Social, Moral and Academic Education & Literary Influences

Topic #1

When pondering the ideas of social, moral, and academic education, and what it means to educate well rounded students that are mindful of others as well as their own academic prowess, I start with a definition of morality by Norman J. Bull who states:

The term ‘morality’ derives from the Latin plural mores, meaning ‘manners’ or ‘morals’. We use to mean the generally accepted code of conduct in a society, or of ‘public-school morality’. But we also use the term, secondly, to mean the pursuit for the good life-and that is by no means necessarily the same as following eh accepted social code. Indeed, moral progress has always been made by individuals who have gone against the accepted morality of their day, and who have generally suffered for doing so (1969, p. 2)

While academics are clearly a priority for education the goal of education is not only to generate intellectual people, but to produce good citizens. The school environment is a socially and morally influential place for maturing children, and sometimes more significant than the home (Durkheim, Schnurer, & Wilson, 1961). In this way we as educators have a direct responsibility for helping to hone the student’s decision making process when concerning right from wrong, and for addressing their ability to adapt into society at large.

A regretful trend in today’s society is what Dr. Sheuerman refers to as “meism,” which is akin to today’s me-centered lifestyles, which need be resolved to nurture the components of morality (Ryan, 1999). We as educators, and as parents, hope to instill more altruistic values in our children. Starting in our homes we try to encourage appropriate choices in our children, so that when they pick their friends and social circles they do it by looking within their peer’s character not by what brand of shoes they wear. The difficulty that some institutions and educators may face is when they try to address morality in a narrow focus. I feel a more appropriate strategy is implementing a spectrum of support, which is aptly illustrated in Dr. Sheuerman’s “The Architecture of Moral Education” (Fig. 1).  The pantheon of moral education does not just include the study of book learning, but a hard look into the values that create a good citizen. While the illustration (Fig. 1) places societal values within the “respect” foundation I also feel they are reiterated within the pillars. Service (volunteerism) is an obvious way to learn while building a healthy moral and social code. Honesty (truth) is worked into every facet of life. Civility (obedience) has especially taken a hit the modern arena of “mesim,” but is still very appropriate and necessary for a functioning society. Kindness (mercy) the first fallen in the war against social and moral progress. Participation (cooperation) is another word spoken with disdain when the apathetic view becomes popular culture. Last but not least is commitment (work) in the sense that doesn’t require a contract or lawyer, but rather a sense of loyalty.

Fig. 1

By studying the elements of academia, sociology, and morality we have a better chance at succeeding in helping to cultivate students with citizenship in mind rather than making a quick buck on the next housing boom. I use this reference purposefully, and there is a basis which is disturbing to me. In education I have the pleasure of meeting brilliant people who have only the best intentions, but sometimes I overlook that there are highly educated people who have no qualms acting without a conscience. Not all criminals are desperate brigands living in remote surroundings; some are well educated bandits hiding in plain sight. I was dismayed while reading an article in the Seattle Times recently, which was entitled “Lender seizes desperate borrowers’ homes.” The article focuses on a morally corrupt banker who boastfully calls himself “a wolf” (Willmsen, 2010), which is an insult to the Canis lupus. Using legalese and small print he preys on uneducated and desperate clients, and ends up taking the property rights. I relate this story to our topic because bankers, like educators, are held in high esteem and are expected to act with the best intentions of those who under our care. We set an example for the students under our care. When we fail it is more harmful than most vocations, and the betrayal of that trust is damaging to all educators. The abuse of authority or the neglect to inspire a moral center for our students is reminiscent of a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society” (Kerber, 1968, p.138), or in some cases “a wolf.”

When researching moral education I kept coming across references to Jean Piaget. I was intrigued reading some of Piaget’s writing about how he viewed the evolution of morality among children, and how it could a developmental process (Piaget, 1965). Piaget also emphasized the incredible amount of influence that adults have on children, and once again I am reminded of the words of Dewey, “I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth” (1897, article 5). Building on Piaget’s studies was Kohlberg and his colleagues’ development of the “just community” schools approach towards promoting moral development (Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989). He concluded a slightly slower change to moral perspective than Piaget, and utilized his schools to use the democratic system to develop a building of cognitive and moralistic reasoning.

My perspective is that I have to be very alert and attentive to my students in the special education environment. Academic skills may be some of the more obvious signs of impairments, but especially important to their long term goals are their social skills and ethical reasoning. Several students that I’ve worked with have challenges with behavior and impulse control, which can be seen as problematic to others in a social situation, but their social naivety may be their biggest obstacle in reaching self determination. Cognitive disabilities may prohibit some students from certain academic goals, but almost every student is aware of right and wrong even if they don’t always know how to address it to every day social situations, which is addressed by Bull, ‘The child is not born with a built-in moral conscience. But he is born with those natural, biologically purposive capacities that make him potentially a moral being’ (1969, p.15). The same concept applies to my students, and I need to focus them on doing the correct actions and placing that in real world context. Most children know not to hit other children on the playground, but emphasizing why is of great value, which in Herbart would refer to as looking at your own conscience not fear of punishment (Herbart, 1901). Having the children focus on why it is wrong, and not just following the rules. Within the special education classroom I have to keep in mind not only how I want my students to influence society, but how to prepare my students for the cultural influences on them. Dewey speaks to the importance of education with social meaning as it pertains to any classroom, “The conception of education as a social process and function has no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind” (1916, p. 103).


