ethics

Yesterday, I was at the Third Annual Conference on Islam in the Contempary World: Fethullah Gülen Movement in Thought and Practice. Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish visionary, scholar, and teacher. People presenting on his movement came from different religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), and they talked on topics ranging from religion to politics to media to education, analyzing his teachings and writings, and comparing them with other major religious figures, such as Meister Eckhart and A. J. Convers. My paper looked at the character education in the U.S., character as formed in the Gülen movement schools, and suggestions on integrating character education into schools.

Character education in the U.S. has been a mixed bag. In part, it's because character education does not always have values and ethics as the focus, but rather focuses on character as essential for business and eliminating discipline problems in the schools. In other words, it has a materialistic foundation. In addition, character education for many, probably most, focuses on the students and not the schools nor their staff. I've cited Dwayne Huebner, curriculum theorist and professor emeritus, Teachers College, before, but he's worth repeating. From the book The Lure of the Transcendent:

First, recent discourse about moral and spiritual values in the classroom is incorrectly focused. That discourse assumes that there is something special that can be identified as moral or spiritual. This assumption is false. Everything that is done in schools, and in preparation for school activity, is already infused with the spiritual. All activity in school has moral consequences. The very highlighting of the need to teach moral and spiritual values in schools implies a breakdown not in the spirituality and morality of the student, but a breakdown in the moral activity and spirituality of the school itself, and of the people in control of the school. Those in control of the schools cover their own complicity in the domination system by urging the teaching of moral and spiritual values. They do not urge that the moral and spiritual climate of the schools, which they control, be changed. ... The need is not to see moral and spiritual values as something outside the normal curriculum and school activity, but to probe deeper into the educational landscape to reveal how the spiritual and moral is being denied in everything. The problem in schools is not that kids are not being taught moral and spiritual values, the problem is—the schools are not places where the moral and spiritual life is lived with any kind of intentionality. (pp. 414-415)

If character education is to be effective, the character of administrators, teachers, and staff is foundational. Telling others to develop character but not to work on one's own character is hypocrisy, and students are not unaware of double standards.

With respect to developing character, three elements I looked at are: action, reflection, and intention.

Action is crucial for entraining character. It's not different from any other activity. It's not enough to watch basketball in order to play it: We have to play basketball. The same with character.

Action needs to be guided by reflection. As Fethullah Gülen state, people need "to review and re-evaluate the established views of man, life and the universe." They need to think about why particular situations require certain actions in order to be ethical and how different situations might require different actions. Influenced by context, principles can be expressed in different ways in different situations. And people need clear objectives with respect to values and ethics. As Gülen writes, even "founders and directors of institutions should frequently remind themselves of why the institutions were established, so that their work does not stray from its objective, but remains fruitful." If that's true of established character, how much more so for young people developing their character.

In addition to action and reflection, intention is important. In her book Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System, the philosopher Alicia Juarrero defines actions as “behavioral trajectories constrained top-down by an intention” (p. 151), and the notion of intention and meaning is a self-organizing landscape, which means that interdependencies are entrained via reciprocal interactions and ongoing feedback between internal dynamics and the driving environment. Without training one's intentions, actions will be haphazard across contexts, diffusing, perhaps halting, the development of character.

The crucial importance of intention is recognized in Islam, too. It's the topic of the first hadith in Bukhari’s collection of hadith: "The reward of deeds depends on the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended." The role of intention is seen by the courts, too. For instance, intention separates between premeditated murder and manslaughter. So, it's no surprise that Gulen asserts that without "a specific intention to do so, [an action is] unacceptable to God." Thus, behaving morally is not enough. That's pretty much common sense to parents whose children often say, "I promise" without any real intention of doing so when they want to escape the consequences of their actions.

None of this should be new. Still, it's not easy to develop a program that integrates action, reflection, and intention in a way that is not indoctrination but a balance between teachers teaching and students acting autonomously.

Related posts:
Character Education and Love
Code of Ethics
Self-determination Theory and Character Education

Philip Langlais, vice provost for graduate studies and research at Old Dominion University, (The Chronicle of Higher Education via OLDaily) argues for the need for institutional guidelines and faculty involvement in his article "Ethics for the Next Generation." His first and last paragraphs follow:

Troubling reports about the ethics and professional conduct of university presidents, faculty members in fields as diverse as history and the sciences, and biomedical researchers have been sharing space in news columns recently with accounts of the greedy misdeeds of business and political leaders. The scrutiny has begun to reveal such gross misconduct as plagiarism and the falsification and fabrication of data in the hallowed halls of academe and research laboratories. Indeed, the Department of Health and Human Services reported in July that allegations of misconduct by scientific researchers in the United States hit an all-time high in 2004. ...

Higher education has a critical responsibility to focus on educating our graduate students about ethical obligations and professional standards. We cannot rely solely on professional associations or regulatory watchdogs to fulfill this critical need. Our graduate students will soon occupy key positions of leadership and authority in society: Consider that, in 2002, according to the Council of Graduate Schools, nearly 1.5 million students were enrolled in American graduate and professional programs. They will become our college professors; they will train the next generation of our college professors, elementary- and secondary-school teachers, and the administrative leaders of all levels of education. Their knowledge of professional standards and their ability to be aware of and deal with ethical issues will promote integrity in our workplace and enhance the stability of our social fabric for many generations.

Three thoughts:
1. How does this article fit in with George Will's emphasis on knowledge and Schulman's emphasis on education emulating its sibling professions?
2. Will training in ethics be sufficient in a competitive winner-take-all environment?
3. Will training in ethics make up for those who haven't had integrity developed in their character from childhood?

