财新传媒
位置:博客 > 韦爱德 > AMERICAN MORAL EDUCATION: CURRENT FIELDWORK

AMERICAN MORAL EDUCATION: CURRENT FIELDWORK

131116

GUEST BLOGGER Heidi M. Ravven

_______________________________________________________________

To understand how American moral education is being conducted in the early 2000s, author Ravven visited various American institutions. At a public elementary school, she listened to a principal and a parent express their enthusiasm for educating children about interpersonal "virtues." There she also observed a kindergarten and second grade, finding the students more alienated than enthusiastic. Ravven also observed efforts of companies to teach professional values to adult employees. The values mostly concerned the employees' getting along with each other and with the company, and little addressed the substance of what the company was doing. ____________________________________________________________________

SERIES

This Post is the second in a Series on AMERICAN MORAL EDUCATION – attempts to teach "values," mostly in American public schools. That topic may interest Chinese as China attempts to strengthen its own moral education.

The first Post introduced a new Book on Western ethics. This Post begins the book's first Chapter, reporting the author's FIELDWORK on recent attempts at moral education in American public schools and professional schools. Subsequent Posts will continue the Chapter.

Overall a main point is that recent American approaches, despite thinking they are returning to Greek "virtue ethics," misinterpret the Greek notion of character, making it into a matter of individual DECISIONS, not social HABITS.

Another main point is that this individualist-volitional account of moral agency PERSONALIZES and DEPOLITICIZES moral discourse, blaming individuals for misbehavior and social ills while diverting attention from societal issues of power and justice.

____________________________________________________________________

CHARACTER EDUCATION

A PRINCIPAL AND A MOTHER

KINDERGARTEN AND SECOND GRADE

PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

____________________________________________________________________

131116

AMERICAN MORAL EDUCATION: CURRENT FIELDWORK

From Heidi Ravven 2013 The self beyond itself, 5-11, 51-54.

[For Notes, please consult the original printed book, where they are numbered differently. Here section Headings have been added or shortened.]

CHARACTER EDUCATION

I set out on my journey to meet with prominent thinkers in the character education movement and also to observe teachers and schools nationally known for their successful implementation of moral character education programs. I went first to visit Fillmore Elementary School in an outlying suburb of a medium-size American city, which I'll call here Park Center. Park Center is 97 percent white and its population is by and large neither affluent nor poor. It covers a large geographical area of parts of three counties and includes rural areas, semiurban village centers, and a growing summer resort area. Fillmore Elementary School is an award winner, a National School of Character, one of ten across the nation so designated each year by the Character Education Partnership (CEP) in Washington, D.C. The Character Education Partnership defines itself as "a national advocate and leader for the character education movement." On its website it says that it is "an umbrella organization for character education, serving as the leading resource for people and organizations that are integrating character education into their schools and communities." Each year since 1998 the CEP has given out awards to schools and districts. When it refers to "character," the meaning is moral character, for the website defines its mission as "developing young people of good character who become responsible and caring citizens." Here we have an encounter with the teaching of ethics that's not about teaching philosophy in the college classroom or even in special ethics classes for budding professionals in business, law, and medical schools. This is where ethics is being formulated and transmitted in ways that affect all of us because this is the moral education that is being introduced to our kids in schools. In addition to the family and the church or synagogue, mosque, or temple, here we are on the front lines of ethical training. This is no arcane theoretical enterprise of professors teaching Plato and Wittgenstein but a major site of the moral education of our children.

A PRINCIPAL AND A MOTHER

So my attention is rapt and I am soaking up the dedication of Fillmore Elementary to teaching character across the curriculum. I have just been talking with Mrs. Finch, the current principal, who developed the character education program more than a decade ago, initially without national or professional guidance or connections, she tells me. Character education is at the center of the school's mission and is not a separate curriculum but integrated into all the activities and programs, including gym. The designation National School of Character is just below the name of the school on the outside of the building over the front door. Mrs. Finch takes me to the main entrance of the school, where she shows me a large colorful ceramic mural that all the kids and teachers contributed to a couple of years ago. Its purpose is to convey the mission that is written in ceramic letters at the top, "Building Character." Embedded in the mural are the names of the values that the school stands for. Each month one of these values becomes the focus of teaching and activities throughout the school. All the monthly values also contribute to the overall moral theme of the year, which this year is "respect." Mrs. Finch points to each value word embedded in the mural and also to a small white ceramic building in the center of the mural that looks like a columned Greek temple. "These columns represent the values that are the pillars of our community," she says. "The values that we honor and teach in our school are fairness, respect, responsibility, perseverance, honesty, helpfulness, patience, good manners," and the like. "Each month we choose a moral value as the special one and all month we learn and think about that value. We plan activities around it, read stories about it, and practice it in our daily work and school life. Children who excel at it are given special public recognition, too." The whole month is dedicated to transmitting that particular value, she tells me, and each month begins with an assembly where the value is introduced and a skit illustrating it presented. The school librarian's job is to find a storybook that expresses the character trait of the month, and she reads that story to every class in the course of the month. Another short story illustrating the month's value is photocopied and sent home with the kids to be read together with their parents. There are questions at the bottom of the sheet that the parents and children are asked to discuss together and then answer. Some examples of these questionnaires hang on a wall outside a second-grade classroom. During the month the children who best exemplify or articulate the value are given public recognition and awards, both in writing and over the loudspeaker. The award certificates are taken home to show parents.

