Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Further reflections on moral education : a response to strike / Rick Garlikov.
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1 of 8 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 1 Number 14November 22, 1993ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass, Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Edu cation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1993, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.Further Reflections on Moral Education: A Response to Strike Rick Garlikov Lawson State Community CollegeAbstract: While moral discourse is in need of much help, the re is a solution which is not dependent on Kenneth Strike's remedy of understanding or buil ding character, as such, and which teaches moral reasoning without promoting particular moral values or character traits. Further, contrary to Strike's claim, moral skepticism is not the main problem with moral debate today, which often features diametrically opposed, absolutely certain, dogmatic assertions by all sides. The author teaches ethics courses, and has found among student s from a variety of ages and socio-economic backgrounds that the understanding of certain topic s in ethics is necessary and often sufficient for promoting more reflective and responsible behavior, and for promoting discourse that has a greater chance to resolve differences. I agree with Kenneth Strike's view (Strike, 1993) t hat public and classroom moral discourse are generally in an avoidably deplorable state. I further agree with him that what he calls moral skepticism is at least in part to blame for this state in some classrooms. (I call it a form of relativism, one that confuses what sorts of things are properly relative or matters of mere subjective preference, with those that are not mere matters of taste or preference.) However, I do not believe that relativism or moral skepticism is quite a problem in the average citizen's discussions about moral issues. On the contrary, ve hement, rigid, often simplistic, dogmatic disagreement about moral ideals tends to reign. I l ikewise disagree with enough of many other particulars in his article that I feel obliged to r espond here.Less Moral Diversity Than Might Be Expected Even though I have taught students from a variety of backgrounds, I do not see either the


2 of 8entrenched sorts of relativism nor the unresolvable disagreements in the classroom that characterize the public debate. I teach ethics part time. I taught ethics as part of introductory philosophy courses as a graduate student at the Uni versity of Michigan; I have taught it as a whole course at an urban Alabama university (Univer sity of Alabama-Birmingham); at a mostly white, rural Alabama community college; and at an a lmost entirely black, urban Alabama community college. The community colleges serve a l arge number of lower income students, many of whom are older, than the average University of Michigan student and many of whom work and have families. With the exception of one c lass one term at Michigan, I have seen little difference in how the course needs to be taught in order to address the ethical views and intuitions, abilities, interests, difficulties, and understanding of the students at any of these schools. The students at the community colleges gen erally learned faster and better how to have productive ethical discussions than the students at the Universities of Michigan and Alabama. I attribute that to their having had more and richer experiences (economic, marital and parental, social, and often military, sometimes including com bat) with which to judge various ethical theories and ideas, and to their being far less con cerned about how their, even strenuous, objections to any of my ideas might jeopardize thei r grades. The one class at the University of Michigan that b egan very differently from all my other classes was one in the early 1970s that believed, a lmost to a person, that honesty "to oneself and others" was the supreme obligation, and that one sh ould always express and follow one's own feelings or desires no matter how hurtful they migh t be to others, because it was better to be honest about how one felt than to lead people on, b e hypocritical, or to do things you really did not want to in order to please others. They accepte d all sorts of implausible and seemingly reprehensible "philosophical or theoretical" conseq uences of their view as unproblematic until I came up with one that would have effected them all directly and personally in a way they thought grossly unfair to them and deplorably wrong. At tha t time they gave up what they thought was their only ethical principle and were receptive to discussing alternatives, thus becoming like the other students, with many of the same sorts of, oft en vague, sometimes contradictory, ethical ideas, and with a difficulty articulating their ide as in ways that said what they really intended.Teaching Moral Reasoning, Not Moral Values The way I teach the course is to demonstrate techni ques that help students (1) better express what they really think and mean to say abou t ethical ideas, using the kind of moral language that Strike points out exists, (2) examine whether those ideas have merit, and (3) understand how to express or understand objections to any ethical views, either in terms of vagueness, or in terms of unsoundness based on havi ng faulty evidence or using evidence that is irrelevant to the conclusions reached. I try to cov er what is necessary for a given group from the following outline, since these are the issues that seem to me to be necessary and sufficient for understanding and pursuing moral discourse effectiv ely. I teach by means of the Socratic method, asking leading questions, and challenging answers I believe incorrect or that I believe they are not certain of. I essentially try to get them to de rive for themselves the historical moral ideas and distinctions that are still relevant today. I try t o model for them the kind of rationality I want the m to acquire; any ethical topic, including my assignm ents and grading procedures, are fair game for their challenges. As Strike points out, you cannot effectively, or even logically consistently, teach moral reasoning if you do not apply your preaching about rationality to your own practice. Dialogue and demonstration are important. However, I do not believe that unguided (or improp erly guided) moral discourse or moral argumentation in the classroom by itself tends to i mprove moral understanding, since it tends to become a series of unresolved bull sessions that fo ster or confirm the mistaken view that morality is all a matter of personal opinions about which th ere is never any point arguing. To help them


