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Ethical education.


To educate, according to Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, is "to develop mentally and morally especially by instruction" (1970, p. 263). If this is, indeed, what it means to educate, then public schools today are no longer fully educating their students. Moral instruction as such is absent and is no longer allowed. This is a major change from the past when moral instruction, derived from religion, was an important component of public as well as parochial education. A study of text books used in the late 1800s revealed that both school systems used books which emphasized similar values, including love of God, love of country, duty to parents, and a need to develop habits of hard work, thrift, and honesty (Walch, 1975, pp. 178-181).

Perhaps the important change in a public school education is not the elimination of religion or school prayer, but the cessation of presenting generally accepted standards of good-bad, and rightwrong. The fact that these standards were based on, or derived from, the Judeo-Christian religious tradition was not as important as the fact that there was a general agreement. Such agreement established certain parameters for political and social discussions. Alexis de Tocqueville (1945) noted that the moral agreement at the time was an antidote against individualism, which is a divisive force detrimental to a nation. There is a mutual attraction between individuals who share beliefs, values, and attitudes. This general agreement among members of society results in what the French social scientist Emile Durkheim (1964/1895) referred to as "mechanical solidarity" (p. 32) and is accompanied by a "collective conscience" (p. 39), which includes a shared system of morality.

One result of the elimination of moral and ethical instruction and its possible resulting consensus is a greater focus on goals than on acceptable means. In a society that emphasizes material success, individualism, competition, pleasure, consumerism, and moral relativism, such a focus can have disastrous consequences. The sociologist Robert Merton (1957) has explained how a society can overemphasize acceptable goals while deemphasizing or basically ignoring socially acceptable means, resulting in what he termed innovation. This means that individuals will use any means possible, including socially unacceptable or illegal ones, to achieve the desired socially acceptable goals, such as making money and living a comfortable life. Examples of CEOs using innovative means that were completely immoral, unethical, and illegal include those of Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson. More recently many financial institutions, in order to benefit themselves, have been guilty of making loans without concern for the ability of the recipients to make payments and passing those questionable loans to other unsuspecting domestic and foreign institutions. Meanwhile, other people were using deceptive practices to entice buyers to make purchases which were not in their best interest but which earned the agents large bonuses. The result of such self-serving, irresponsible actions is a worldwide economic crisis and financial ruin for millions of individuals.

A similar practice of putting ends above means can be found in education. Some schools and/or school districts judge a teacher's performance by the success of his/her students (i.e., grades and graduation rate). The same standard is applied to schools and school systems. This can result in more accountability and a greater attention to student needs. However, it can also result in grade inflation and social promotion, both of which may make the teacher or school look good but can have unfortunate consequences for students and society. Functional illiteracy is not uncommon, even for high school graduates, and colleges routinely have to offer remedial courses, which do not count towards graduation, for incoming freshmen in order to prepare them for college level courses. College professors commonly complain that many students are unable to understand what they read, spell correctly, or present their ideas in a logical manner.

Too much focus on goals can be dysfunctional. Media, along with the rest of society, tends to focus on successful individuals, the winners, with relatively little concern for how the success or victory is achieved. Such successful individuals often become role models for others, particularly the young. In poor blighted areas of many cities the successful role model is sometimes the criminal or gang member. The clearest expression of this focus on goals is the quote commonly attributed to the famous Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi that "winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

Common Goal of Education

An educator recently wrote that the core mission of higher education was "effectively educating students to be democratic, creative, caring, constructive citizens of a democratic society" (Harkavy, 2006, p. 5). He goes on to state that this was not being done for a number of reasons, and he opines that part of the solution is for universities to engage in problem solving universal problems that are manifested in their local communities (Harkavy, 2006).

Thus, he is advocating not only for an educational system that prepares students to be more socially aware and actively involved, but one that produces socially responsible citizens. The author indicates a systemic problem but focuses on a solution only at the university level. Certainly universities have an important role to play, but there is no reason why such problems cannot be considered at other levels of the educational system. Many individuals will never attend universities. A systemic problem should have a systemic solution.

