giving a reading at the Penn Bookstore, Goodman and Lesnick shed their
personas as university professors and assume the identities of three characters
in The Moral Stake in Education: One is a new fourth-grade teacher
named Maria Laszlo, played by Goodman. The second is Tony, a recalcitrant
student in her class, played by Lesnick. And the third, Hardie Knoxalso
played by Lesnickis a teaching colleague with a stricter disciplinary
style. The two teachers, who appear throughout the book, represent some
of the central differences of opinion within moral education. For Maria,
its more important that her students reflect on what is right
and wrong rather than become blind rule-followers. Hardie believes just
as strongly that conduct is central, motive incidental, and that students
must learn to exercise self-control before they can become skilled moral
cap turned backwards on his head, Tony emits a series of burping sounds.
Sensing that the student is struggling to fit into his peer group, Maria
at first tries to ignore the distractions. They continue. Suddenly, Maria
hears giggling in the classroom and discovers that he had put powder on
her chair, so when she sat down, her behind was totally covered in white.
Enraged, she grabs Tony and forces him down on the same powder-covered
seat. She then orders him to stay inside during recess and clean up the
mess. When his classmates are outside, Maria says to him, I bet you thought
of how the other kids would laugh. Did you think of how it might really
I didnt think of that, Tony mumbles.
recess Maria launches into a class discussion, using a domestic scenario
to get students to consider their own culpability when they encourage
a classmate who is causing trouble.
the next scene, Hardie commiserates with Maria about her stressful day.
Your punishment of Tony was entirely appropriate, her colleague assures
her. Your mistake was in not cracking down sooner.
contends that a bit of unruliness is not a very high price to pay for
the opportunity to work out social and moral issues collectively. Wouldnt
it have been great if the kids had turned Tonys antics offbetter yet
if they had figured out a way to include him as a peer so he didnt have
to resort to clowning? Instead I forced obedience by shaming him.
on the other hand, insists that Children acquire virtues by experiencing
rightful conduct. That means living in an ordered classroom with reasonable
rules, regularly enforced.
identifies with both teachers. Lesnick personally finds himself the most
critical of Hardie, but admits that both Maria and Hardie care deeply
about children. In a sense, he says, theyre both equally good and
equally ineffective. Should teachers insist on students compliance with
conventional rules? Or should they concern themselves more with the process
decision-making? The authors dont suggest there are simple answers, but
warn that schools that demand obedience to lists of virtues are but scratching
the surface of morality. Goodman says she doesnt even care for the popular
term character education, because its associated with the acquisition
of virtues and has a clubby connotation.
Internet abounds with Web sites advertising the latest character-education
curriculums. One of them, as a teaching device, likens specific body parts
such as the mouth and the stomach with desirable character traits like
integrity and perseverance. Another sells colorful buttons and stickers
to reward and publicize students virtuous deeds. A third promotes a plan
to reduce cussing. Even state legislatures have gotten into the act of
promoting character: Louisiana adopted a Respect Bill last year, requiring
students to address their teachers with the words sir and maam.
programs, warns Goodman, are shallow and have an underbelly of being
dangerous. What do you mean by respectful? It can be doing what
youre told, minding authority, never questioning. I dont think you should
always question authority, but to be a moral person means to take issue,
to resist as well as to conform.
another thing I dont like about the virtues, she says. Theyre
devoid of context. And moral behavior to me has a lot to do with where
do you find yourself, what are the trade-offs here, what are the value
education to me, she adds, is helping kids to develop a moral identity
that competes with all of their other identities so the lives they lead
will not just be What can I do to make the most money, to have the most
power, to have the most prestige? it will also be What can I do that
will be most morally significant or most morally right?
is no need for a separate morality class to raise these issues, Goodman
says. In some cases they might be broached through participation in meaningful
service-learning projects. (Philadelphia schools are testing one such
program.) Or they could even be introduced through the literature students
read or the science curriculum.
he identifies moral education as critically important, Lesnick says
hes much less sanguine than the characters in their book about the
possibility of doing anything constructive in the classroom. I think the
problems of public schools are created outside the schools in our broader
society. Schools striving to teach moral education have to make sure
they dont compound [those problems] by transmitting the same, success-oriented,
ends-justifies-the-means values, Lesnick says. Yet thats what happens
so often, he notes, when schools take time out from education to prepare
students for standardized tests in an attempt to generate higher scores
that will make them look good.
that she is, Goodman admits that creating a meaningful moral-education
program, even in a cooperative environment, is a challenge. At its best,
its really tough going.
a clinical psychologist, stood on the playground at Merion Elementary
School a couple of years ago and watched in amazement as 100 first-graders,
including her own son, tried to fend for themselves. It was a disturbing
scene, full of exclusion, bullying, intimidation and name-calling.
was really quite stunned, she says. It became clear to me that whatever
we try at home to teach children has to be put into play when theyre
in social situations. Without reinforcement from adults, its very hard
for six-year-olds to maintain anything theyve learned in the face of
100 peers. Theres a kid culture and theyre all scrambling because none
of them knows the rules.
decided to get involved in a lunch-recess committee at school and became
co-chair of that group with another mother, Joyce Krajian, who is a Presbyterian
minister. They began talking with the school principal, Anne Heffron,
about their desire to develop a a schoolwide approach to helping kids
develop socially and emotionally, as well as a parent-education series,
felt strongly that we didnt want to run some kind of kindness campaign,
Jarmas says. They found pre-packaged programs being shopped around their
school district to be too narrow and top-down for their schools needs.
So with support from the principal and superintendent, they formed a small
group of parents and teachers to create their own program. Krajian lined
up speakers for the parent-education series and contacted Joan Goodman,
who shared her own goals for moral development in public education. She
said to me, I have a dream of working with a school to make this happen,
and I said, I know just the school.
has been helping teachers and parents at Merion Elementary for more than
a year. Theyve been talking, among other things, about how to expand
circle time, traditionally a sharing, show-and-tell hour at the school,
to include discussion of moral issues. Another idea is to get more student
participation in school service projects, which typically have drawn on
the time and resources of parents.
applauds the schools motivation to create a moral-education program from
scratch. Its all been a very interesting and delicate process, she
observes. The teachers and parents are in somewhat different places.
The parents have a long-term perspective and they very much want to see
their children develop a moral core or moral identity, becoming self-regulated
people. On the other hand, she says, The teachers have a short time
with the kids and many expectations to fulfill each school day. They
are much more concerned about control, order and preventing rowdiness,
aggression, bullying. Its natural from where they sit.