Standard 12 Meta-Reflection: Professional Citizenship [EDU 6120 American Education: Past and Present; EDU 6085 Moral Education]

Standard 12 Professional citizenship

Willingly engages in dialogue that transcends the individual classroom, taking informed, coherent positions on important matters of educational policy and practice.

There are two courses that provided me the opportunity to stretch my thinking about education beyond the four walls of my classroom; Moral Education and American Education: Past and Present. In Moral Education, I was challenged to grapple with ethics and morality, to confront my personal biases as I struggled to uncover the source of my belief system, defining the role that the spiritual has historically played in education, then translate that charged amalgam into an understanding of the role that the personal and spiritual plays in my position as an educator.

Similarly, American Education: Past and Present saw me taking a deep look at the historical purposes of education in America beginning with the cultural dissonance experienced by native peoples forced to endure western education, followed by subsequent years of evolving trends culminating in the policy debates of today. Reading a wide variety of primary source documents exposed me to the often conflicting and competing purposes for education that still rings true today, inspiring a policy position that argues for a repurposing of schools around supporting individual self-actualization.

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However, I have to admit that I was dreading taking both of these classes just a little bit. In the case of Moral Education, I just wasn’t sure what to expect; I was worried that I would have a difficult time expressing a belief and value system that is not grounded in religious ideology. I was concerned that my perspective would not be valued, that I would be at a disadvantage by not knowing much of biblical writing and that I would struggle to meet the course requirements.

Likewise, when I grudgingly signed up for American Education: Past and Present, I was concerned that as an international educator I would not find the course applicable to my context and I would be reading and writing about topics that were contrived and irrelevant. Try as I might, I could not come up with a laudable excuse to forego these requirements. So, I gritted my teeth, took at deep breath and jumped in, determined to just “get it over with” and move on.

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I took Moral Education first, and my concerns were immediately quelled as I quickly realized that my professor was open and encouraging of diverse perspectives and experiences. There was no “religion” prerequisite, only an open mind, and I realized that while the course was grounded in gaining a deeper understanding of religion as one source of morality, the purpose was not to overlay my personal belief system with my professor’s or other students’ ideology. Instead, I was empowered to explore and interpret, to disagree and present alternatives as I saw fit. I met the knowledge and critical thinking objectives of this course in the following ways:

Demonstrate familiarity with major concepts and terminology in philosophical ethics.

This is an excerpt from my Final Assessment where I compare the concept of “relativism” and distinguish the idea from the concept of natural law:

“At the cornerstone of the moral divide in America is a dichotomy surrounding morality: can we say that morality is objective with normative values, or do we assert that morality is subjective? Those that come down on the side of moral subjectivism contend that morals are relative and subject to changeable standards where judgments are relative to an individual and their cultural and social environment. In essence, relativism rejects the notion of “absolutes” in favor of a more flexible morality based on individuals’ cultural, social and historical context. In contrast, moral objectivists tend towards a normative understanding of morality informed by the theory of natural laws. Fedler (2006) describes natural law as a moral order that is objective and universal: human behavior is governed by natural laws that are observable through deliberate contemplation and observation: the human intellect holds the keys to universal truths” (Rayl, August 2013).

Analyze and critique the writings of historically and presently well-known ethical and educational theorists on the subject of morality and learning.

This excerpt from from my final assessment explores the difference between virtue ethics with consequentialists and deontological ethics, identifying which of these virtue ethics has made popular character education lists:

“Historically, character education programs are the practical application of theory where how we should act and how we should think comes to fruition in explicit instruction: “…character education emphasized the teaching of specific virtues and the cultivation of good conduct” (McClellan, 1999, p. 89). We want our students to act in certain ways based upon their emotional interaction and valuing of specific virtues; the two are not separable in practice within the character education paradigm. There are a number of character education programs that take a virtue ethics approach to character education based upon the creation of lists of coveted character attributes or virtues that are to be developed and cultivated in children. For example, The Heartwood Institute has identified seven multicultural “attributes of character” (Stengel & Tom, 2006, p. 51) or virtues for their elementary students: courage, loyalty, respect, honesty, hope, love, and justice. Their approach relies on an infusion of virtues within the curricular medium through real-aloud stories and literature-based work” (Rayl, August 2013).

Identify and assess major developments concerning religious and ethical instruction in public and private schools in the United States from the colonial era to the present.

