Moral Teachers, Moral Students

wayangOnce again, the public frets about whether children are becoming good people. Both conservative commentators, such as William Bennett (2000), and researchers, such as William Damon (2001), decry a steady rise in greed, delinquency, and disrespect. And once again, the public holds schools largely responsible for remedying these troubles.
“Solutions” abound. Many character education efforts in schools now focus on everything from community service to teaching students virtues, building good habits, rewarding positive behavior, and developing students’ capacity for moral reasoning (Schaps, Schaeffer, & McDonnell, 2001).
There is value in these solutions. Students surely benefit from performing community service, being reminded of important virtues, and practicing good habits.
But we have been wringing our hands and trying these solutions for decades, in some cases for two centuries, without fundamentally changing students’ moral prospects. The moral development of students does not depend primarily on explicit character education efforts but on the maturity and ethical capacities of the adults with whom they interact—especially parents, but also teachers, coaches, and other community adults.
Educators influence students’ moral development not simply by being good role models—important as that is—but also by what they bring to their relationships with students day to day: their ability to appreciate students’ perspectives and to disentangle them from their own, their ability to admit and learn from moral error, their moral energy and idealism, their generosity, and their ability to help students develop moral thinking without shying away from their own moral authority. That level of influence makes being an adult in a school a profound moral challenge. And it means that we will never greatly improve students’ moral development in schools without taking on the complex task of developing adults’ maturity and ethical capacities. We need to rethink the nature of moral development itself.
                                                                                                                     by : Rick Weissbourd
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