Returning to the theme of education, it's safe to assume that not all character education programs are successful. Lynn Revell (2002), who conductied research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428), despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff. Leming (2000) reported that a literature-based character program promoted cognitive skills among elementary students, but had “mixed results” with respect to affect and behavior. As Kohlberg (1999) states, reasoning is necessary for moral judgment, and moral judgment for moral action; however, moral reasoning and judgment are not sufficient for moral behavior. That is, one may be able to judge a situation correctly in terms of moral principles and still not take moral action, most likely because principles are not integrated into one's identity.

Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory would assert that for individuals to pursue ethical values, internalize them as their own values, and integrate them into their self, their behavior must be self-determined and the environment must satisfy psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, with autonomy referring to the volitional “experience of integration and freedom” and relatedness referring to “the desire to feel connected to others—to love and care, and to be loved and cared for” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p. 231).

Thus, we return to the concept of love as an essential component of leading students (and ourselves) into developing character.

As mentioned below, I presented a paper recently at Rice University focusing on the education movement of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish educator, theologian, visionary, and in it I speculated on why character education has not been successful in the U.S., at least in some cases, perhaps in many.

The effectiveness of character education programs, according to Lynn Revell (2002), remains unclear. Conducting research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), Revell focused on issues of citizenship and identity and reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428). Despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff, students’ attitudes toward the programs’ tenets varied according to personal experiences in their communities.

Besides experience, it seems likely that other factors are likely at play, too. One factor is that character education is almost nonexistent in teacher preparation programs (Milson & Mehlig, 2002). Teachers and schools have little, if any, theoretical or practical experience in implementing character education. Although expertise is required to teach a “subject,” it apparently is not required to teach character. Second, and just as importantly, many proponents of character education programs focus on the students and neglect the character of school staff. (Exceptions exist, for example, Lickona and Meier.) And one wonders how schools and teachers simply acquire character if they did not already possess it. Huebner (1999) is worth citing at length on this point:

First, recent discourse about moral and spiritual values in the classroom is incorrectly focused. That discourse assumes that there is something special that can be identified as moral or spiritual. This assumption is false. Everything that is done in schools, and in preparation for school activity, is already infused with the spiritual. All activity in school has moral consequences. The very highlighting of the need to teach moral and spiritual values in schools implies a breakdown not in the spirituality and morality of the student, but a breakdown in the moral activity and spirituality of the school itself, and of the people in control of the school. Those in control of the schools cover their own complicity in the domination system by urging the teaching of moral and spiritual values. They do not urge that the moral and spiritual climate of the schools, which they control, be changed. That teachers do not feel the freedom to be critical and creative is a sign of their enslavement to other principalities and powers. The need is not to see moral and spiritual values as something outside the normal curriculum and school activity, but to probe deeper into the educational landscape to reveal how the spiritual and moral is being denied in everything. The problem in schools is not that kids are not being taught moral and spiritual values, the problem is—the schools are not places where the moral and spiritual life is lived with any kind of intentionality. (pp. 414-415)

Quite naturally, students would be cynical about programs that attempted to transform the students’ character but not the character of the school itself. Of course, the moral activity and spirituality of communities is important, too. For character education to be successful, we need to return not simply to ideals but to the intentional living out of ideals by schools and communities. And the foremost ideal is that of love.

The requirement of love for a “sane society” was emphasized by Erich Fromm (1955). With love come attitudes, such as “care, responsibility, respect and knowledge” (Fromm, 1955, p. 33). Likewise, Bertrand Russell (1961) considered love and knowledge essential for character and progress: “There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is destructive” (p. 158).

Without love, any attempt to inculcate character values is driven by goals of material success, such as providing “skilled workers” and avoiding discipline problems. Such goals are not necessarily detrimental to education. However, when love is not the guiding principle, these attempts to instill values are no more than indoctrination designed to produce obedience rather than character (Kohlberg, 1999; Kohn, 1999), attempts that do not work but instead promote cynicism, skepticism, or hostility.

For the ideal of love to live in schools, there must be a shift away from the school as a factory in which teachers view students as objectives rather than human beings, a factory in which knowledge is produced and tested rather than character constructed (cf. Huebner, 1999). Instead, there must be a move toward schools and educators who not only have a mastery of their subjects but also embody character and love.

I presented a paper this weekend at a conference at Rice University: Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Thought and Practice. My paper was on the educational aspect of his movement, which has founded hundreds of schools and seven universities around the world.

It was an amazing conference. Participants included well-known scholars, a former Minister of Education from Turkey, and the Vatican Secretariat for Inter-religious Dialogue, and there were official representatives from the Republics of Georgia and Tataristan. As amazing as the participants, more so were the multitude of college student volunteers working behind the scenes to make things flow smoothly.

My paper looked at character education in the U.S. and moved to a consideration of how the the Gülen schools might adapt to be successful in a U.S. context. Basically students need to learn to reason morally (just as they would learn to reason in any particular subject), but that they also need to take action on their reasoning. Not really much that is new, but ideas that are not always acted on. I'll have more on that later. Right now I'm preparing for my next conference at Roberts, LA: Complexity Science and Educational Research. I'm going to consider the role of tagging in class interaction, group formation, and learning.

I submitted my paper on the Fethuallah Gülen educational movement. The more I think about the less confident I am that the public school system will change for the better. The difference between Gülen-inspired teachers and most others (not all, of course) is sacrificial love. Other teachers "model" character, they live it. Students are not deceived, and surrounded by a culture of individualism, corporate greed, and political scandal, there's little reason for them to become any different. It's great to master content knowledge and teaching strategies, but to motivate students to want to master "school" knowledge, teachers must love them.

None of this is new. Schweitzer, Russell, Fromm,Huebner, and others have all said the same: living a life worth living requires knowledge and love. As Russell (1961) put it,

There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is destructive. (p. 158).