3 of 8gain an understanding of how to most effectively di scuss moral issues, I start with relatively unemotional, noncontroversial cases first in order to establish and exemplify principles and problems before we move into more controversial, an d generally more compound or complex issues. I believe the following subject matter, pre sented in this way, helps achieve the sorts of results Strike desires, but without necessity of re sorting to character-building or other kinds of psychological exhortation: Nature, use, and importance of logic or reason; 1. Method of analysis of the meaning of words and phra ses to make their usage clear and amenable to unambiguous communication and debate; 2. The issue of "Who's to say what is right or wrong? 3. The meaning of terms such as 'good', 'bad', 'right' 'wrong', 'duty', 'ought', 'obligation', 'motive', 'consequences', 'intentions', etc. Reason s why the distinctions between motive, intention, and act are important. 4. Objectivity of ethics: evidence for, and invalidity of evidence against; 5. The nature of moral responsibility (See Campbell, 1 965); 6. Normative ethics: seeking the highest ethical princ iples and values (See Frankena, 1973): a) teleological theories: those holding that right actions are those which have the best overall consequences, including specifical ly 1) egoism, 2) altruism, 3) utilitarianism, and including analysis of what migh t make something be a "good" or "best" consequence;b) deontological theories: those holding that somet hing other than the value of consequences is what makes acts right or wrong: 1) Kant's principles, 2) the Golden Rule, 3) various lists of specific rules, la ws, or regulations, 4) duties, such as promise keeping, paying debts, obligations to family, etc., 5) principles of reasonable or fair distribution; 7. Issue of why one should be ethical (particularly wh en it goes against one's own self-interest) (See Taylor, 1972). 8. Each of these issues can be covered in as much dep th as seems appropriate for a given group of students; but as you can see, it is a way of approaching ethics without necessarily getting bogged down in specific controversial issue s. Yet, once the above categories are reasonably clear to students, controversial issues (or issues specific to a particular profession) can either be discussed, or if that is inappropriate, a t least depicted, in terms and dichotomies that have been made clear. With all this as prelude, let me consider the speci fics of Strike's article.The Quayle-Brown Debate First, to the millions who had watched Murphy Brown the Vice President's attack was about quite specific values. As was the response. T he Vice President essentially was castigating the network for allegedly promoting and glorifying sex outside of marriage (non-monogamous sex to boot), unwed motherhood, and single parentho od. The writers' response was that sex outside of marriage does sometimes occur, sometimes resulting in unanticipated pregnancy; that the only alternative to unwed motherhood in such ca ses was abortion, which Murphy eschewed; that the only alternative sometimes to single paren thood is a bad marriage, which she also eschewed; and that if the government would face rea lity of life in the United States, they might be able to make it easier for families to stay toge ther or easier for mothers and fathers to rear children to have better and more productive lives. Although the debate outside the show itself


4 of 8characterized these specific disagreements simply c ollectively as about "family values", it was not a vague or open-ended discussion with regard to content. But since Dr. Strike was unfamiliar with the scripts, he was unfamiliar with the specif ic content being referred to or discussed.Specific Values and Schools Nevertheless, he is correct that, apart from the Mu rphy Brown case, discussions about "values" tend to be vague; but that is frequently b ecause specifics about particular values tend to engender confrontational disagreements. School pray er is one particular disagreement, but tolerance of homosexuality and premarital sexuality are others. In fact, tolerance in general is a controversial issue because many people disagree ab out which sorts of behavior, even apart from sex, it is right to teach children to tolerate. And often, espousing tolerance for certain values or lifestyles or beliefs is considered tantamount to c ondoning or promoting them. When people want values taught in schools, they tend to mean th e values they cherish. Strike himself argues for teaching (inculcating?, promoting?) the charact er trait of loyalty, but I personally cannot think of loyalty without thinking of the Reagan/Bush noti on of what seems to me "blind loyalty" to the fault of going along with what one personally belie ves wrong, simply because one's boss or one's compatriots have decided that is the course to purs ue. Loyalty of that sort seems to me to be abdication or shirking of moral responsibility, at worst, and a backward order of priorities at best. And the example Strike gives about the students who disapprove of stealing but who will not accept responsibility to stop it seems to me to be not dissimilar from Mr. Bush's condemnation of "voodoo economics" as a candidate, and then endorsi ng it as a Vice President. It is not necessarily that character does not follow feelings as Strike claims, but that ethical feelings of one kind of (prima facie) obligation can be overrid den by other ethical feelings of obligation considered to be more important. In the case of Bus h, loyalty was more important than pursuing what he believed to be better economic principles. He believed a bad economic program was wrong but that disloyalty was worse. In the case of the students, noninterference was considered a priority over preventing someone else's theft. Th e students were also faced by the additional difficulty that since they thought everyone does it perhaps it is not as wrong as it would be if not everyone did it. It is often a real dilemma about w hat to do in a bad society, where an otherwise normally right action can be disadvantageous or eve n suicidal.Moral "Cognition" Strike wrote, "First, moral behavior is the result of a complex interaction of habituation, cognition, and feeling. While I do not think that w e understand very clearly how these factors interact, I suspect that in most cases cognition is a poor third in its motive power. What is most significant is character, and character is largely the product of training. Moral argument is likely to be persuasive only to those already possessed of good character." What I have found from my diverse classes, however, is that cognition is extr emely important. I have not seen that much difference in character among my students, but I ha ve seen (1) a great deal of difference in what they initially believe is right or wrong concerning compound or derivative moral issues, and (2) a strong motivation and ability to forego a behavior once they become convinced something they had thought was right is wrong; or, in cases of gui lt without sin, to begin to do something they had previously erroneously thought was wrong and se lfish and had not allowed themselves to do. I would argue that most people who do wrong things really do believe what they are doing is right, even though they may believe there are some problems or regrettable elements about what they are doing. If I am correct then, getting stude nts to see (or to see for themselves) that certain "conventional" professional, social, or business pr inciples are wrong or inadequate would make a great difference in the kinds of practices people d o. I have seen students change their behavior