As I walk down the school corridors I see walls covered in three-by-five cards with children's names on them and graphs. The character traits they have received awards for are written at the top, while below that, on the graphs, are colored stars marking their progress in reading and arithmetic. Some few children are chosen for an even greater recognition of their work on the monthly character trait, and these kids are given leadership roles in handing out awards during that month or the next. Teachers are also given awards by Mrs. Finch for exemplary service. Mrs. Finch has me walk with her and Joel, the current character award winner in the second grade, as we go from classroom to classroom handing out award certificates to students and teachers alike. A number of teachers are receiving awards for coming in on a Saturday to plant flower beds. Children's awards are to be taken home to show parents, but a teacher's awards are fastened to the door of her classroom. Also, on the door are signed pledges by the teachers, the children, and the children's parents to abide by a set of school moral principles. It's called the Fillmore Elementary School Pledge and it is as follows:

To Be Careful and Happy: I pledge not to hurt others inside or out.

To Learn: I pledge to always do my best and help others do their best.

To Be a Good Citizen: I pledge to respect myself, other people, and my school.

In a few glass cases I see handwritten statements by parents, along with a picture of their child. At the beginning of the school year, the parents were asked to write a paragraph about which moral value or values they think their child particularly exemplifies. One mother writes about her son, Phil, who is helpful with his younger brother. Another tells how her daughter perseveres in her homework even when it's hard. And a third tells about her little boy's good manners at home.

As we walk down a corridor looking at the school pledge cards, the award certificates, and the special glass cabinet displaying the parents' paragraphs praising their children's virtues, we see an athletic-looking woman in her thirties with a pageboy hairdo walking toward us. Mrs. Finch introduces me to Sally Laury, a mother of both a second grader and a kindergartner, who volunteers in the school on a part-time basis. Mrs. Laury tells me how much she loves what the school does for her kids. She says that kids this age need to be told clearly the difference between right and wrong, and the moral lessons they learn in the school help with parenting at home. She can follow up on those lessons and use some of the same techniques at home. I ask Mrs. Laury what happens if a child disobeys or in some other way violates a character trait. How is that dealt with in the school? She tells me that the child is taken aside and asked, "What did you do? What character trait did you disobey? How did your action violate that moral value? How are you going to act the next time to uphold that value?" And then an appropriate punishment is meted out and recompense decided upon. That year's overarching virtue, respect, and the additional monthly virtues provide a ready-made, clear framework for discipline both at school and at home. They set up clear, non-negotiable rules and unswayable lines of authority, Mrs. Laury tells me.

Mrs. Laury mentions that there is an after-school Character Club for kids that her daughter, Emily, goes to. I ask her if the club is involved in service projects in the community. She tells me that they do a little of that at Christmas, making decorations to sell and giving the proceeds to the needy. "We all love the moral character songs that the teachers and parents on the PTA Character Education Steering Committee make up," she tells me. They are set to the tunes of songs everyone knows, such as "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep," and they list all the character traits for the year. "The whole school sings them at the assemblies, and the kids in the Character Club sing them each day in the after-school program." The school song is sung to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and has the following lyrics:

Kindness, sharing, and respect,

Following safety rules,

We're proud to show how much we care

All around our school.

We give our best at Fillmore School

Every single day,

Working hard and learning well

To play and obey.

Each month one clear moral message is being communicated to kids in a variety of contexts and settings and through a variety of media and activities. Throughout the school the message at any given time is the same. And the overarching moral character message that each monthly value fits into is everywhere—it's on the mural, in songs, on the walls, in pledge sheets. The school's complete devotion to teaching morals is evident everywhere, and the almost complete absence of any display on the corridor walls of academic work unrelated to a moral message tells all.