One goal of education is, or should be, to provide students with the requisite knowledge and information to be able to make the best decisions. This should entail teaching, among other things, the differences between good-bad, right-wrong, just-unjust, logical-illogical-nonlogical, and manifest-latent functions. The first three of these are dealt with when discussing morals and ethics. The word morals comes from the Latin word mos/moris which refers to a person's behavior, customs, or manners. The word ethics comes from the Greek word ethike which means the science of morals or character. Today it is generally understood to refer to a system of values and principles that guides one's behavior. The terms right and wrong apply to a person's actions, while good and bad apply to the person who acts, to the consequences of the action, to the motives of the person, and to the person's intentions (Lumpkin, Stoll, & Beller, 2003, p. 4).

Logical-illogical-nonlogical refers to an action in relation to desired goals (Pareto, 1935). If the action is consistent with and helps achieve the desired goal the action is logical, whereas an action which is inconsistent with the goal and makes it less likely to achieve is illogical. An action is nonlogical if it has no effect on, or relation to, the goal and neither helps nor hinders the attainment of the desired goal.

A function is what something does. It should be remembered that there are always multiple functions, some intended and some unintended. If the function is known and intended it is called a manifest function, whereas one which is unintended and/or unrecognized is called a latent function, much like the difference between the intended effect and a side effect in medicine (Merton, 1957). It is important in decision-making that not only the intended consequences of a decision be considered, but also the possible unintended consequences. For example, you may cut down a large tree next to your house to save the trouble of raking leaves in the fall, but you may find that the electric bills go up in the summer because you lost the shade the tree provided your house to keep it cooler. In education, No Child Left Behind was undoubtedly believed by legislators to be a way to improve a child's education. However, one consequence is that teachers now focus on preparing students to pass specific mandated tests. This has inevitably led to a reduction in the breadth and variety of material the teacher is able to cover, resulting in a less well-rounded education for the child.

A longstanding manifest function of the public school system is to assimilate the diverse ethnic members of the student body. The result of assimilation is the integration of people of different races, ethnicities, and nationalities into a common whole. This requires acceptance on the part of the groups to be integrated as well as the group into which they are to be integrated. Physical and cultural differences have acted as obstacles to assimilation. While little can be done to change physical differences, cultural differences can be changed. Obvious differences that set them apart (e.g., language, dress, customs, or morals, which act as a deterrent) can be modified. A study comparing the assimilation of Hispanic students in public and parochial schools using Milton Gordon's (1964) seven stages or subtypes of assimilation revealed that, overall, Hispanics were significantly more assimilated in parochial schools than in public schools. Those in parochial schools were significantly more assimilated in terms of acculturation (sharing a common culture), amalgamation (interethnic dating), structural (interethnic neighborhoods, churches, organizations, etc.), behavior receptional (absence of discrimination), and civic assimilation (compliance with civic duties), while those in public schools were statistically more assimilated in identificational assimilation (self-identifying with society). There was no statistically significant difference between the two in attitude receptional assimilation (absence of prejudice) (Lampe, 1976). While these findings may not indicate that teaching morals aids the assimilation process, it does appear to indicate that teaching a specific set of morals does not hinder the process.

The Purpose of an Education

Education for making a good living, rather than for living a good life, appears to be the overriding concern for most people in the United States today. The concerns of the business community often affect curricula, especially at the higher levels. At the college level, both public and private, there is a sort of compromise between education for living and for making a living in schools where a liberal arts core is required of all students. While there is traditional classical subject matter in a core (i.e., art, foreign language, religion, and/or philosophy), which is believed to promote a fuller, more human and humane life, the focus of the education (at least for most students) appears to be on obtaining an educational degree that will lead to a good job. Nationally, the most common majors of recent graduates are in business and the sciences (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Higher education is viewed by most students not as an end in itself but as a means to an end (a well-paying job). This is because of the now common practice of credentialism, requiring a college degree in order to even be considered for a good position.