5 of 8because of ideas that were discussed in class that they had simply never before thought of, or put into perspective. I have seen well-educated, highly respected adults do the same thing after discussions about the notion of personal responsibi lity put some of their own sorts of inactions in a light that had not occurred to them before. I make a distinction between very basic, I think l argely (but not entirely) universal, moral ideas, and moral ideas that are more complex or der ivative in a sense. People tend to have notions of fairness and desert and justice, though they may disagree about what makes something fair, just, or someone deserving; they tend to unde rstand inconsistency is problematic; they tend to understand that unnecessary suffering is not a g ood thing; and that inflicting suffering is wrong unless it has some actual justification; they under stand some particular cases of rights and obligations may override doing the most good, but t hat sometimes meeting a (prima facie) obligation might cause so much harm that the obliga tion should not be met. Many fiction and film plots play on the conflicts between duty and r ules on the one hand, and the harmful consequences that would result from following them. There are all sorts of cases that you can present people in enough detail that you tend to ge t similar views. The task, then, I believe, is to get people to see how these "basic" ethical beliefs rationally relate to more complex issues. (I see the problem as being not totally unlike how one doe s math or physics, where intuitions about complex cases does not serve well, but where the co nsistent, systematic, logical application of more "basic" intuitions can help achieve breakthrou ghs and understanding.) And the point is to teach the process, not give all the answers; and no t to have to build character, especially over prima facie or derivative character traits that may be controversial or in some cases wrong themselves.Ethics Courses and Moral Cognition Strike is correct that many professional ethics co urses do not change behavior appropriately; but that is often because they are n o more than training programs for what is currently socially acceptable in a given field, not bona fide ethics courses. They may teach people what the accepted means are for doing what is in fa ct not a justifiable end. If a supposed ethics course never really teaches (or helps students cons truct) how to reasonably decide what is right and wrong and also never talks seriously and ration ally about the many different kinds of situations that one is likely to face in business o r in some profession, and what might be the most reasonable and ethical ways to deal with those situ ations, students simply will not have the knowledge to be able to make decisions that Strike might think demonstrates character. To me, character is just a word to describe the kin ds of beliefs one really tends to live by, not something prior to those beliefs; but that is a whole issue in itself. Strike gives some examples of the supposed primacy of character over beliefs or feelings, but they do not convince me. For example, the fact that student teachers tod ay may try to promote self esteem instead of diligence in order to foster greater student learni ng does not show them to have incorrectly failed to understand the importance of character, but poss ibly to have failed (1) to understand the importance of diligence for those things where dili gent effort and practice make a difference, and (2) to understand in some cases the causal directio n of the relationship between success and self-esteem. Further, many teachers seem unable to distinguish between giving hollow praise and meaningful praise. And there are cases where some e ncouragement and praise or nurture of confidence may actually promote diligence. Diligenc e and self-esteem are not mutually exclusive, nor is the relationship of either to lea rning necessarily straightforward and direct. People can just as diligently do their algebra inco rrectly as correctly. As Bernice Wolfson was fond of saying: "Practice does not make perfect; it just makes permanent." There are a number of standard arguments for moral relativism or moral skepticism which Strike leaves out. A good ethics course should addr ess those. Some of the reasons based on