KINDERGARTEN AND SECOND GRADE

Mrs. Finch now walks me down to a kindergarten classroom to meet and observe the school's most highly regarded teacher and moral character educator, Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers is perhaps in her late fifties and is clearly an experienced teacher. She perches in a large, comfortable armchair above the eighteen or so kindergartners sitting in a wide circle at her feet. Mrs. Danvers reads a book to the class about how to control anger. It begins, "If you're angry and you know it and you really want to show it, stomp your feet." The following pages offer different possible responses: if you're angry and you know it, take a deep breath, bang on a drum, walk away, or talk to a friend. It can be sung to the tune of the children's classic "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands," and the singing follows the reading. The children seem to like the singing. Upon the heels of this there follows a lesson in the moral value of the month, self-control. Mrs. Danvers gets up and comes back to her chair with a wicker basket in which there are a number of spongy Nerf balls of various colors and textures. Mrs. Danvers gently tosses these yummy balls into the center of the circle of seated children. Not one child reaches out a hand to touch a ball or even leans forward. They sit like statues glued to their spots. They have clearly been through this before and have learned the proper moral lesson, self-control. The balls remain in the center of the circle, untouched, unreached for, inert, as Mrs. Danvers now turns to me to say that she is going to tell me a secret. It is a secret, she says, that the class knows but has been sworn to silence on, and at this some of the kids nod. Mrs. Danvers explains that other teachers aren't to know this secret, nor are other children, but she and the class share this special secret: Mrs. Danvers requested from the principal, Mrs. Finch, and was granted a classroom of the kindergartners who best exemplify moral character and whose parents are most involved in character education in the school. Their special status is a secret from other children and perhaps from other teachers within the school but not from the principal or from me. As an outsider doing a study of character education, I have been brought to the exemplary classroom to observe the exemplary teacher and children.

At this point, one of the kindergartners, Danielle, raises her hand and asks Mrs. Danvers if she may collect the Nerf balls and put them away. Mrs. Danvers grants her permission and the tempting balls are gathered together and returned to the basket, never having been played with or even touched. Temptation has been successfully resisted. The children in this class have thoroughly learned their lesson. Somewhat sullenly they return to their desks; circle time has ended.

Next Mrs. Finch suggests I visit a second-grade classroom. I choose a seat at a table with some children doing an assignment in their workbooks about caterpillars. The classroom has a terrarium with two caterpillars, and the caterpillars are in the early throes of sloughing off their cocoons. Every child I talk to mentions the chrysalis; perhaps it is a word of the day. The kids love to watch the caterpillars, and when they mention them their faces light up and they all want to bring me over to look at what's happening in the terrarium. They draw wonderful pictures of the chrysalis in their notebooks and put captions below. I try to gently introduce the topic of the moral value of the current month, self-control, and that of last month, helpfulness. "What does self-control mean?" I ask. "Can you give me an example?" Again and again I hear the same answer: "Don't talk unless you raise your hand." When I ask for another example, there is silence, and I feel the tension mount; the joy brought on by the caterpillars is gone.

I ask about helpfulness. "How are you helpful?" I ask. Most say they wash the dishes. I ask what else could be helpful. More silence. One boy starts to tell me a story about his brother who is not really his full brother but lives with another father and was mean to him. He tells me about this brother "getting what was coming to him." A sad, distraught little girl comes up to me and blurts out that her mother is in jail because she stole something. The children come alive when they tell their own stories. Their anguish and confusion is palpable. They reach out to me to listen; they want to share with me something they think is important and which troubles them. They want my understanding and perhaps even my advice or intervention. They clearly yearn for my help, or someone's help. I respond to their emotions, emotions that are immediately rehidden when I ask them what I'm there to ask. Then they feed me what they think I want to hear, mimicking a standard definition of self-control or the same tired examples of helpfulness. Their school mask is securely back in place and a wall is erected between us. The dangerous moment of self-disclosure and need has passed. Their own personal moral dilemmas and confusions are left hanging and unaddressed. Real help is not on the way, so the kids go underground again. The children in this school are here to learn the mask of obedience, the outer neutrality of self-control. They look generally subdued, with momentary flashes of joy (the caterpillars) or anguish and sadness (some personal tales) revealed to a receptive stranger. Most of these kids have already learned to put on a happy face, or at least to do what Archie Bunker used to yell at Edith: to "stifle."

