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
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
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
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.