6 of 8Kantian distinctions that Strike considers are prob ably more esoteric than the sorts of reasons relativists generally tend to offer. I do agree wit h him though that students need to see that ethics is not just a matter of personal tastes over which there is no point to dispute, and that such ethical relativism or skepticism needs to be dispelled in w hatever form it tends to arise. As Tom Green has pointed out, however, relativism tends to be an affliction primarily of the educated (or at least the college educated). One has to learn a lot befor e one starts to feel one knows nothing of any real substance; and then one has to ignore the cert ainty of the beliefs required to argue the truth of uncertainty. And one has to be in a particular f rame of mind, or arguing what they think is "philosophy" to really be able to sustain an argume nt for relativism. A student for example may see no contradiction in arguing for both moral rela tivism and his objectively deserving a higher grade than the teacher "feels" is right to give him And while I agree that moral learning (whether char acter or belief) occurs as one interacts with others (inside and outside of schools), I do n ot believe that such learning is what we might consider the most efficiently or effectively "educa tional", any more than we would say one has received an education in physics by all the myriad of interactions one has with objects with which one has come into contact. Since, we are not all Newtons or Einsteins or Mills or Aristotles, a bit more direction tends to be helpfu l in ethics and in physics, if we really want to be at all proficient. And I think that direction can b e given without getting involved in advocating or fostering specific compound (in the sense of deriva tive) controversial values. What we can do is help students learn how to rationally and knowledge ably utilize "non-derivative" intuitions and ideas to analyze more complex issues, help them und erstand the rationales and problems with some standard proposed ethical principles, and help them develop the ability to clearly articulate their own positions and be able to understand the p ositions of others as specifically and clearly as possible. Strike is correct that rich, complex mora l vocabularies still exist and have purpose. He is right that the liberal arts can be an enriching and foundational part of any professional background and that the study of psychology just by itself gives an impoverished view of the variety and richness of human (moral) experience, a t this point in time. Further, he is right about the importance of rational dialogue, and about the need to show students that rational disagreement need not be a form of intolerance. I t hink there are ways of doing that, though that itself is a complex topic just from a pedagogical s tandpoint. And he is right teachers need to be able to support and justify in a rational manner th emselves the behaviors they require of students and the ideas they are trying to teach if they want students to be more likely to appreciate and try to emulate rational behavior and rational discussio n. After all, as one cartoon once pointed out, a school cannot exactly foster mature, independent, r ational thinkers who believe what they are told to believe. Although I agree that "...moral issues can be resol ved by rational discussion", I strenuously disagree that "...moral decisions are legitimated b y achieving consensus as the result of such moral discussions." However strong a consensus Hitl er might have achieved, it would not have legitimized what the Nazis did. But that also is an issue that should appear in a good ethics course, not one that needs to be settled here.Unreasonable Relativism As a Reaction to Unreasonab le Moral Debate Finally, I believe that skepticism and "values spea k" do not just contribute to our inability to resolve moral differences, but they also in part arise from our obvious public inability to resolve moral differences. Relativism and "values-s peak" are attempts to characterize, understand, and explain the many unresolved, seemin gly unresolvable, moral controversies between (otherwise) intelligent, supposedly educate d people(s). Strike and I would hold, I believe, that they merely abandon the effort at res olving complex moral differences rather than accurately shedding light on them. However, I would argue there has been much progress made


7 of 8 in the history of moral philosophy, and if that pro gress could be shared with students in ways it would be meaningful to them, there would be far few er unresolved moral issues, and certainly far fewer unresolved acrimonious ones. Unfortunately ev en many philosophers cannot teach ethics in a way that is very meaningful to students. Never theless, the divisive, unresolved discussions of ethical issues that take place in the government, m edia, and public forums should not be seen as the only possible kinds of such discussions.About the AuthorDEM042@UABDPO.DPO.UAB.EDUReferencesCampbell, C. A. (1965) Is "Free Will" a Pseudo-Prob lem? In P. Edwards and A. Pap (Eds.), A Modern Introduction to Philosophy (pp. 59-74). New York: The Free Press. Frankena, W. K. (1973). Ethics Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Strike, K. A. (1993). Against "Values": Reflections on Moral Language and Moral Education. Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 1, No. 13. Taylor, P. W. (1972). Problems of Moral Philosophy. Encino, California: Dickenson Publishing CompanyCopyright 1993 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesEPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles are archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author a nd the Volume and article number. For example, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LISTSERV@a and making the single line in the letter rea d GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, tha t is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL.The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is Education Policy Analysis Archives are "gophered" at To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include the single l ine GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, Glass@asu.ed u or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Sta te University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)Editorial Board Syracuse University


8 of 8John CovaleskieSyracuse UniversityAndrew Coulson Alan Davis University of Colorado--DenverMark E. Thomas F. Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G. Richard C. Anthony G. Rud Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.


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