Another excerpt from my final assessment addresses the “new consensus” approach to explicit religious themes and practices in American public schools today:

“The “new consensus” as promulgated by Nord and Haynes (1998) is born out of discussions between various religious, civic and educational groups leading to a statement of principles describing the importance of including religion in the curriculum of the public schools. Through religious inclusion students would be taught the significance of religion in understanding contemporary life, promotion of democracy and world peace through cross cultural understanding, and the valuing of religious freedom in First Amendment rights. By including religion in the curriculum public schools would provide a neutral platform to foster a civic understanding between religious and non-religious thought without taking sides; students would come to see that ways of understanding the world can be both religious and nonreligious yet both are important. Nord and Haynes remind us that the Supreme Court has ruled that the study of religion in public schools is constitutional as long as schools are educating and not indoctrinating students into any particular religion” (Rayl, August 2013).   

Articulate broad themes related to Christian ethics in the major sections of the Bible (law, prophets, writings, gospels, epistles), interpreting relevant passages as necessary.

Within my weekly Discussion boards, I was able to explore and deepen my understanding of Christian-specific beliefs through the reading and interpreting of sections of the Bible. I was able to comfortably articulate my understandings through the online Blackboard forum, despite a lack of background knowledge in the Bible.

“Chapter five of Fedler (2006) Gods, Humans, and Creation in Genesis 1-3 explores the intersection of scripture and ethics which, for Christians, is based upon a reality shaped by the stories told and retold in Genesis 1-3. These stories provide the lens by which Christian ethics are born. The importance of God’s sovereignty and demand as the sole receiver of worship is explored in detail. I was surprised to learn that Christians do not hold human life on par with God; “Even life itself is not to be worshiped. Human life, while valuable, is not worthy of worship” and “…the notion of the “infinite value of human life” is not a Christian concept” (p. 70). Similarly, I was intrigued with the idea that similar to human life that “…while the created world is good and to be cared for, it is not the ultimate value” (p. 79). The point was driven home that for Christians, God is the penultimate relationship to nurture, driving a worldview that is intrinsically shaped by that covenantal (obligations and responsibilities) relationship” (Rayl, July 2013). 

Synthesize your worldview, your beliefs about morality and ethics as they relate to children and youth, and your knowledge about how to put such beliefs into practice into a coherent framework.

Certainly the penultimate achievement and learning in Moral Education came through the arduous process of identifying and framing my moral ethical framework MEF. I grounded my worldview in a discussion of conceptual nets: “Our lens or what Nord and Haynes (1998) call our “conceptual net” is the frame of reference or filter with which we view the world and our place in it: “…what we find in the ocean of reality depends on the conceptual net we bring to our investigation” (Nord & Haynes, p. 40).” (Rayl, MEF, 2013). I go on to argue that the source of ethics is not as important as the application of ethics through a re-imagining of character education that values the filling of our conceptual nets with a lifetime of personal experiences. I argue that multiple perspectives, both religiously-based and secular can find common ground in the public school through relational interactions that transcend what is right and wrong, to “this is how I want to be treated and why”.

images-2I recently completed American Education: Past and Present and once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the applicability and  transformative impact that this course has had on my educational philosophy and grounding. Although I work in the international arena, I realized that I am not immune to the far reaching influence that American education, complete with all its promises and flaws, has on these schools. According to the International Schools Consultancy Group’s October 2013 presentation there are 1423 international schools that offer an American-style curriculum. Many teachers and administrators in these schools come from a US public education background and consequently, bring a legacy of the purpose of education that is infused with American educational history with them.

Due to scheduling difficulties, I ended-up taking American Education Past and Present as an independent study winter term 2014. It was an interesting process to work my way through what amounted to an enormous amount of reading and digesting of educational history pretty much on my own. This experience helped me to realized the value of collegial dialogue via discussion boards on Blackboard; reading and responding to my peers differing perspectives enriches and expands my own understanding. It took time for the readings and themes to coalesce into a coherent final project. Despite going it alone, I greatly value this experience of independent study as I was challenged to articulate a policy vision for education that was purely my own as I lacked the subtle influence of my peer’s interpretation of what ought to be. There were two major knowledge and critical thinking objectives in this course:

1) Demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of the following themes – and areas of tension between them – in American education, both past and present: equal opportunity and individual freedom/excellence, character formation and citizenship preparation, national unity and cultural diversity, & systemization/bureaucracy and autonomy/experimentation.    

2) Present a personal philosophy of education that is meaningful, defensible, and sufficiently practical in a democratic society such as our own.

Since I did not engage in online discussion exchanges with peers, I have demonstrated meeting these competencies through completion of the two major projects for this course, a performance assessment and the writing of an educational platform policy position paper.

I answered three broad questions in my Performance Assessment: the historical foundations of common schooling, the challenges of urban schooling including racial, ethnic and economic diversity, and an examination of child-centered progressive education in contrast with the knowledge-focused essentialist approach to learning. My answers drew heavily from the two course texts American Education, A History and The School in the United States: A Documentary History 2nd Edition. 

