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Moral principles do not apply themselves, they require a thinking mind to assess facts and interpret situations.Moral agents inevitably bring their perspectives into play in making moral judgments and this, together with the natural tendency of the human mind to self-deception when its interests are involved, is the fundamental impediment to the right use of ethical principles.One and the same act is often morally praised by some, condemned by others.
This is not an unreasonable demand, for, ethics aside, skill in the art of drawing important intellectual discriminations is crucial to education in any subject or domain, and proficiency in the art of teaching critically — encouraging students to question, think for themselves, develop rational standards of judgment — is the responsibility of all classroom teachers.
Any subject, after all, can be taught merely to indoctrinate students and so to inadvertently stultify rather than develop their ability to think within it.
The world needs not more close-minded zealots, eager to remake the world in their image, but more morally committed rational persons with respect for and insight into the moral judgments and perspectives of others, those least likely to confuse pseudo with genuine morality. How can we cultivate morality and character in our students without indoctrinating them, without systematically rewarding them merely because they express our moral beliefs and espouse our moral perspective?
The answer is in putting critical thinking into the heart of the ethical curriculum, critical thinking for both teachers and students.
People, except in the most rare and exceptional cases, do have a strong tendency to confuse what they believe with the truth.
It is always the others who do evil, who are deceived, self-interested, close-minded never us.Paul spells out the implications of this view for the teaching of ethics in literature, science, history, and civics.He provides a taxonomy of moral reasoning skills and describes an appropriate long term staff development strategy to foster ethics across the curriculum.As a result, everyday moral judgments are often a subtle mixture of pseudo and genuine morality, moral insight and moral prejudice, moral truth and moral hypocrisy.Herein lies the danger of setting up ill-thought-out public school programs in moral education.On the other hand, what these same people fear most is someone else’s moral perspective taught as the truth: conservatives afraid of liberals being in charge, liberals of conservatives, theists of non-theists, non-theists of theists.Now, if truth be told, all of these fears are justified.Unfortunately, we have all been subjected to a good deal of indoctrination in the name of education and retain to this day some of the intellectual disabilities that such scholastic straight-jacketing produces.To allow ethics to be taught in the public schools this narrowly is unconscionable.Considered another way, ethical persons, however strongly motivated to do what is morally right, can do so only if they know what that is.And this they cannot do if they systematically confuse their sense of what is morally right with their self-interest, personal desires, or what is commonly believed in their peer group or community.