Bull, N.J. (1969) Moral Education. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Dewey, J. (1897). Session 8: Progressivism and Intellectual Development “My Pedagogic Creed”. Retrieved 11 18, 2010, from mountain light school:

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Durkheim, E., Schnurer, H., & Wilson, E.K. (1961). Moral education: A study in the theory and application of the sociology of education. London: Collier Macmillan

Herbart, J.F. (1901). Outlines of educational doctrine. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Kerber, A. (1968). Quotable quotes on education. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Kohlberg, L. & Turiel, E. (1971). Moral development and moral education. In G. Lesser, ed. Psychology and educational practice. Chicago: Scott, Foresman, & Company.

Piaget, J. (1965). The moral judgment of the child. The Free Press: New York.

Power, F. C., Higgins, A., & Kohlberg, L. (1989). Lawrence Kohlberg’s Approach to Moral Education. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ryan, F. B. (1999). Technology, narcissism, and the moral sense: Implications for instruction. British Journal of Educational Technology , 30 (2), 115-128.

Tolstoy, L. (1860). Session 8: Progressivism and Intellectual Development “On Popular Education”. Retrieved 11 18, 2010, from mountain light school:

Willmsen, C. (2010, November 13). Lender seizes desperate borrowers’ homes. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from Seattle Times:

Topic #2

As I was reviewing literary individuals who influenced me this quarter I found it fitting that I ended my last question with a quote by John Dewey because of all the relative material we read and discussed Dewey’s writings seems especially notable to me. Though my first impression when looking at photos of Dewey is not flattering, and it has nothing to do with physical attributes. It’s his serious demeanor as, hopefully, my illustration shows (Fig. 2), which is probably more a sign of the photographic era than anything else, but it reminds me of my sixth grade teacher Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson was an older teacher with a gaunt look, and when the topic arose most fifth graders wanted a more popular teacher. “Mr. D” was the younger, hipper, and more charismatic teacher that all students wanted to get the following year, and while I heard no complaints coming from the classroom of “Mr. D” I ended up having lifelong memories of Mr. Anderson and his class. I still remember him introducing me to Where the Red Fern Grows, and his obvious empathy for me as a student who had many struggles. While my account with Dewey is just beginning I realized quickly that once more my presumption was faulty, and the words he wrote though serious show a great deal of compassion and interaction.

Fig. 2

If I wasn’t specializing in teaching children with disabilities I think Dewey’s ideology would be influential, but I find it even more applicable in my area. I feel that if more teachers, like Mr. Anderson, would have used some of the techniques that Dewey taught when I was younger I feel my early schooling would have been more productive and enjoyable. The thought that education was a lifelong discovery is exactly how my journey has progressed as Dewey clarifies, “I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life–life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground” (Dewey, 1897, article 3). Letting the student’s interests and differences guide the instruction is a accurate translation of IEP’s in the special education or inclusive classroom as stated by Dewey, “Education, therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits” (Dewey, 1897, article 1). Authentic assessment is what occurs within our class everyday to show that the students can actually use the skills they need. The idea of “miniature society” makes me think firstly of an Individual Learning Center (ILC) classroom, but under further consideration I think inclusion is a more appropriate comparison with all types of children mixing in a social and academic environment. Dewey’s downplaying the teacher as a punitive authority figure (1916) is clearly a better choice when helping children with special needs, and an outlook that I agree with completely, which is why in our “Learning Illustrated” blog I posted a hopeful picture of a punishment device in cobwebs (Fig. 3) Instead of focusing on the negative, Dewey wanted to inspire optimism in the student’s and society’s future.

Fig. 3

Dewey’s perception that the educational process has two sides, a psychological and a sociological, and his heavy focus on the social aspects of schools is a powerful idea in our time. Statements such as, “I believe that the school is primarily a social institution” (Dewey, 1897, article 2), and, “the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself” aren’t demeaning the school environment, but rather a strength of the school system. Social situations are an influential tool that can be used to teach children in the manner that they learned in early childhood development. School is an extension of the student’s home life and the community as he stated, “present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place” (Dewey, 1897, article 2).

In reading Dewey’s statements I am reminded of the excerpt of Ellis’ “School Curriculum,” which compares the “process” and “product” point of views. It seems apparent that Dewey supported the former rather than the latter, and I agree with the idea of providing the skills for learning to make the student able to learn and adapt when needed. Dewey speaks to that idea that with technology in the modern era the student’s thinking must be diverse, “With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any set of conditions.” I think this reinforces a multi-dimensional lifelong learning that I hope to instill in my students. The thought that learning doesn’t end with high school or college is relevant in many aspects of life. When I received my first black belt in Taekwondo my instructor reminded me that a black belt was not the end of the path, but the start of the journey. All the color belts were a preparation for the true beginning, whereas many people used the black belt as a final goal or a bragging right. He said “it would be like bragging that I graduated from elementary school.”  To illustrate the idea of lifetime cyclic learning I created a graph to illustrate an idea of how Dewey’s philosophies of education (1916) could be mixed with special education teaching applications (Fig. 4). When considering education as a lifelong experience I don’t think that the profession of teaching can be emphasized more. I’ve used this quote before, and am repeatedly reminded of a teacher’s position with Dewey’s statement, “I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling” (1897, article 5).

Fig. 4


Dewey, J. (1897). Session 8: Progressivism and Intellectual Development “My Pedagogic Creed”. Retrieved 11 18, 2010, from mountain light school:

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Ellis, A. (2010). Session 9 “School Curriculum”. Retrieved 11 20, 2010, from mountain light school: http

This entry was posted in L1: Learner centered, L2: Classroom/school centered, P1: Informed by professional responsibilities and policies, P2: Enhanced by reflective, collaborative, professional growth-centered practice, P3: Informed by legal and ethical responsibilities, S1 - Content driven, S2 - Aligned with curriculum standards and outcomes, S3: Integrated across content areas, T2: Intentionally planned, T3: Influenced by multiple instructional strategies, T4: Informed by technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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