Whatever is good education is moral education. It occurs through interaction between the teacher and a child, interaction with other children, through play, instruction, friendship, political debate, and quiet reflection. Whatever reshapes these activities to enhance their meaning and lead us to the next step in life deserves the name moral education. The only basis for developing morals is what the child himself wants or thinks, and/or what the peer group decides is right.
Strong convictions of right and wrong are looked upon as evidence of poor social adjustment and of need for the teachers’ therapy. In this case the role of the teacher in the contact with the children becomes paramount. “Given the small amount of individual attention that the average child is likely to receive, and given its almost certain uneven spread amongst different children, it may well be that the quality of the contact, when it does occur, is of very great importance. “(Boydell, 1978, p. 71)
Participation in the moral development of a child lays huge additional responsibility on a teacher, who already shares the responsibility for the value content of the taught knowledge and for the way in which she/he teaches knowledge and, thus, cultivates a certain attitude to the world at large. “Even though education is, in its original meaning, primarily a moral matter, one might think of schools as institutions where it is necessary to transmit exclusively technical and pragmatic knowledge. If morals do not exist or are of no relevance, moral education isn’t either.
” (Ozer, 1999, p. 232) Moral education always has been an expression of the political and social state of a nation. If harmony does not exist between education and society the teacher finds him/herself in a challenging situation in the attempt to rationalize the changes in moral issues. Balancing the educator’s moral duty to enable students to deal with the contradictions inherent in any complex value system, with the educator’s role as an agent of that very society defines the core moral question confronted by any teacher.
In my own teaching experience I had to face a moral dilemma of whether and to what extent to engage my pupils in consideration of such controversial matters. The breakdown of the former Soviet Union and its dispersal into component parts revitalized an already existing feeling that the Russian nation needed to return to its roots. There was much talk of “the Russian school”, and curricular discussion was turned on ways of reinforcing pupils’ national identity.
People were concerned about the commercialisation of all spheres of activity, the growth of criminality and the fact that the worth of education itself was even called into question. The pupils had questions about who was right and who was wrong, but I didn’t have the answers: there was no way of knowing at that time the real impact perestroika and glasnost has had on the country; nor was there a way of knowing the impact these measures will have on the educational system.
By the middle of the new century our world will be run by those, who are children today. But the decisions that will affect them before they are old enough to assume leadership will be made by us. As we wonder what kind of leaders they will be based on the powerful forces of violence and hatred, with which they are faced, we must remember that we are in charge today. We, parents and teachers, have the choice of either passing on to them a legacy of peaceful coexistence, or allowing the crisis of violence to increase its own destructive momentum.