While my performance assessment delved into instructor specified themes in past and present American educational history, the Education Platform paper was my opportunity to craft policy recommendations grounded in my own personal philosophy of what schools ought to be. I based my recommendations on a comprehensive deconstruction of the more salient historical purposes of schools, pointing out the fundamental flaw of each. This is an excerpt from my introduction of my paper:

“This paper will explore the long answer to the purpose of education beginning with a glance back at the historical assimilationist purposes of education and why reactions such as multiculturalism and No Child Left Behind have largely missed the point.  I will argue for a purposing of education as a vehicle for self-discovery that prepares students to make informed, experience-based decisions to guide their life choices. Policy recommendations are focused on an expanded secondary and post-secondary experience with an eye towards an ideological shift that supports student exploration of guided and self-determined experiences as preparation for life” (Rayl, 2014, p. 2-3).

imagesBoth Moral Education and American Education: Past and Present inspired my imagination while exposing the raw roots of experience and belief that motivate me as an educator in ways I had not fully realized. I learned as much or more about myself as as a unique individual and educator fraught with presuppositions and questions as I delved into the philosophical and biblical roots of moral education. Exploring the intersection of education, ethics and morality challenged me to open my mind to divergent perspectives, softening my stance on the potential role that religion could play in public education. As I expanded my knowledge and understanding of American history, I’ve come to recognize the influence that centuries of traditional purposes of education have on present educational policy debates. These course have developed the theoretical and historical foundation from which to base my own policy recommendations and represent a key moment in my learning in the C & I program.

References

Fedler, Kyle D.  (2006). Exploring Christian Ethics:  Biblical Foundations for Morality.  Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Fraser, J. W. (2010). The School in the United States: A Documentary History Second Edition. Routledge: New York.

International School Consultancy Group. EARCOS Regional Conference Presentation, October 2013.

McClellan, B. E. (1999). Moral Education in America: Schools and the Shaping of Character from Colonial Times to the Present.  New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Nord, Warren A., & Haynes, Charles, C. (1998). Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Rayl, K. (2014). Personal Exploration and Choice: The Repurposing of Schools.

Stengel, Barbara S., and Tom, R. Alan. 2006. Moral Matters: Fives Ways to Develop the Moral Life of Schools. Teachers College Press: New York.

Urban, W. J., and Wagoner Jr., J.L. (2014) American Education: A History (Fifth Ed.). New York: Rutledge.

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3 thoughts on “Standard 12 Meta-Reflection: Professional Citizenship [EDU 6120 American Education: Past and Present; EDU 6085 Moral Education]

  1. Kim-I too had some reservations about taking the Morals in Education class for similar reasons as you. I come from a deeply religious life and wondered if this would hinder my ability to draw from other philosphies of thought. What I found, though, is that this class provided me with the opportunity for me to evaluate and understand my own moral prinicples. One question I strongly remember wrestling with was how do I teach morals nad values in my own classroom without “preaching” my religion? It turns out, simply put, that just becuase I teach kids to “be nice” or “treat others with respect” does not mean that I am teaching “love thy neighbor” or “honor thy father and mother.” What I did not realize this class would teach me is the importanct of reflecting on your own belief system from time to time. I can see what it taught you through your writing and what continues to me is that you and I , who come from two very different backgrounds and experiences have very similar questions/thoughts about our approach to this class. Well written!

  2. As Kim’s professor for both of the foundations courses she describes above, I’m pleased with how she experienced he coursework and interactions – especially the moral issues class that SPU dicatates must address Christianity – because it sounds like she found the courses both faithful to their purpose and open-minded.

    Speaking to her reflections on 6120 and the citizenship standard, I read her paper and subsequently engaged in a detailed debrief of the paper over the phone from Kim’s location in Jakarta, and I think she has a paper that might be publishable. Kim would profit from Henry J. Perkinson’s The Imperfect Panacea, and also the Jefferson’s Children that I described to her, in terms of one of her themes about the purposes of American Education being scattered as it is asked to do too many things in terms of “solving” broader national problems. Her exploration of what educational freedom and creativity might mean for someone who doesn’t fit the college cookie-cutter was welcome and elequent. Greg

  3. I am totally and utterly floored after reading your paper, “The Repurposing of Schools.” I particularly agree with your approach to describing that education is not a “one size fits all.” I think your experiences from around the world and your openness to exploration of philosophies of thought shine in your writing. I agree with Dr.Fritzberg that this is a high quality paper and I can imagine looking it up in my research on education.

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