I return to the school office to thank the principal, Mrs. Finch, and say good-bye. Mrs. Finch hands me a packet of materials as I leave: sample moral pledge cards, examples of how moral values can be introduced into both the standard social studies and literature curriculums. I promise to return to the school in a couple of weeks to attend a PTA meeting where parents will offer ideas and plans for next year's after-school Character Club.

PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

While space and time do not permit an extended account of how professional schools in law, business, medicine, and government, for example, teach ethics to their students, we can take a peek into their practices of teaching ethics to gain some general impressions. I began my investigation of how ethics is taught in practical contexts with an Ethics Awareness Training workshop offered by Lockheed Martin's Utica, New York, office to students and faculty at Hamilton College, where I teach. Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor in the United States and is involved in such projects as replacing all the assets of the U.S. Coast Guard and designing and manufacturing launch platforms. The workshop was sponsored by the college's dean of multicultural affairs, and its purpose was to give students, and especially students of color, a sense of Lockheed Martin's commitment to nondiscrimination and multicultural fairness in the workplace. The Lockheed Martin trainers were the resource manager and a manager of the electronics section. They told us that we were attending exactly the same kind of workshop that every company employee is required to attend each year. Also, each manager in the company is required to offer one session of the ethics workshop every year. Lockheed Martin's ethics code focuses on six values: honesty, integrity, trust, respect, responsibility, and citizenship. "These values," the trainer suggested, "are the same as in your family."

After an introduction, we watched a video that began with the CEO of the company speaking about ethics. There followed a wide range of reenactments of actual case studies in eight ethical areas: changing practices, interpersonal relationships/harassment, retaliation, computer misuse, information security, competitive information, and international business courtesies. For each case study, after the problem was initially presented, we were given the opportunity to discuss the ethical issues involved and how the situation should be resolved before we were shown how the situation was actually resolved. I found it notable that neither the company's lobbying of Congress nor its treatment of whistle-blowers, two topics about which I inquired, were part of ethics training or the domain of ethical concern at the company. Nor were issues of quality control or the substance of what the company was contracted to do. All the issues highlighted in the presentation involved only matters of either respectful personal behavior toward others in the workplace or of not using the company in any way for personal gain. The substance of the work, either its quality or its nature, was not to be subject to moral evaluation or criticism. Here we see the same kind of personalizing and individualizing of the ethical domain—analogous to the nuclear family—that we saw in standard character education and which is a product of the contemporary withdrawal of moral concern from the public arena to a narrow concern for only the private domain of personal relationships. And we also see here that character education in schools has become the model for the workplace as well: a code of personal virtues to which every employee is to commit him- or herself is the centerpiece of a program that then offers teaching examples of how to apply the principles so that individual employees can make the right decisions in similar situations.

Other field trips took me to an ethics and leadership camp for public officials that was held at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics of Santa Clara University; to a meeting with an expert on legal ethics and the director of Stanford University's Center on Ethics; and to a discussion of medical ethics with a philosopher who is part of an ethical decision-making team at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York. I kept finding the same situation everywhere: that the domain of ethics was narrowed to issues of respectful personal behavior toward others and to avoiding conflicts of interest or personal gain, and that there were codes of professional ethics that offered the list of virtues we have seen in character education plus detailed rules about how to avoid conflicts of interest and not use the workplace for personal benefit. In every case structural issues—that is to say, issues that concerned the moral substance of the workplace's or profession's endeavors—were off the table. In law, for example, the substance of laws was not considered to be within the profession's ethical domain, and neither was the structure of delivery and access to legal services. In medicine, individual medical decisions on life and death and treatment issues were on the table, but the issue of how medical care is influenced by the pharmaceutical companies and the makers of medical equipment as well as whether all should receive the same medical care regardless of race, income, and other inequalities, were off the table. The individualizing of ethics to matters of personal decisions and relationships fragmented the moral domain, thereby eclipsing the most egregious wrongs and short-circuiting critique. As a result, the moral critique of substantive projects or of structural incentives is limited to those who are either most invested in the status quo (those high up in the hierarchy) or else to individual whistle-blowers who have to take on the whole system as a personal mission and who have and derive no protection from the various codes of ethics.

