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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 15. 1972

And what did we Learn at School Today? — Teachers & Morals

page 11

And what did we Learn at School Today?

Teachers & Morals

What is the role to be played by educators in the formation of morals? What should the prime goal of the educator be? What methods are being employed to further moral education?

These are some of the questions discussed recently at a Seminar held by the Head Teachers Association, concerning the role of moral judgement in the education system.

The principal speaker at the Seminar, Dr. John Nicholls (Department of Education, V.U.W.) hit this somewhat staid group with Lawrence Kohlberg's theories on the stages of moral development, which most students of Education will be familiar with. Briefly this system divides moral development into three levels — the pre-conventional, the conventional, and the post-conventional. These groups being in turn divided into six stages. Stage I focuses on punishment and obedience orientation; Stage II on instrumental relativist orientation, both these stages fitting into the prep-conventional level. At the conventional level, conformity and its maintenance form the basis of the two stages — Stage III focussing on interpersonal concordance or "good boy - nice girl" orientation, and Stage IV on "law and order" orientation. The post-conventional level can also be divided into two stages — Stage V, social-contract orientation, and Stage VI universal ethical-principle orientation. The practical relativity of these theories to those present at the Seminar was to see at what level the child is reasoning, and in so doing create a frame of reference to explain their actions and reactions.

Moral Revolt

Dr. Nicholls saw student revolt as the actions of those functioning at a high level of moral development, (Stage V or VI) where they saw the immorality of "accepted" authority, eg. Marshall's stance over the issue of the French Tests. Here action taken has been based on expediency rather than morality, hence at a Stage II level. Therefore, it is no wonder that when an individual reaches Stages V or VI, they begin to question issues judged for expediency rather than morality. At this point Dr. Nicholls posed the question — "How important is democracy if all those involved in the democratic process are functioning at a pre-conventional level?" Here, it is tempting to revert to the statements made at the opening of the Seminar, by the two M.P's, Mr Pickering, Minister of Education, and Mr Amos, the Labour spokesman on Education. Mr Pickering, in opening the Seminar, stressed the need for a clarification of goals by the educators, in relation to moral education of children. However, he was obviously subjected to political, rather than moral requirements in his statement, emphasising the quantities of money being spent by the government on education. His attitude seemed to be that the government was playing its role quantitatively and that it was up to the educators to play their role qualitatively. He also spoke of the individual's freedom to protest, yet questioned this "right" in relation to the question of indoctrination, implying that those who protest do so as part of a group, rather than as an individual revolt against conventional morality. The Minister expressed a need to re-examine the fundamentals of education, and to establish values among those being educated, and although he raised the question of avoiding indoctrination, he enlarged on the content of the Seminar by suggesting that values could be imposed "mind on mind, character on character." Relating these statements to those later expressed by Dr. Nicholls one is faced with the problem of a stunted growth in moral judgement, due perhaps to the subjections of a conformist institution. Mr Amos stressed the role played by young protestors as constituting a "great service, continuing to remind "us" of the right to protest hence as a reminder of democracy. Should a person holding such a position in a so-called democratic government, need a reminder of the very basis upon which he is functioning. However, one could possibly give quite a high rating on Kolhberg's scale to such a statement. But, in light of Dr. Nicholls statement concerning expediency rather than morality, one could perhaps question the political circumstances provoking a statement of this nature.


Mr Jack Shallcrass (Dep't of Education, VUW) provided the Seminar with some of the better, post-conventional (?) judgements, speaking out against specialisation of functions in the present educational system, a factor which he deemed to be "one of the most pervasive consequences of growth of rational control" He saw as perhaps, one of the goals of moral education, the need to provide some emotional satisfaction, over and above the strictly rational. Some factor that would create a sense of identity, and something that could be truly believed in something not subjected to the "double-standards" of society, that increasingly more young people are unable to morally reconcile themselves to. Mr. Shallcrass defined the aim of moral education as "a stimulation of growth towards more mature moral judgements and a clearer understanding of the universal principles of justice and love," and in light of this expressed a desire to see more young students involved in the teaching process, thus helping them by "giving them a valued and humanly satisfying function in the community."He saw protest, not only in the light of revolt against "double-standards", but as a desire for recognition and identity with the shared motivation of common concern.

Loss of Authority

Other speakers at the Seminar included, Fr. Charles Harrison. Prof. L. Geering, Rev. Margaret Reid, and Fr. James Kebble, all who have some background in the sphere of "institutionalised" moral education. In their participation in a panel discussion they expressed concern for the emotional factors in this development, and for the necessity for a definition of goals which they felt were lacking even at this stage of the Seminar. Fr. Charles Harrison raised the question of authority, and in light of this stated that in relation to Kolhberg's scale, "one could not give what one had not actually achieved himself". This concern with authority seemed to sum up fairly adequately the feelings of those Head teachers attending the Seminar, as they themselves could see the value of such a framework, presented by Kolhberg, yet from personal discussion with these people, one could discern an element of fear, related to the loss of authority that could be the possible outcome of applying such a scheme, within the existing system of education.

Fr. J. Kebble questioned the ability of people conditioned by institutions or social groupings, to "make the break" to higher levels of moral judgement. This question, along with the question of authority, brings into focus the responsibility of the educators, and what action they could take as a result of the material presented at this seminal. However the difficulties arising at this point were adequately expressed by Prof. L. Geering, when he stated that "theory is always better than practice," and that if educators use this framework they must do so on the assumption that they have, in fact reached the ultimate stage of moral development themselves. Is this in fact the case?

Unfortunately, I think not, for in discussing the issues raised during the Seminar, with the various people concerned, the prevailing opinion was of respect for, and even in some cases understanding of the principles presented, but little enthusiasm for application. Self-examination appeared to be the only way in which anyone was prepared to take any positive action, and in the majority of cases, this was to take the form of asking what action could in fact be taken, rather than why they should be morally obliged to lake these steps. The teachers themselves saw not only the academic problems arising from such a framework, but the practical problems of the types of schools in which they were teaching, the background of the children with which they were dealing, and the problem of conditioning staff to re-think along the lines of such a theory as presented by Kolhberg.

Thus, the success of the Seminar can only be judged in relation to the fact that these educators have been presented with new material which they are prepared to consider. rather than a burst forward into a new era of education this could only result from a complete restructuring of the present institutionalized system of education hence the only hope is for a revolution in the system, rather than the slow evolution of the past.

Cartoon of revolutionaries