Over the years, when my students in class are asked who would be in college if they could get the job they desire without earning a degree few, if any, students raise their hands. This is consistent with a common experience when advising students. When told they must take an art, philosophy, or religion course they often ask why and say it is "not relevant," obviously referring to making a living rather than for living a more fully human life. Apparently, education is not valued in and of itself by these students but is viewed as another obstacle to be overcome in order to achieve their goal. Nor do they appear to be concerned about achieving a more fully human life by developing themselves physically, morally, mentally, and socially. It is a good job leading to financial success that they seek. Consequently, the means are less important than the goals and buying a degree, cheating, and plagiarism become acceptable options.

A recent nationwide study of 36,000 high school students revealed that ethical and moral behavior is not a major concern. Forty-two percent of the respondents said that sometimes a person has to lie or cheat in order to get ahead, and 60% admitted they had cheated during a test in the last year (LexisNexis[TM] Academic, 2006). A more recent national survey found that 64% admitted to cheating on a test. In addition, 30% had stolen from a store in the past year, 20% stole from a friend, 23% stole from a parent or other relative, and 83% had lied to parents about something significant (Crary, 2008, p. 2A). The results of these studies reflect the unethical and immoral behavior that has been surfacing with alarming regularity in all sectors of society including government, business, education, military, media, and even religion.

The Need for Change

Since the beginning of the public school system in the United States, there has been a recognition of the importance of moral education. It has been recognized that not only is there a need to prepare the youth to make good moral decisions as adults but also to enable students of every level to make good decisions while in school. Some of the decisions that students face include how to fit in and make friends, whether to tattle on others, whether to join in bullying and harassing those who are different, whether to cheat, whether to join a gang, or whether to have sex. Over the years it has come to be recognized that there is a developmental process in the understanding and application of morality and ethics. Very young children develop a sense of right and wrong, but it tends to be egocentric and concrete, related to rewards and punishments. As they grow older, their reasoning becomes somewhat more egalitarian and more concerned for social acceptance. By the time they are finishing high school or are in college it is much more abstract and flexible, taking into consideration many things that had been previously overlooked or ignored (Kohlberg, 1984). Of course, not all people progress through every stage.

The government's decision to eliminate religious education and the teaching of religious-based morals and ethics did not signal the end of moral or ethical education in public schools. The public school system K-12 has attempted to continue a semblance of moral or ethical education through what is termed secular Character Education (Howard, Berkowitz, & Schaeffer, 2004). According to the guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act this includes: caring, civic virtue and citizenship, justice and fairness, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, and giving. However, there has been some uncertainty and disagreement as to exactly what each of these goals means or what specifically they entail since the legislators failed to specify the exact meanings or methods to be used.

Consequently, there are three general approaches which have been proposed or adopted to teach Character Education: the Cognitive-Developmental approach (sometimes referred to as Moral Education), which focuses on knowing what is good-bad; the Caring approach, which emphasizes social relations and the desire to do what is good; and the more traditional Character Education approach, which is concerned with doing what is good. Service learning is sometimes incorporated into this approach (Lickona, 1989). However, the current emphasis on standardized tests and the pressure to improve test scores make it difficult to spend much time on those areas of the curriculum which are not easily measured (Howard et al, 2004).

Morals, ethics, and good citizenship are all aspects of Character Education programs; however, it should be made clear that there may be differences or even conflicts between them. For example, what is legal (good citizenship) is not necessarily moral or ethical (good, right, just) (e.g., the practice of slavery or the enforcement of Jim Crow laws). Morals have sometimes been seen as distinct from ethics. A question of morality is often understood as a religious issue (e.g., an immoral act is referred to as a sin). Ethics, while having moral implications, have generally not been directly equated with sin. However, morals and ethics are sometimes used interchangeably, dealing with good-bad, right-wrong, just-unjust, and are seen as depending more on social standards or laws than on religious beliefs. Nevertheless, even in this case, moral and ethical behavior may sometimes be seen as distinct and possibly in conflict, especially when dealing with professional ethics that apply to certain professions but not others. For example, the ethical requirement of a defense lawyer to try to win freedom for a client the lawyer knows is guilty, especially if the crime is serious and likely to be repeated (i.e., pedophilia).