In the workshop at Santa Clara University I was persona non grata for raising the criticism that the ethics code and statement of values trumpeted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics did not pass what I call the "Holocaust test" —that is, even if all government employees obeyed the ethics codes that the center has been introducing into local governments, nevertheless those same employees would, without violating a single moral rule, be able to implement the kind of programs that the Nazis had the German civil service engage in, programs that contributed to the murder of millions of Jews and others. For example, government employees would be able to register and round up Jews, confiscate their property, and arrange for their transport to the gas chambers without violating "ethics" because they would not be doing it for personal gain nor would they be treating other employees or even individual members of the public discourteously. I began to see in this how it was possible for German bureaucrats to think they were carrying out their jobs ethically while contributing to mass murder: their moral objections to their substantive assignments in the bureaucratic machinery of mass murder were privatized, taken out of the ethical domain of the workplace. Individuals who tried to do otherwise could be accused of bringing allegedly "private" moral concerns into the workplace. The way that ethics is defined in both its operation and scope sets the stage for what can happen. It could happen here. And it is happening here in lesser ways right now. Look at health care, whose worst abuses are dramatically illustrated in Michael Moore's 2007 documentary film Sicko. Those abuses are clearly the result of institutional and corporate incentives and practices expressive of implicit social, cultural, and political values, not of aggregates of failed personal moral decision making.

The approach to ethics all around us not only trivializes our moral concerns but also lets us off the hook by nullifying our shared social and political responsibility for the moral content of our common ventures, projects and structures and policies that we didn't create but which we nevertheless maintain. As Randy Cohen, a writer of "The Ethicist," a column in the New York Times, put it:

One way to understand right conduct is to imagine it on a continuum—etiquette, ethics, politics . . . . But I maintain that the difference between the two is artificial, if indeed there is a significant difference at all. . . .

An ethics that eschewed . . . nominally political questions would not be ethics at all, but mere rule following. It would be the ethics of the slave dealer, advocating that one always be honest about a slave's health and always pay his bills promptly. But surely any ethics worth discussing must condemn the slave trade absolutely, not quibble about its business practices.

____________________________________________________________________

GUEST BLOGGER

Heidi M. Ravven is a Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College in Central New York. She is a leading proponent of basing ethical philosophy on empirical studies of how human beings actually function, particularly as revealed by current neuroscience.

Ravven has published widely on Jewish philosphers Spinoza and Maimonides and on Jewish ethics and Jewish feminism. Ravven’s 2013 book The Self Beyond Itself explores Moral Agency: why we are moral, why and when we are not, and how to get people to be more moral.

___________________________________________________________________________

2013 BOOK

Current American public culture, both conservative and liberal, assumes an ethic of individual responsibility. People are supposed to know right from wrong and, on the basis of their own "free will," make DECISIONS to act rightly, almost regardless of circumstances. That distinctive American moral culture derives from the rest of Western Christianity, particularly historical American Protestantism. An important new book – The self beyond itself, by American Jewish philosopher Heidi Ravven – critiques the entire Latin Christian ethical tradition. Ravven bases her critique on both historical-philosphical and modern-scientific grounds.

Historically, Ravven argues that Western Christianity "went wrong" in Late Antiquity and the High Middle Ages when it adopted and enforced the punitive notion of "free will." Ravven advocates instead a return to the more positive ancient Greek view of moral character as the cultivation of good moral HABITS through striving to understand the place of the Self in society and nature. Individuals are strongly embedded in society, and society is responsible for fostering natural "human flourishing." That ancient tradition was last advanced in the 1600s by the Dutch Jewish philosopher Spinoza, whose insights into the natural emotional component of healthy human functioning have been largely ignored by rationalistic Westerners.

Scientifically, there is now increasing evidence that Aristotle and Spinoza "got it right." Studies of animals suggest that "normativity" evolved naturally as part of society. Studies of human infants suggest that, from the beginning, they are highly social. Studies of the determinants of moral or immoral behavior show that social context matters more than individual character or "will." Above all, recent studies of the human brain reveal that the human "self" relies heavily for its identity and functioning both on non-conscious habits and on a supportive society. Ravven argues that rationalistic "free will" is a distinctively Christian cultural myth. Nevertheless, individuals still strongly identify with their own actions and can assume responsibility for them.

Ravven, a Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College in Central New York, is a leading proponent of empirically-based ethics. In this book, she writes accessibly for the general reader, covering a huge range of topics in plain English and with a light touch. Chinese should benefit both from her revealing Christian assumptions that underlie Western "modernity" and from her explaining the relevance to philosophy and politics of natural and social science. Chinese may wish to compare Western emphasis on individualism with Chinese recognition of sociality.

推荐 0