Foundations of Moral Development

Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement.down arrow icon

Colby, Anne, Beaumont, E., Ehrlich, T., & Corngold, J. (2007) Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Anne Colby's "Educating for Democracy" presents readers with the compelling case for having political engagement courses taught at higher education universities. Colby's earlier book, "Educating Citizens: Preparing America's Undergraduates for Lives of Moral and Civic Responsibilities", took a broad overview of how moral and civic development should be taught at universities. In "Educating for Democracy", Colby takes this concept further and talks specifically about the area of political engagement which is part of an overall moral and civic development program.

While political engagement might have different definitions, in this work it is defined as participation of a group or community towards solving a problem. With this broad definition, political engagement is not confined to areas of political science and can include environmental and community issues that requires active participation. Colby presents the case for political engagement by dividing her book into three important sections. First the foundation of the theoretical rationale for teaching political engagement at universities is presented. The second part of the book addresses goals in that area that these programs should strive for and standards that ought to be followed. Finally Colby presents key pedagogical strategies that can be implemented by looking at examples found in politically engaged courses. Colby clearly means for this book to be for faculty since almost every chapter devotes sections to specific instructions that faculty should follow if they plan on developing these types of courses. Because of this specific emphasis it is hard to recommend this book for non-faculty members since it is meant for faculty members seeking to develop such courses in their programs. However, administrators and non-academic readers will be able to get a good understanding of why these courses are important in higher education.

Colby first begins by explaining the importance of having political engagement in higher education. According to the authors a strong democracy requires a smart and well rounded citizen. This well rounded citizen must be exposed to positive political engagement for them to develop the necessary characteristics an active and will informed citizen needs to participate in the political process. Colby's main assertion in her theoretical rationale is that political engagement skills must be developed in higher education as this is the key and central point of when young adults should be exposed. Exposure in secondary schooling is not enough and informal education via media is not appropriate to building skills that should be based on research based theories of participation and engagement. Colby stresses that political engagement fits in perfectly with the overall goals of higher education in developing the cognitive skills students need to make informed decisions based on analysis and application of knowledge to real world problems. Also, higher education's emphasis on multicultural pluralism and diversity of thinking makes higher education the best avenue to teach and encourage political engagement. However, one of the main criticisms of political engagement taught in higher education is that it may open up students to indoctrination by faculty or institutions that are slanted in their view of certain political views. Colby counters this by showing research data that indicates that students do not tend to change their political views if exposed to different ideologies in course settings. In fact, political engagement by students that are not interested in politics still show a benefit in their participation.

After establishing the theoretical foundations of political engagement, Colby's main thesis centers around the data gathered from the Political Engagement Program (PEP) at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This program gathered data from 21 courses identified as politically engaged courses. The survey and interview data outline several main points in the areas of politically engaged characteristics and specific pedagogical strategies in teaching these courses.

Political engagement has four main characteristics that students should exhibit and this is backed up by data found in the PEP course evaluations. They are political understanding, political skills, political motivation, and political involvement. Political understanding is the teaching of specific political knowledge and history of that particular problem that all students who are going to be participants should know. Political skills and involvement are the specific applicable characteristics that students develop in real world settings such as leadership, communication, influence, teamwork, and collaboration. Finally political motivation is one of the most important characteristics as it involves the ability to become lifelong political engagement participants. This is done through the fostering of political identity and habit forming skills.

In Colby's last section of "Educating for Democracy", the focus is on specific pedagogical strategies that were effective in the PEP courses that were analyzed. Teaching political engagement depends on political discussion and deliberation, political action and research projects, invited speakers and mentors, internships and service learning, and structured reflection. Courses using learning through discussion are classic examples of reasoned discourse that should be emphasized throughout higher education. It involves using reason, logic and facts to make your point and receive counter points. It also helps participants with listening participation skills and understanding of their own biases. The second strategy involves the specific application of skills such as research and analysis in research or action projects. These projects can be in real world settings such as a local issue or simulated problems such as global problems. The third pedagogical strategy involves courses that have invited speakers or mentors.