Although ethics is the study of good-bad and right-wrong, it is not concerned with every type of right, wrong, good, or bad. It is important to remember that judging human behavior does not always involve an ethical consideration but may be a matter of law, etiquette, or prudence, although at times these may overlap (Windt, Appleby, Battin, Francis, & Landesman, 1989, p. 9).

In addition to the question of what constitutes good-bad and right-wrong, there is a related question of whether these are relative or absolute. If moral relativism is embraced, then situational ethics is the result. What is ethical would depend on which approach or principle is chosen. The more common ethical approaches are emotivism (go with your gut feelings), egoism (do what is best for yourself), legalism (follow the letter of the law), relativism (when in Rome do as the Romans do), and utilitarianism (do what works and produces the most good for the most people). Each approach can yield a different decision as to what is ethical. In fact, individuals using the same approach (i.e., emotivism, egoism, or utilitarianism) can reach a different decision since each is ultimately subjective.

This is in contrast to the divine command approach of the past or the less universal legalistic approach, which specify certain acts as good or bad, right or wrong. A rabbi recently wrote, "In a contest between a moral relativist and a fundamentalist, who would win? The fundamentalist must win because he's sure he's right and you're not sure he's wrong" (Sacks, 2009, p. 12). He goes on to say that since we have abandoned the traditional basis for answering the fundamental questions of life, we have turned to four modern alternative sources of meaning: the market, the state, science, and philosophy. However, he believes these four sources have abdicated the search for meaning. In addition, because of their very different concerns and assumptions, they would almost certainly arrive at very different answers.

Recently, a former dean at Harvard University wrote that there is a "hollowness" in undergraduate education, even at prestigious schools such as Harvard. Schools have become "soulless," lacking a vision with which to inspire young people and form future leaders (Lewis, 2006). One problem is a general lack of agreement regarding values and goals. The questions must be asked, "What kind of society do we want for ourselves and our children?" and "Will making a better living equal having a better life?"

Although the United States ranks number one among the major industrial nations in the percentage of residents enrolled in higher education, it has the highest rates of murder, rape, robbery, drunk driving fatalities, cocaine addiction, homelessness, number of children and elderly in poverty, inequality of wealth distribution, bank failures, divorce, single-parent families, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, death of children younger than five, greenhouse gas emissions, forest depletion, and hazardous waste per capita (Eitzen & Leedham, 2004). All of these social problems indicate a lack of concern for the rights and well-being of others. Clearly something must be done if we are to have the type of society which most people want. It is not possible to live a fully human and humane life in an inhumane society. In addition to teaching the three R's (reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic), education, beginning in the first grade, must include the two R's (right and 'rong) which, in the past, were an integral part of education.

Social Justice

Principles of social justice should also be introduced into school curricula at all levels as a way of developing a social conscience and providing criteria for moral behavior. These principles are independent of any particular denomination or religion and are consistent with secular humanism. They include the following:

* Life is inherently sacred and should be nourished and protected. It is precious and once lost cannot be restored. In nature all living organisms are concerned with survival and passing life on to the next generation.

* Everyone has certain inalienable rights and responsibilities which include those relating to our family, community, society, and the world. It is the responsibility of each person to recognize, respect, and protect the rights of all. At least at a rudimentary level there is a logical and empirical hierarchy of rights and responsibilities, and when in conflict, the higher level takes precedence over a lower level. The U.S. Constitution lists three inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is doubtful that the order of rights was an accident. Without the right to life, liberty is impossible, and without the right to liberty, the pursuit of happiness is not possible. Therefore, one person's right to happiness should not take precedence over another person's right to life or a person's right to liberty. Apart from these basic inalienable rights, which affect everyone, it is not possible to establish a hierarchy with which most people would agree. For most individuals, those threatened rights that directly affect them are considered more important than those that do not.

