Kim Rayl Performance Assessment EDU 6085 Summer 2013 Define the concept of “relativism” as it’s called in today’s intellectual vernacular, and distinguish this idea from the concept of natural law as defined in Fedler (p. 65). After defining the concepts, state and briefly defend your opinion about whether or not an objective moral order exists in our world. 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. Both relativists and natural law theorists contend that their perspective represents human morality as subjective and changeable on one hand, and knowable and observable on the other; I believe both camps are correct, just in different ways. It is in framing of the question that causes an unnecessary fracture in our understanding of human morality. I believe there is a fundamental distinction between theory and practice: customs and practices must be understood as contextual (relative) in application, while the underlying morality or belief system of humans is based on observable, knowable universal truths. Indeed, the ability to reason, reflect and judge is uniquely human and is a defining attribute that distinguishes us from other animals. Regardless of our religious, cultural or historical background we can agree on the universal values or truth of particular ways of framing our understanding of the natural word: the values of love, honesty, truth, goodness and caring to name a few are all underlying, universal values found across cultures. What may look different or be relativistic is the application of these values in our daily lives. For example, it can be argued that all cultures value honor and courage yet apply their underlying moral valuing of honor and courage in different ways; it is the application of these virtues that is relative. For example, in Papua Guinea, ritualistic cannibalism of a fallen enemy’s remains is a way to honor and respect the courage of their enemy; it is through this honoring of courage that warriors demonstrate and gain dignity and respect. Most Westerners feel that to be ritualistically cannibalized is disrespectful; the difference is a relativistic argument over the application of the value of honor and courage, not the Papua’s moral imperative to value courage by demonstrating honor to their enemy. While the application of morality is relative the foundational recognition of morality is based in universal natural laws and is theoretically sound. We demonstrate love, honesty and truth is different ways, yet one means is no better nor worse than the other. At the heart of action is theory or ways of knowing built through observation of the natural world and human’s place within it; the understanding of objective moral truths can and should be a means to find common ground amongst divergent ways of living. Kim Rayl Performance Assessment EDU 6085 Summer 2013 If there is an objective moral order, virtue ethics attempts to identify virtues that capture it in part. Define virtue ethics, contrasting it to consequentialist and deontological ethics. Identify virtues that have made popular character education “lists,” and discuss some character education programs that take this approach. At the heart of defining an objective moral order is a subtle yet telling distinction between two fundamentally divergent ways to frame ethics; how should we act? vs. how should we be? The two questions draw a sharp distinction between the ways in which ethics are being applied in daily life. According to Fedler (2006) how should we act? is a primary ethical concern of both Deontologists and Consequentialists; the former focuses on following a set of rules and principles born out of a belief that it is only our actions that are controllable. Consequentialists, on the other hand give primacy to the consequences of one’s actions; morality is not predetermined but rather measured by the outcome. “Doing the greatest good for the greatest number” (p. 28) is the approach favored by the Utilitarianism branch of Consequentialists who value actions that cause the greatest good or pleasure while avoiding pain or unhappiness (Fedler, 2006). In sharp contrast, virtue ethics is preoccupied with the internal, emotional construction of morality: the way we think is as important, even more important, as what we do. For virtue ethicists, because what we value is regulated through our emotions, our emotions are open to critical judgment; “Part of becoming a virtuous person is learning to feel the right emotions about the right things” (p. 41). It is not enough to act like a virtuous person, one must think like a virtuous person as well. 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. The Hyde School Way approaches character education in a similar manner, through the explicit identification of five virtues that permeate the instruction and assessment of students. The virtues of Courage, integrity, concern, curiosity, and leadership are the core virtues of the Hyde School Way (Stengel & Tom, 2006). Clearly the list of virtues varies somewhat across programs whether based within a more traditional or liberal organization in nature, but the commitment is the same; the intentional development of a specific set of character attributes (virtues) in children. Instead of focusing on the consequences or outcome of actions, virtue ethics and by association character education, attempts to develop a mind-set that is squarely grounded in a clearly articulated and replicable moral order. Kim Rayl Performance Assessment EDU 6085 Summer 2013 Describe what Warren Nord and Charles Haynes name the “new consensus” around approaches to explicitly religious themes and practices in American public schools. Who are the stakeholders supporting increased attention to religion in schools, and what specific practices might arise or be modified through such commitment and sensitivity? 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 nonreligious 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. It is clear from the wide range of participants in the original 1998 statement of principles that both educators and religious leaders are the major stakeholders supporting increased attention to religion in schools. Yet, one can assume that interest and support spirals out to various community members as well as parents and civic leaders weigh-in on the community-specific interpretation of what religious inclusion in the classroom means. Indeed, if the intent of including religion in the public school curriculum is grounded in civic responsibility, and the social and personal value of understanding the role of religion historically and in contemporary life, we are all stakeholders in this reexamination of the role of religion in schools. Yet, it is the stakeholders standing at the front of the classroom that will play the determining role as to the direction that the new consensus takes; modifying practices and content takes time and sensitivity. At the Elementary level, jettisoning the antiquated notion that young children aren’t ready to learn about history much less the fundamental role that religion plays in history is a move in the right direction; again the intent is to educate, not proselytize. Secondary students should be taught religious ways and perspectives of interpreting history as well as the continued influence the religion plays in current events. Civics and Economics courses cannot fully explore issues such as separation of church and state, profit-motivation and the controversies inherent in these disciplines without understanding the role that religion has and continues to play. The Sciences are directly impacted by differences in worldview born out of the scientific method, the divide between evolution vs. creationism, and ethics in science; to eliminate a religious viewpoint is to teach only a partial perspective. Finally, character education can be another area that examines points of agreement and disagreement amongst various religions and secularists; the point is to have open and honest dialogue that works towards a consensus in what it means to be a good person rather than divisions. Advocating for religious instruction in the public schools is a delicate balancing act that requires a high degree of commitment to simultaneously introducing various perspectives and historical influences while refraining from value-laden judgment, yet this balancing act includes secular thinking as well. Only through inclusion of all voices will students become able to make educated choices about the role that religion should or should not play in their personal and civic lives. Kim Rayl Performance Assessment EDU 6085 Summer 2013 References Fedler, Kyle D. (2006). Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. 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. Stengel, Barbara S., and Tom, R. Alan. 2006. Moral Matters: Fives Ways to Develop the Moral Life of Schools. Teachers College Press: New York.