This strategy is effective for exposing students to people that are on the forefront of specific problems that are being studied. It allows students to directly engage and become motivated by people by learning firsthand about the issue they are studying. The fourth strategy involves the use of service learning or internships. This strategy directly places a student at the front of the issue they are studying. This could mean being directly involved with organizations that are trying to effect change. Service learning is a growing area in higher education and Colby shows that both service learning and political engagement benefits can go hand in hand. Finally, the last strategy involves the use of structured reflection and discussion as a way for students to self-reflect on their experiences in the course, and to build on skills learned during the course through self-analysis.

"Educating for Democracy" successfully presents the idea of political engagement and brings it from theoretical rationale through specific applications of this idea in real courses found in universities. It also specifically details how faculty can use proven political engagement teaching strategies to develop successful courses. The only weakness of this book has to do with the fact that the focus of this book should have been expanded a bit more to show how political engagement should become a part of the entire focus of a particular university. Colby addresses this point to a certain degree but the main emphasis remains on the specific practical application of course development and not necessarily at the institutional level.

Reviewed by: Andrew Hernandez
Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Fresno State (DPELFS)

Lives of Moral Leadershipdown arrow icon

Coles, Robert (2000). Lives of Moral Leadership. New York: Random House.

Robert Coles is a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at the Harvard Medical School. He is also a supremely gifted writer who has written widely about children, including the Pulitzer Prize winning five-volume Children of Crisis and the best-selling The Moral Intelligence of Children and The Spiritual Intelligence of Children.

In Lives of Moral Leadership, Coles leads us along a winding path, where the reader encounters dozens of moral leaders and what makes them so. The first person we encounter on the path is Senator Robert F. Kennedy as he explains to Coles how one must become politically astute to bring about changes to the inequalities that Coles seeks to overcome. Kennedy leads Coles and his colleagues to new understandings of political and social intricacies and how we all must learn to work within such realities to bring about change.

Education for Everyone: Agenda for Education in a Democracy.down arrow icon

Goodlad, John, I., Mantle-Bromley, C., & Goodlad, Stephen, j. (2004).. Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Education for Everyone: Agenda for Education in a Democracy was coauthored by John Goodlad, Stephen John Goodlad, and Corrine Mantle-Bromley. John Goodlad is the president of the Institute for Educational Inquiry and professor of Emeritus of the University of Washington. He is the author and coauthor of numerous books and highly regarded for his work. Stephen John Goodlad is a writer and philosopher. Coincidentally, he is also John Goodlad's son. Corrine Mantle-Bromley is the executive vice president of the Institute for Educational Inquiry. She is a former classroom teacher and associate professor at Colorado State University. In addition, her interests are in school university partnerships and education renewal.

The authors suggest that society has moved away from the primary purpose of education. According to Goodlad et al, the educational system was originally created to provide all citizens the necessary understanding and knowledge to practice democracy. The authors suggest that democracy has weakened within our schools and the real purpose for education has been lost. Furthermore, the mission of school systems should include placing power and responsibility in hands of those who need it to create freedom, dignity, and caring. The authors state that the schools have a more important role to play than is often recognized by society. It is no longer sufficient to teach students the basic core subjects. Schools must introduce and teach students the idea of political democracy. It is necessary to ensure the education is not just equitable but available to everyone.

The educational needs necessary to produce democratic citizens include but are not limited to "critical inquiry, knowing how to ask questions and what kind of questions need to be asked, knowing how to evaluate the legitimacy and accuracy of an argument, view issues from a variety of perspectives, read between the lines, and recognize and understand the unstated, the omitted, and the subtext." The educational needs identified above clearly demonstrate that a more complex type of school system needs support from parents, teachers, and students.

