Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Problems with Moral Education - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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The Problems with “Moral Education” - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Problems with “Moral Education”
“The Morality of Moral Education.” Hastings Center Report 8(April 1978):20–25.
Trends in educational psychology have succeeded each other with bewildering rapidity during the past twenty years. Prof. Bereiter’s article profiles a movement which has all the makings of a new educational bandwagon: the increasing emphasis upon moral education. Two methods of moral education, both nondidactic in character, have been warmly received among educators. These are Lawrence Kohlberg’s Cognitive-Developmental approach and the process approach termed “Values Clarification,” whose most prominent spokesmen are Louis E. Raths, Merril Harmin, and Sidney B. Simon.
Springing from John Dewey’s progressivism, Kohlberg’s approach presupposes six stages of moral development which extend from behavior motivated primarily by fear of punishment to the rarer conduct based on self-chosen ethical principles. Kohlberg sees this developmental movement as age-related. However, depending on one’s environment, movement may stop at any stage. Values Clarification, on the other hand, sprang from the shallower soil of the mental health movement. As in therapy or growth encounters, this technique stresses personal search and scrutiny of one’s underlying attitudes. Proponents of Values Clarification hold that only after such rigorous personal analysis can an individual be said to possess genuine values.
Both methods aim at providing a challenging, even abrasive environment in the classroom. Spirited discussions of moral dilemmas are intended to stimulate students either to a more sophisticated level of moral reasoning (Kohlberg) or to a greater awareness of ethical alternatives by which one may test the validity of personal attitudes (Values Clarification). Neither method inculcates moral values directly.
Prof. Bereiter raises a number of serious objections to the applications of these techniques in the public school. First of all, both systems emphasize the development of personal values but also assume that at the end of this process the student will have adopted socially acceptable norms. Thus, Kohlberg and the value clarificationists seem bent upon molding a generation of “conforming individualists” —somewhat bookish but otherwise undistinguished middle-class citizens.
In addition, both approaches ignore the very real influence of peer and teacher pressure during supposedly nondirective classroom encounters. Tailoring values to suit a personally significant group or person looms as the most likely choice for school-age children. According to Kohlberg himself, the highest level of moral reasoning attained by most adolescents is Stage 4—a level at which the person is particularly receptive to ideas which hold sway in his immediate environment.
Finally, educators who emphasize personal search in the school environment may ignore the role of parents in the formation of children. This approach also disregards several important religious groups who consider divinely-revealed truth, and not personal search, as the basis of moral education.
Clearly, moral educators have staked out the child as their personal and rightful field of activity. Nonetheless, Prof. Bereiter states, “it does not seem to occur to them that others may have a prior claim to that territory and that their own claims may be illegitimate.”