* Everyone should be concerned for the common good and seek to promote a sense of community. Humans are by nature social beings, and our development as well as our survival depends on the cooperation of others. Ultimately, it is in promoting the good of all that our own individual good is safeguarded.

* The poor and vulnerable should be of special concern. A society should not be judged by the number, or quality of life, of the people at the top, but by the number, or quality of life, of those at the bottom. It is in relation to those at the bottom that a society reveals its understanding of and commitment to morals, ethics, and justice.

* Everyone should work to develop a sense of solidarity with others and participate to the extent possible in the decisions and activities of the groups which affect them and to which they belong, including the basic social institutions of family, education, religion, economy, and government.

* Government has a responsibility to protect the rights and promote the welfare of all, to seek the common good, according to the principle of subsidiarity. This principle states that government should act only when necessary functions cannot be performed adequately by nongovernmental agents and then should be performed at the lowest level possible, local, state or federal government, as long as they can be performed adequately.

* Work is a source of dignity, and all work and workers should be respected. All people have a right to productive work, a living wage, and a safe working environment. The economy is meant to serve people; people do not exist to serve the economy.

* Peace is a goal which should be sought by all people as well as all governments. True peace is not just the absence of war or open conflict. It is also a social setting and a system of social relationships. As such it is the fruit of justice. Benito Juarez, former president of Mexico, is known for his dictum, "El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" (respecting the rights of others leads to peace). This is similar to a statement of Pope Paul VI, "If you want peace, work for justice."

* Everyone should respect and protect our environment throughout the world. We must recognize that we are not owners of creation but only stewards whose obligation it is to protect and pass it on to future generations. Pollution, depletion, and destruction of nature are contrary to social justice. Our concern for the present should not blind us to our obligations for the future (DeBerri, Henriot & Schultheis, 2006).

Related to these principles of social justice are values which derive from and support them. One source states that "Principles should act as 'universal rules of conduct,' or first rules that identify and define what is valued"(Lumpkin et al., 2003, pp. 26-27). The following four moral values are then identified: justice, honesty, responsibility, and beneficence. These values can and should be explained and modeled in the classroom. Related to morals and social justice is the issue of ethical behavior. The previous source states that "ethical thinking has to do with the ability to be impartial, consistent and reflective" (Lumpkin et al., pp. 26-27). These three characteristics or components of ethical thinking should be practiced in the classroom and modeled throughout the school system. The inclusion of moral and ethical education into the curricula may help future generations realize that ends do not justify the means.

Socialization and Societalization

People have long recognized the importance of socializing new members (whether by birth or immigration) of society, and schools are expected to have this as one of their primary functions. Today it is recognized that there are many important agents of socialization such as family, school, church, neighborhood, work, sports, peer group, and media (Henslin, 2004). One problem is that there is not always a consistent message or set of values and acceptable behavior transmitted by each of these agents. The result is often confusion or a belief in moral relativism. The importance of schools as agents of socialization has increased in recent years as mothers and fathers have both become full-time wage earners and have placed their infants in day care facilities and nursery schools at a much earlier age and for longer periods of time.

Socialization, or enculturation, refers to the process of learning the culture and thereby becoming a member of society. Culture is the learned, shared way of life of a group of people and includes artifacts (material) and mentifacts (nonmaterial). It is the mentifacts that are central to morals and ethics. In the lower grades students are typically taught the ideal culture (what society wants) rather than the real culture (what actually exists). There is always a discrepancy between the two, and this may cause problems as the students get older and become more aware and skeptical. In the past, this gave rise to what was referred to as the "generation gap" when the youth accused adults of being hypocrites.