A powerful statement is made by Goodlad in this book. Goodlad states, "Public schooling is the only education experience shared by almost every single person in a free society. No Institution exists in the modern world other than our schools that can begin to fulfill this most and fundamental responsibility. Democracy's tomorrow depends very much on what goes on in classroom today." Again, the emphasis is related to the overwhelming task, responsibility, and commitment educators must make in order to make a difference in the educational needs for students to become democratic citizens. Educators must also be role models and practice what they preach to effectively meet the challenge of ensuring all students have equitable access to the same knowledge.

My critique of this book discusses both strengths and weaknesses I have identified. Overall, Education for Everyone: Agenda for Education in a Democracy was a collection of powerful concepts that provoked thoughtful reflection. I was able to relate much of the concepts to my current position. I also discovered that the ideas and concepts developed by the authors have been utilized in other educational projects that encourage partnership initiatives. This leads me to believe that the ideas can be generalized and further developed into actions that lead to democracy in our schools. Although some goals were provided for American schools as tools to better prepare students for democracy; the goals were general in nature and specific examples were not given of what each goal should look like in a school system. Finally, the author did provide a tool for reflection and possible professional development for teachers, administrators, and school boards. The words of wisdom shared by all three writers will no doubt enlighten anyone who reads the book.

Reviewed by: Susana Ramirez
Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Fresno State (DPELFS)

Essays on Moral Development: The Philosophy of Moral Development. Vol Idown arrow icon

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1981). Essays on Moral Development: The Philosophy of Moral Development. Vol. I. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

This is the first of two volumes of essays by the preeminent researcher of the cognitive-developmental perspective on moral development. In it Dr. Kohlberg focuses on fundamental theoretical issues, including the relevant ideas of Plato, Kant, Dewey, Piaget and Rawls and relates his now famous hierarchy of the six stages of moral development to political, religious and philosophical questions. Various topics cover the imposition of values, the importance of dialogue to moral education, the universality of moral development, the teaching of justice in the public schools, and much more.

Essays on Moral Development: The Psychology of Moral Development. Vol IIdown arrow icon

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1984). Essays on Moral Development: The Psychology of Moral Development (Vol. II). San Francisco: Harper and Row.

In this volume Dr. Kohlberg discusses the theory of moral development with a full description of the construction and derivation of his six stages. Kohlberg reviews the basic schools of thought behind moral psychology and sociology and distinguishes his cognitive-developmental research model from other approaches. Several chapters speak to the universality of the stages. Of particular interest is the last section of this book which presents the moral dilemmas originally developed by Kohlberg to study the development of justice notions and the research methodology used by him. The relationship of moral judgment to moral behavior is also discussed.

Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issuesdown arrow icon

Lickona, Thomas, Ed. (1976). Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

This classic text, by a first-rate authority in the field, brings together a distinguished group of scholars whose research is at the forefront of the field. A sampling of authors include Lawrence Kohlberg, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Walter Mischel, James Rest and Alan Lockwood. Topics include the cognitive-developmental approach to moral development, the development of empathy and role-taking, perspectives on honesty and dishonesty, the role of parents and peers in moral development, television as a moral teacher and much more. An excellent resource for basic research and understanding.

MORAL CLARITY: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists.down arrow icon

Neiman, S. (2008). MORAL CLARITY: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.

It is very hard to write well about ethics, and especially so in a way that engages and interests that elusive phantom of writers' imaginations, the general reader. But Susan Neiman's previous book on ethics, "Evil in Modern Thought," was widely and favorably reviewed, and the present work is a worthy successor. Neiman's particular skill lies in expressing sensitivity, intelligence and moral seriousness without any hint of oversimplification, dogmatism or misplaced piety. She clearly and unflinchingly sees life as it is, but also sees how it might be, and could be, if we recaptured some of the hopes and ideals that currently escape us.

In other words, like its predecessor, "Moral Clarity" is a sustained defense of a particular set of values, and of a moral vocabulary that enables us to express them. Neiman sees these values as neglected or threatened all along the political spectrum. They received their strongest defenses in the moral thought of the Enlightenment, in David Hume and Adam Smith, but more particularly in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. So the book is not only a moral polemic, but a powerful argument in support of the resources that these Enlightenment figures left us. Neiman, an American who is currently the director of the Einstein Forum in Berlin, boldly asserts that when Marxism, postmodernism, theory and fundamentalism challenge the Enlightenment they invariably come off second best. I agree, and I wish more people did so.

