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How Children Become Moral Selves

Building Character and Promoting Citizenship in Education

Josephine Russell is a teacher with experience of both primary and post-primary education. She received her PhD from St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, and has a special interest in philosophical enquiry with children.

This book examines moral responsiveness and thinking in a mixed gender class of primary school children, and offers a theoretical perspective on children’s ability to think together about morality in a community of enquiry and on related issues of pedagogy. It tracks development in children’s moral awareness, looking at gains and losses from middle to late childhood, and focuses on cognitive skills, notions of moral rectitude, and interpersonal relationships and friendship. The study demonstrates how, through participation in a community of enquiry such as “Thinking Time – Philosophy with Children” (children sit in a circle, engaging in dialogue, with the teacher as facilitator), children become more thoughtful and develop respect and responsiveness as well as other traits of character that are central to democratic citizenship. The author analyses children’s thinking in response to a wide range of content, on issues of justice, freedom and responsibility, rights and duties, inclusiveness, and friendship. Gender differences are also examined.

With the increasing emphasis on education for citizenship in the school curriculum comes an awareness that “children’s voice” and “agency” need to be respected and promoted. Social Personal and Health Education, Values Education, and Education for Citizenship are becoming more critical in an environment where there is a sense of crisis and concern about the fabric of democratic society. In presenting a new paradigm – research with rather than on children, entering into their life-world which their teacher shares – the author demonstrates the potential of children to reflect in a concerned way on issues that concern them and society as a whole.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-175-7
Hardback Price: £29.50 / $45.00
Release Date: December 2006
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Foreword by Joseph Dunne

Introduction: Investigating Moral Selfhood
1 Morality in post-modern Ireland: Culture and policy
Purpose of the study
The methodology
Outline of the book

Part 1 – Building a Theoretical Context
2 The Current Debate: An Overview
The Moral Stage theory of Jean Piaget
The Moral Stage theory of Lawrence Kohlberg
The Particularist position
The Traditional Character Education movement

3 Issues in Moral Education
The moral self
Virtue and moral disposition
What kind of moral education?

4 Ethical Enquiry in the Classroom
Development of reasonableness
The community of ethical enquiry
The role of story and imagination
Gender and moral orientation

Part 2 – Classroom Practice: A Qualitative Analysis
5 Cognitive Change and Development
Cognitive style in middle childhood
Cognitive style in late childhood/early adolescence
The role of the teacher in the community of enquiry
Gender orientation

6 Notions of Moral Rectitude
Notions of fairness
Rights, duties and responsibilities
Virtue versus vice

7 Interpersonal Relationships
Friendship relationships
Boys’ and girls’ friendships

Conclusion: Research Outcomes and Implications
8 Discussion of outcomes
Implications resulting from the study

Appendix: Transcripts of recorded dialogue

Anyone who doubts either the wealth of morally salient issues that concern children or their capacities to engage in serious reflection about them may be given pause by this book …Russell explores the children’s changing comprehensions of central virtues such as justice and truthfulness, and of core moral concepts such as right and wrong, freedom, obligation, responsibility, and rights (including children’s).
From the Foreword by Joseph Dunne, St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University

Russell’s perceptive qualitative study represents an excellent example of how theory begets practice. Her theoretical framework is informed by such varied thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Lev Vygotsky, and Matthew Lipman, among others. Russell’s basic aim is to show how a group of young children grow morally. She is intent on identifying concepts and actions that facilitate that growth, such as virtue and moral dispositions; rights, duties, and responsibilities; cognitive structuralism; communities of ethical inquiry; the importance of friendship; the role of gender; and the power of stories and imagination. Her rather balanced treatment transcends the narrower boundaries of most past and present debates about moral education. Recommended.

Russell discusses the moral responsiveness of children, through a study of a mixed-gender class of primary school children over a period of four and a half years. She focused on the sequence of their structured discussion regarding moral topics that included justices, freedom and responsibility, rights and duties, inclusiveness, and friendship, and how they thought about these issues, their judgments, and reasoning. She also considers the dynamics of dialogue, patterns of responsiveness, and how they influence each other.
Reference & Research Book News

Russell’s book reaches beyond its Irish context to an international audience including anyone concerned with building character and promoting citizenship in education. All too often classroom discussions are considered to be ‘just talk’ and a waste of time. Indeed, even when students excel at the virtues of collaborative philosophical inquiry, still this need not necessarily translate into moral action. However, this research shows how the very practice of classroom discussion within a community of enquiry format can itself be a form of moral action. That is why pursuing both research and practice of this kind is so important.
... How Children become Moral Selves offers a rare textual opportunity for readers worldwide to eavesdrop on the moral deliberations of a single group of children over more than four years in the company of an experienced, concerned and knowledgeable guide. As methodologically well-grounded qualitative research set within a multi-disciplinary theoretical framework, it achieves its purpose and it showcases what it is not to miss the moral complexities and nuances of children’s talk in classroom discussions.
Journal of Moral Education

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