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Ethical education distinguishes itself from moral education particularly in that the ethical is situated in the relational rather than the moral development of the individuals. From both conceptual and pedagogical perspectives, the first and second parts of the book have made this distinction really clear, highlighting the educative significance of the ethical, not only as part of students’ learning and holistic human development, but also as part of their well-being. Making convincing arguments for an innovative approach to ethical education is one thing, illustrating how it can be applied in the current public educational system is another. The latter would seem to be more difficult especially given the kinds of structural obstacles that education is confronted globally.
Chapter 10 brings the different chapters together and responds to the question: ‘How might a public education system become more ethical?’ In other words, it asks how an education system itself can be conducive to and embody ethical living in relationships, and assumes that such ethical living will require concern for the well-being of persons and will constitute a vital aspect of one’s own well-being. It clarifies that educational system isn’t a collection of schools, but instead, it is the way in which various institutions are interrelated according to the principles that define the way they work together. These institutions include schools, examination boards, teacher training colleges, local authorities, the national curriculum authority, the ministry, national school inspection offices, various institutional employers, a framework of laws, and from there, the wider global economy. To propose ethically oriented systemic transformation, the chapter outlines the nature of an educational system that is centred around the well-being of persons in the four principles, including non-instrumentalisation, whole-person development, well-being and learning as human becoming. It then explores how these principles can be applied to the design of the system, and to key aspects of schooling, such as curriculum, pedagogy, evaluation and learning communities.
The theoretical core of this book, which is the main topic of this first part, centres on three interwoven themes: the nature of relationships, that of ethics and that of education. It culminates in the conclusion that ethical education should be concerned primarily with relationships and with an examination of the educational implications of this conclusion.
The Introduction challenges three limited approaches to ethical education, that is, the teaching of moral values as a subject matter, as the fostering of cognitive moral reasoning, or as the cultivation of virtues or character traits. We argue that ethics does not consist solely in informational propositional knowledge, but instead, it requires cultivating sensitivities that constitute caring in a relationship; ethics is rooted more deeply in the social and emotional aspects of human relationships than in the cognitive reasoning of moral principles, which will not awaken the need nor enliven the ability to appreciate the differences in others; ethics cannot be reduced to a list of virtues. We further argue that these three approaches are limited not only in their capacity to enable young people to overcome challenges in relationships with and feeling for others, but also in these being situated within an instrumentalised conception of education. This conception tends to ignore the importance of living human relationships within a school community as intrinsically valuable, hence missing out a core ingredient in ethics. To overcome these limitations, this book proposes that ethics should be understood primarily in terms of engaging with others in human relationships that consist in caring and mutual appreciation.
One shouldn’t be surprised that the ethical approach advocated in this work has distinctive pedagogical implications. As we saw in the previous part of the book, defining ethics in terms of the qualities of relationships transforms one’s vision of ethical education. At its heart, such education is no longer a lesson or an acquisition, nor a means to something else. The chapters in this part articulate what pedagogy should look like from within a relational vision. They suggest that the core of ethical education is consisted of everyone’s relationships to each other within a school community. Pedagogy is constituted by relationships.
In different ways, the chapters in this second part of the book have articulated some important aspects of the pedagogy of ethical education. First is the central idea that ethical education will involve spaces for encounters and interactions between teachers and students and amongst young people themselves, for dialogue and informal exchanges that have a transformative power in their own right. Here ‘transformative’ means that they shake up the assumptions and transcend the boundaries of a person’s worldview and, through this, allow for new shared meanings. The spaces will enable students to experience and reflect on the qualities of existing relationships in the school community, as well as building new relationships.
This first part of the book has indicated why it is not enough for ethics to be defined in terms of an individual person’s character traits, as many writings in the Aristotelian tradition tend to do (Steutel and Carr, 1999). Aristotle’s ethical theory amounts to the claim that virtues are character traits, the exercise of which forms part of a flourishing life for a person defined in terms of the development of the person’s essential nature. In short, the starting point of a typical Aristotelian theory is the individual person, her flourishing, and her activities rather than the social relations that enable them. This implies that the primary ethical concern is me: How can I become more virtuous? This indicates that, in this tradition, relationships themselves are of derivative ethical concern.
What does it mean for a relationship to be ethical? Chapter 3 will provide two answers to this question and show how they are related. First, an ethical relationship requires that both parties appreciate and treat the other person as a being of equal non-instrumental value. Second, an ethical relationship requires that both parties are disposed to understand each other well in a specific way. This requires overcoming an epistemological asymmetry by reading the intentions of others according to the idea that they primarily will do some good. The two claims are related as follows: an important way of not respecting a person is to fail to understand her by succumbing to the epistemological asymmetry. It will examine this asymmetry in practice by showing how people typically misunderstand each other. Finally, this chapter will briefly explore the implications of these conclusions for relationship-based ethical education within the existing school system. These include creating spaces for sharing in which young people can feel safe, private and not judged, and where the educators can engender an appropriate atmosphere for listening and dialogue.
The third part of the book is dedicated to teaching and learning practices that can illustrate how ethical education may be possible in public education, but also have a profound impact on students’ relational enrichment, holistic development and well-being.
For ethical education practices to be rooted in school communities, the authors first highlighted the structural barriers to overcome. They then discussed the necessary ethics-oriented principles to underpin the institutional processes and practices. The main thrust of these chapters is to demonstrate that by focusing primarily on human relationships, ethical education can truly inspire children and young people to become more open, respectful and accepting in their attitudes and relationships with others. In turn, through such processes, students’ self-awareness is equally developing, which is located within the community, or as part of the ‘we’.
Ethical education should help students become more sensitive to the perspectives and experiences of others. However, the field is dominated by the teaching of moral values as a subject-matter, or by the fostering of character traits in students, or by moral reasoning. This book proposes an alternative to these limited moralistic approaches. It places human relationships at the core of ethical education, in its understanding of both ethics and education. With contributions from renowned international scholars, this approach is laid out in three parts. Part I develops the underlying theory of ethics and education; Part II focuses on the relevant pedagogical principles, and Part III provides illustrations of emergent innovative ethical educational practices in worldwide schools. Against a backdrop of divisiveness and apathy, the innovative practices described in this book show how a new vision for ethical education might be centred around caring for students' well-being.