Neiman's Enlightenment is not the hyperbolic ideology detected by some critics. It is not the unthinking worship of science, the materialistic, technological ideology that upset the Romantics and continues to upset their followers. It is not an unthinking confidence in the human capacity for knowledge, and still less in human perfectibility and unending progress. On the other hand, neither is it merely an expression of liberty, a resistance to unearned authority and the discovery of tolerance, which, she argues, provides too pallid an ideology to tempt people away from the superstitions and fundamentalisms that promise them more. It is rather an attitude encapsulated in four virtues: happiness, reason, reverence and hope. The moral clarity of her title is therefore not the ability to calculate answers to the practical conundrums that life sets us. It is rather the ability to see life in ways infused with these categories: to cherish happiness, to respect reason, to revere dignity and to hope for a better future.

It may seem surprising that we could need reminding of these things, but a foray into an airport bookstore, or a trip around any gallery of contemporary art, would show how far our culture would have to move before it gets back to being comfortable with them. To take just one significant example that Neiman highlights, the current value placed on being a "victim," and the glorification of victims as heroes, should be seen as a denial of human freedom and dignity, a denial of happiness and a barrier against hope.

Although her philosophical heroes are associated with the secular character of the Enlightenment, Neiman is deeply respectful of religious traditions and religious writings, and rightly dismissive of the kind of brash atheism that confidently insists there is no good in them. On the other hand, following Plato, she does not see ethics as the distinct preserve of the faithful. Instead, she writes, "religion is rather a way of trying to give shape and structure to the moral concepts that are embedded in our lives." Her most profound engagement with a religious text is with the Book of Job, the confrontation with natural evil and injustice that conditioned almost all the subsequent contortions of theology.

Philosophically, one of the deepest discussions in the book is Neiman's appropriation of Kant's doctrine of freedom. This is a notoriously treacherous area, but Neiman correctly aligns it with the human capacity for noticing or inventing (it does not necessarily matter which) possibilities for action. As well as whatever is the case, we have what might be the case, or what we could make come about, as well as what ought to be the case. Freedom, in the sphere of action, is therefore associated with a refusal to accept that what is the case limits and constrains our possibility for doing the other thing, surprising the psychologist, as it were. If the biological scientist comes along and tells us that we are all selfish, we do not need to conduct surveys and build laboratories to disprove it. We just need to remember that it is open to us to tip the waitress although we will never see her again, or to refuse to comply with the unjust demand to condemn the innocent who is accused of some crime, even if it would benefit us to agree. If the biological scientist says that it is against human nature to do these things, we have it in our hands to refute him on the spot. If on the other hand he retreats to saying that doing them is just a disguise for selfishness, first, it is not clear that he is doing science anymore, and second, we can properly reply that if so it is the disguise, and not our supposed true nature, that matters to the waitress or the innocent who is accused. Theories about how moral education works are not nearly as important as we tend to think, provided we can keep our confidence that such education can work. The problem with our contemporary "scientism" about human nature is that too often it half convinces us that it cannot, and thus, Neiman says, helps dissolve both reverence and hope.

One of Neiman's favorite examples of heroes is the Abraham who questioned God's decision to destroy Sodom on the grounds that it would be unjust to any good people in the city. Saying no or even "Are you sure?" to infinite power is probably high on most people's list of heroisms, one they hope, but doubt, they might achieve themselves. A more surprising hero at first sight is the wily Odysseus, the crafty wanderer whose morals are more frequently the target of raised eyebrows. But Odysseus represents the kind of engagement with the world coupled with an awareness of possibility that Neiman admires. His vitality, his adaptability, and his touching humanity are better models for grown-up living than the cardboard cutouts that inhabit most people's moral imaginations. Plato made a cognate point by banishing the artists from his ideal republic altogether, supposing that the human imagination is too malleable to withstand without corruption their assaults of fantasy and falsehood. Again, it is a sign of our times that we find anything outlandish in this view.