Problems can also arise due to subcultural differences within the society. Subcultures are recognizable variations of a culture, such as Hispanic American and African American. Members of both ethnic groups basically share the American culture and can be identified as Americans, but have some recognizable differences. While race has no cultural dimension, ethnicity does (Gordon, 1964). Since religion is often related to ethnicity, ethnic group differences can be problematic when dealing with certain moral or ethical issues, particularly with individuals who are very ethnocentric in their desire to preserve their traditional values and beliefs. This is particularly apparent when schools present morals and ethics as relative or subject to debate.

As important as socialization is for forming and maintaining a common united society, it is equally important that there be what may be termed societalization. This refers to the process of developing a real concern for the feelings and welfare of others in order to have a more humane society. This process entails the development of a social conscience, empathy, respect for others, civility, altruism, and the ability to put oneself in another person's shoes. Both of these processes are lifelong endeavors that will not only benefit the individual but also society. Like socialization, societalization must begin with the very young; neither can be put off until their formal education has begun.

If people were adequately societalized, the social problems of racism, ageism, sexism, crime, poverty, inequality, divorce, and the widespread elimination of pensions and health care benefits would be reduced. Some of the recent rash of business and political scandals that have defrauded so many people for the sake of personal gain may have been avoided. Although deviant behavior can never be completely eliminated, it can be minimized.

A focus on societalization should help reduce some of the many problems that occur in schools across the country. One that affects a particularly large category of students, the poor who are frequently minority children, is the often inferior education they receive due to inadequate funding. As Jonathan Kozol (1991) points out, poor inner-city schools consistently receive less funding than schools in the suburbs, which results in inadequate or insufficient books, teachers, supplies, materials, and facilities. Other problems experienced in a much broader spectrum of schools include physical, psychological, and cyber bullying; discourteousness; classroom disruptions; favoritism; low teacher expectations; and inappropriate relationships. An even more serious problem may also be reduced, namely violence. In 2001, the U.S. government published the results of a study, Violence on School Property, which indicated that 6% of Hispanic, White, and Black students had carried a weapon to school in the previous 30 days, and 9% of each of the three racial/ethnic groups said they had been injured or threatened by a weapon on school property during the previous year. In addition, 14% of Hispanic students, 17% of Black students, and 10% of White students reported they had engaged in a physical fight while on school property, and 10% of both Hispanic and Black students and 5% of White students indicated they had felt too unsafe to go to school (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

Just as schools have gained importance as agents of socialization, so too have they become more important as agents of societalization. It should be pointed out that societalization, which can result in more moral and ethical behavior, is not necessarily religiously based and, therefore, does not violate separation of Church and State. Schools at all levels can, and must, be involved.

Societalization means replacing individualism and egoism with altruism, an emphasis on competition with cooperation, a belief that ends justify means with the knowledge that some things are inherently wrong--what social scientists refer to as mala en se (e.g. murder, incest) and a recognition that we are responsible for our actions and how these affect others: not just our contemporary fellow members of society but all present and future members of the one world in which we live. This is related to the issue of stewardship, which is part of societalization as well as social justice. Stewardship entails the protection, preservation, and development of the world for present and future generations. Many people reject, neglect, ignore, or deny the moral and social responsibility of stewardship. However, if we believe, based on Scripture, science, or human ethnocentrism, that we humans have dominion over all the earth, then it follows that we also have the corresponding responsibility to care for all the earth. Consequently, we must look beyond our own personal well-being and reduce global warming, pollution, deforestation, and destruction of habitat resulting in the extinction of endangered species and the well-being of future generations.

If the concern expressed in the motto, "look out for number one," is replaced with, "I am my brother's keeper," and the emphasis on "I" is replaced by "we," all people will enjoy the benefits that nature has to offer. This would move society closer to realizing the full implications of the saying "we are all in this together" and of following the golden rule to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Sports can serve as a model. The teams that are the most successful are not the teams composed of the most talented individuals each concerned for their own statistics, but those teams made up of often less talented players who cooperate, using their specific talents to fulfill specific roles for the good of the team. Thus the saying, "there is no 'I' in team."

