdependence and responsibility for each other.
The chapters that follow vary in the attention they give to the different aspects of the moral agent, but all share the general model just described. Chapters are grouped in four sections. Part 1 of the book continues the context setting we have begun here. Wynne (Chapter 2) presents long-term empirical evidence of downward trends in youth character; Johnson (Chapter 3) tells us that if we wish to form character, we must analyze and reckon with the values of a relativistic and intensely pluralistic culture which will be the backdrop for whatever efforts we undertake. Part II, on the school, offers three views of how public schools can best realize their potential as agents of character development. Wynne (Chapter 4) summons schools to avoid a focus on narrow cognitive learning and individualistic concerns and to pursue instead ‘a vital collective life.’ Prakash (Chapter 5) encourages communities and their public schools to persist in the struggle to find genuine moral consensus in the midst of pluralism and to provide a model to students of how to preserve mutual respect while addressing differences.
Power (Chapter 6) proposes the democratic ‘just community’ as a workable way to generate moral consensus and felt community within the high school and to overcome the privat ism fostered by big-school bureaucracy. Part III centers on the classroom. Lickona (Chapter 7) describes an approach, scaled to the world of the elementary school child, that combines community building, cooperative learning, moral reflection, and participatory decision making. Beck (Chapter 8) proposes a junior high school pedagogy which is ‘open but not neutral’ — seeking to explore values (concern for the needs of self, friendship, family, school) in a ‘joint inquiry’ with students while avoiding the fallacy that any judgment is as good as any other. Star ratt (Chapter 9) illustrates ten teaching principles, including the call to recognize and develop our talents as ‘gifts for the community,’ principles which he finds present in the ‘intuitive practice’ of effective moral educators in the high school classroom. Part IV looks beyond the school.
Lickona (Chapter 10) reminds us that morality begins at home, in the life of the family, and describes what parents can do to capitalize on the special opportunities they have to develop children’s character. Hennessy (Chapter 11), while affirming the value of secular moral education in the pubic school, argues that religious perspectives offer a deeper foundation because they ‘deal with the deeper aspects of our nature, our quest for the transcendental, for the will of God.’ Sullivan (Chapter 12) calls attention to the rise of television as a ‘moral mis educator,’ which feeds the young ‘the myths of a commodity culture’; to combat its pervasive influence, he says, we must teach people to critique actively, not passively consume, media images and values. Nic gorski (Chapter 13) challenges colleges and universities to return to their task of fostering ethical vision among their students, including those who will lead society and shape its moral quality. Ryan (Chapter 14) addresses a particular and crucial task of the college: the preparation of teachers who themselves model good character and have the commitment and skills to foster it in the young. Finally, Rus nak, Farrelly and Barrett (Chapter 15) describe integrated character education as it is now being implemented in teacher education at Duquesne University and at a number of Pittsburgh schools working with Duquesne’s new Center for Character Education. Emile Durkheim (1961), the great French sociologist, wrote in the earlier part of this century words that still speak to our condition: Society must have before it an ideal toward which it reaches.
It must have some good to achieve, an original contribution to bring to… mankind. When individual activity does not know where to take hold, it turns against itself. When the moral forces of society remain unemployed, when they are not engaged in some work to accomplish, they deviate from their moral sense and are used up in a morbid and harmful manner (pp. 12-14).
Whether the moral forces of society are engaged in constructive work or turned toward destructive ends is not a matter of chance.
We can influence the character of society by influencing the character of the young. In our own age, widespread character education — both inside and outside of school — is not, to paraphrase Chesterton, an idea that has been tried and found wanting but one which has not been truly tried. The time has come to take up the challenge. Boston University State University of New York Boston, Mass Cortland, N. Y.
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