Finally, besides heroism there is villainy. Neiman wrestles with Hannah Arendt's problem of the banality of evil, and in particular the banality of evil in modern America: the betrayal of decency by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and their underlings in the institutions they helped to poison. They are easy enough targets, but in taking them on Neiman again makes deep and important points. One of them is that evil is not only banal, but often results from brutal insensitivity rather than devilish malice. George Bush is not Iago or Scarpia, but the image of him repeating in speech after speech after the Sept. 11 attacks that with the simultaneous coming of war, national emergency and recession he had "hit the trifecta" is surely, as Neiman argues, from one of the lower circles of hell.

Reviewed by: Simon Blackburn is a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge ( His latest book, "How to Read Hume," will be published in the fall.

Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Educationdown arrow icon

Noddings, Nel (1986). Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nel Noddings has written a very creative book in which she makes a theoretical case for human caring as the foundation of ethical responsiveness. She argues that while men base their ethical decisions on the application of universal principles, women base their ethical decisions on feelings, needs, impressions, and a sense of personal ideal. Morality, she advocates, should be based on a reciprocity between the person doing the caring (e.g., mother, teacher) and the one being cared for. In this sense she discusses thinking and feeling, guilt and courage, reciprocity, obligations and lessons of right and wrong. Moral education is an enterprise of the whole community, and the task for the teacher is to 'receive' their students in their entirety and not just as receptors of subject matter. Rather than a romantic perspective, Noddings believes her perspective to be very practical and leading to a sound basis for a different way to organize schools.

The Moral Judgement of the Childdown arrow icon

Piaget, Jean (1965). The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: The Free Press.

This book by one of the great psychologists is the foundation for the overwhelming research on 20th century notions of children's moral development and understandings and was the inspiration for Lawrence Kohlberg's life-long study of moral development. In it Piaget gives detailed observations, with commentaries and examples, of how children at different ages and stages understand rules and play games, and how they interpret moral dilemmas. Piaget discusses topics such as children's perspectives on stealing, lying, distributive and retributive justice and attitudes towards authority. An excellent resource for the classroom teacher who wants to understand more about why children behave as they do and how to interact more appropriately with them.

Promoting Moral Growth: From Piaget to Kohlbergdown arrow icon

Reimer, Joseph, Paolitto, D.R., and Hersh, R.H. (1983). Promoting Moral Growth: From Piaget to Kohlberg. New York: Longman.

Lawrence Kohlberg called this book "the best introduction to the cognitive-developmental approach of Piaget and myself available." In Part I the authors give a full account of Piaget's earlier theory and its relationship to the theory later proposed by Kohlberg, taking a critical look at other approaches, particularly values clarification, along the way. In Part II moral education is presented in action. The purpose of Part II is to translate Kohlberg's theory into practice, with separate chapters on appropriate teaching strategies, the creation of curriculum materials, and an elaboration of the "just community" as an organizing structure for schools. An easy to read, yet important book.

Democracy, Education, and the Schoolsdown arrow icon

Soder, Roger (Ed.) (1996). Democracy, Education, and the Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This book highlights the most fundamental function of the schools—to educate students for participation in a democratic society. According to editor Roger Soder and the book's contributors, this process requires teaching children moral and intellectual responsibilities. The interdisciplinary perspectives on the nature of democracy and the necessary skills for participation come from scholars in education, history, political science and anthropology—among them—Linda Darling-Hammond and John Goodlad. The book moves from a discussion of democracy and nurturance to a study of education as an instrument of democracy, and on to protection of individuality and the common good. Finally, the focus is on preparing teachers and teaching students. The essayists each answer the questions: What should the teacher's objectives be and how should these best be accomplished? The book is most useful in providing educators of students at all levels, a meaningful framework for considering their daily efforts in preparing future citizens.