Societalization is about learning to consider the feelings and welfare of others, realizing that all members of society are interrelated and interdependent. Citizenship demands that commutative justice be observed, which requires all members of society not only to live up to all explicit treaties, contracts, and agreements but also to the implicit agreement, or social contract, which makes the society to which Rousseau, Locke, and Hume all referred possible (see Baker, 1968). Responsible citizenship also entails contributive justice (also known as social justice), which recognizes that each and every individual has certain gifts or talents that they have a right and obligation to share for the common good. Racism, sexism, and ageism are examples of violations because individuals are denied the right to contribute by sharing their talents. Conversely, indifference and lack of involvement are violations because individuals refuse to contribute and share their talents. No one has all talents. Everyone has some talent, whether it is speaking, listening, teaching, learning, organizing, following instructions, farming, caring for children, making money, etc. If everyone contributes what talents they have, society will have everything it needs to prosper. Examples of this sharing of talents are lawyers working pro bono or physicians participating in the organization Doctors Without Borders. A broader, more inclusive, example is the world response to the earthquakes in Haiti, where professionals and nonprofessionals alike went to help in whichever way they could. Another requirement is distributive justice. This is concerned with allowing all members of society to have an equal chance to succeed, and ensuring a just distribution of society's wealth, resources, and rewards. In the United States, the top 1% of individuals controls more total wealth than the bottom 90% (Carl, 2010). Rewards should be based on such considerations as educational requirements, difficulty or level of danger of work, years of service, productivity, and contribution to society. Distributive justice does not require that everyone receive the same recompense; quite the opposite, but everyone must receive at least a living wage, not a minimum wage.

Education which benefits individuals as well as society should include not only the knowledge and skills needed for making a living, but also the ability to observe, question, and evaluate values, rules, relationships, and structures. Such skills are necessary for a truly human and humane life. Human development, which should be the goal of education, entails physical, cultural, social, intellectual, emotional, economic, spiritual, and moral/ethical dimensions. Such development would enable individuals to critically observe and evaluate current social policies and structures, which would aid in a realistic assessment of the likelihood of success for themselves and others. This, in turn, may result in the realization that in order to assure their own chances of success, they must help assure the chances of success for all others.

In the final analysis, it is formal and informal education that will provide the necessary knowledge and skills to help prepare individuals to be productive members of a democratic society. The inclusion of morals (which Webster includes in the definition of education), ethics, and community service to the curricula greatly enhances and facilitates the societalization process. Schools should provide educational opportunities that will prepare people both for making a living and for living a fuller, more human life.

Possible Educational Strategies

Part of the solution is to change, modify, de-emphasize or, in some cases, oppose some common societal values identified by Williams (1965) (i.e., individualism, materialism, competition, and racism/ group superiority) that work against the common good. Some things that may help to accomplish this include the following:

* Substitution of numerical grades with satisfactory and unsatisfactory on assignments and report cards. However, numerical grades could be kept in the student's file and made available at the end of a school year to parents or other schools, as requested.

* Publicly recognize and reward positive acts of kindness and public service. In lower grades this may include a prominently placed bulletin board with the names of those who are so recognized. Some schools have used ribbons or medals that can be worn, much as used by the military, or a type of voucher that, in specific numbers, can be converted into various kinds of prizes. Although these public recognitions may encourage competition, it will be helpful competition.

* Reading assignments can present examples of desired values and social justice. For younger students, these can be children's stories (i.e., The Ant and the Grasshopper, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Pinocchio, or some of Aesop's Fables) that can later be discussed in class. Older students can read about real life examples such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, or less well-known heroes such as Desmond T. Doss and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

* Emphasize cooperation rather than competition. Utilize team class projects that require the assistance and cooperation of all members in order to succeed. These teams should be chosen by the teacher, making sure the members are rotated to different teams after the completion of each project. This is consistent with the work of Gordon Allport (1958) who identified certain characteristics of interaction (e.g., a common goal, interdependency and cooperation to achieve the goal, equal status within the group, and approval of those in authority) that can help reduce prejudice.

