The Role of the School in Moral Education

Research Paper (postgraduate), 1990

11 Pages, Grade: A












Bramble and Garrod (cited by Kohlberg, 1979 p.210) define morality as “perspective on life - a set of principles which, applied to given circumstances help to guide one’s actions.” Lacey (1976) reveals a similar viewpoint when he defines it as concerning habits, customs and ways of life and the categorization of these into good or bad, right or wrong. He goes on to introduce the concept of a moral principle of which he presents three views: things for which we can be held responsible, a principle which is preferred over other principles and values that are universally accepted and approved.

These definitions clearly illustrate one major point: that morality is an integral aspect of life. During the course of one’s lifetime, one is constantly called to act upon principles that have been established and accepted across societies over decades or to act upon one’s own principles in a given situation. The concept of a moral principle then is basic to all human societies and to every individual human being. However, in defining morality one needs to explore the concept in more detail. It is necessary, first of all, to look at what may be considered as moral by the individual, by the society and by different societies. Secondly, one must note that there are values such as honesty, integrity, respect and consideration for others which are fundamental to humanity.


Kohlberg (1979) is of the view that modernization has brought with it relativism in relation to values and that with social change has come new attitudes to morality. This sort of relativism he sees as being most obvious in pluralistic societies. He further posits that every person possesses his own values and the capacity to act upon them and that it is the acting upon one’s values that makes a person moral; a view not wholly supported by Harris (1970) who thinks that it is not only the acting upon one’s values, but the actual acceptance of certain basic values which makes a person moral. Harris describes acting morally as involving three important steps: considering the needs of other people, deliberately and freely choosing one’s course of action and acting only on a principle which would apply for anyone else in the same situation.

This gives rise to an important question: Can the individual be relied on to develop moral principles and to act upon his or society’s principles on his own or should there be some formal method of moral education to assist the individual in his moral development? Indeed, moral education cannot be left to nature or chance. There should be, in every society in these changing times, an organized system of moral education if the well-being of the society is to be preserved. This brings up yet another question: whose responsibility then is moral education?

Traditionally, moral education has fallen in the domain of the church. However, changes in modern society have brought about a decline in the influence of the church. The rapid decay in societal and personal values has made it necessary to find an alternative route to moral education; consequently, schools have had conferred on them, the responsibility of preserving morality and maintaining high standards in the rapidly degenerating world societies. This new responsibility for schools was not solely the idea of sociologists and philosophers, but more significantly that of parents.


Hersh (1979) states that parents see schools as being largely responsible for the moral behavior of their children; a view supported by Cummings et al. (1988), who refer to surveys carried out in the United States of America which indicate that parents are just as concerned that schools help students to develop standards of morality as to teach them the three Rs. Hersh (1979) sums up the role of the school as that of transmitting knowledge and skills and above all, the values necessary for survival in an ever-changing society. Certainly, there is no question as to the importance of the school in preparing young people to fit into society and as a result great emphasis has been placed on moral education in schools in recent times. It becomes necessary then, to establish some distinct definitions and common aims for moral education worldwide as it must be approached by schools.

Hall (1979) p. 17) defines moral education as “the business of helping students learn to make better decisions and in particular to make decisions which reflect knowledge and consideration of the importance of moral values.” It is to be noted that he uses the word ‘helping’ and not ‘teaching’.

One aim of moral education outlined by Baier (1973) is that it should turn all young people into morally autonomous adults by providing then with the capacity to judge for themselves what is morally right. Another, coming from Wilson (1969) is that moral education should aim at equipping young people with a flexibility to cope with new situations such as they must face in a rapidly changing world.

Any documented aims and definitions of moral education should serve as guidelines to schools for implementing their moral education programmes. What each individual school must decide on; however, is the approach that best suits its young people and in the long run its society. There have been various approaches to moral education each having its particular weaknesses and merits. Hall (1979) looks at the Hardline Approach which acts upon absolute principles of right and wrong and the Softline Approach which lays emphasis on the rights of the individual to establish his own values relative to a given situation. He regards both approaches as unacceptable in that the former is clearly indoctrination - it does not seek to guide, but rather prescribes a course of action, while the latter tends towards moral relativism which in itself leans towards the present erosion of values. He recommends a “Middle Way” which would incorporate the merits of each approach.

There has been much controversy among educationalists over the question of indoctrination where moral education is concerned. Wilson (1970 p. 71) views as inadequate any approach to moral education which uses indoctrination. Moral education, he says, “is emphatically, not a matter of persuading people to behave in certain ways laid down by others; it is rather a matter of helping the individual to decide and act more reasonably for himself.” Kay (1969) expresses the opinion that indoctrination has no place at all where moral education is concerned for indoctrination lies simply in the aim of instruction and since the aim of moral education is to produce morally autonomous citizens, then no method of teaching it can be regarded as indoctrination. Bull (1973) does not speak out directly against indoctrination, but he does suggest that whatever the approach used, moral education should ultimately provide young people with practical experience of situations which would teach them the basic principles necessary for living in society. He sums up moral education into three basic themes: self, others and the relationship between self and others.

Generally, indoctrination does involve certain restrictions on the individual and it poses limitations on his ability to integrate fully into society. It also gives rise to the problem of whose values should be taught or indoctrinated - the individual teacher, a group, or the society? It seems logical to conclude that exposing students to various situations which will help them form their own principles would be far better that prescribing principles to them and this would preclude the problems posed by indoctrination.


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The Role of the School in Moral Education
University of the West Indies  (School of Education)
Sociology of Education
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role, school, moral, education
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Joyette Fabien (Author), 1990, The Role of the School in Moral Education, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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