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Unfortunately, mere verbal agreement on general moral principles alone will not accomplish important moral ends nor change the world for the better.Moral principles mean something only when manifested in behavior. Yet to put them into action requires some analysis and insight into the real character of everyday situations.Moral principles do not apply themselves, they require a thinking mind to assess facts and interpret situations.
The world does not present itself to us in morally transparent terms.
The moral thing to do is often a matter of disagreement even among people of good will.
One and the same act is often morally praised by some, condemned by others.
Furthermore, even when we do not face the morally conflicting claims of others, we often have our own inner conflicts as to what, morally speaking, we should do in some particular situation.
To bring ethics and morality into the schools in an educationally legitimate way, administrators and teachers must think critically about what to emphasize and what to avoid.
Intellectually discriminating minds and morally refined sensibilities must be in charge of both initial curriculum design and its subsequent classroom implementation.They take themselves to have the Truth in their pockets.They take their perspective to be exemplary of all morality rightly conceived.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.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.Because of complexities such as these, ethically motivated persons must learn the art of self-critique, of moral self-examination, to become attuned to the pervasive everyday pitfalls of moral judgment: moral intolerance, self-deception, and uncritical conformity.These human foibles cause pseudo-morality, the systematic misuse of moral terms and principles in the guise of moral action and righteousness.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.