* Use role playing, assigning the students to take the role of members of various other groups in the class or area in order to help develop empathy. According to Mead (1934), whom John Dewey called the most influential philosopher of his time, games and play are two aspects of socialization that can help prepare children for social living. Play enables children to learn about themselves and their abilities. Games require that they learn rules that govern the interaction and, to be successful, to know and understand the roles of all participants. Based on studies of cognitive development, children should be able to role play after age seven (Piaget, 1954).

* Field trips and guest speakers can be effective means of bringing awareness to students concerning past and present realities that affect different segments of society. In Our Own Voice Panel from National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are two such organizations that provide speakers to aid understanding.

* Require community service hours of high school students and encourage it of middle school students. Make arrangements to bring grade school students together with elderly from retirement centers. This is a form of community service that has been found to benefit both young and old alike. There are different models of how to structure such an intergenerational experience (Kaplan & Larkin, 2004). The University of the Incarnate Word is affiliated with Incarnate Word High School, which requires community service hours each year as part of its curriculum, while the University requires a minimum of 45 community service hours in order to graduate.

* Utilize peers to hear and recommend solutions to interpersonal problems, as appropriate. A hearing should be held providing an opportunity for each side to speak. Speakers should be asked to explain the reasons for their actions as well as how the actions affected themselves and others, much like the "victim impact statement" used in some court sentencing proceedings.

Implementation of these and other strategies may help students develop a concern for others and an awareness that our actions not only affect ourselves but also have an effect on others. Ultimately, we are responsible for our actions and their consequences.


Educators in public schools today are at a disadvantage compared to public schools of the past when teaching morals and ethics. The religious-based morals and ethics of the past, while not always agreed upon, provided clarity as to what was considered right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, as well as a concrete source of authority from which they were derived. In addition, there was a strong incentive to accept the morals and ethics as taught because they were held to offer eternal rewards to those who accepted them and eternal punishment to those who did not. However, it is also true that the teachings fomented strong opposition from those of different religious traditions or backgrounds, particularly non-Christians and atheists. Ultimately, they were deemed to be in violation of the principle of the Separation of Church and State.

The current teaching of morals and ethics in public schools lacks both the clarity and the concrete authoritative basis that is found in many parochial schools or in the earlier public schools. In addition, acceptance or rejection of moral and ethical behavior as currently taught cannot even offer the guarantee of social rewards or punishment. Disagreements are almost guaranteed. The emphasis on the relative or situational nature of morals and ethics that is common today, together with the need to respect individual and cultural differences, tends to result in confusion and sometimes a lack of concern.

Therefore, it would be helpful if there could be at least a general agreement establishing a common basis for moral and ethical decisions. Such a basis could be found in two generally acceptable principles: respect for life and respect for the dignity of the person. These have the advantage of being accepted by secular humanists and of being consistent with traditional teachings, yet independent of religion. Acceptance of these two principles would provide a common criteria for moral and ethical decisions.

Character Education should not be limited to a single approach or taught as a simple unit or module in the curriculum, but its principles should be applied, as appropriate, to all subject matter in all classes, whether health, sports, science, politics, economics, education, religion, history, or family life. Students should become accustomed to applying such considerations to all areas of life. Teachers, administrators, coaches, and all who are part of the educational system should serve as role models, making sure they are always impartial, consistent, and reflexive in their decisions and treatment of others. In this way students may learn that all human behavior is moral, immoral, or amoral, and all our actions have social consequences that must be taken into consideration.


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Philip Lampe

University of the Incarnate Word

San Antonio, TX

Philip Lampe received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Louisiana State University. Currently, he is a Professor of Sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX.
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Author:Lampe, Philip
Publication:Teaching and Learning
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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