The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Moral

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EDUCATION, Moral. Instruction in morals, whether merely informally by parents or formally by teachers, dates from earliest antiquity. This is true largely because of the nature of the subject, for morals, strictly defined, comprise as subjects the customs (Latin mores), laws and precepts which have grown up among a tribe, people or race.

Out of this kind of moral instruction grew another which went beyond a content which had only included those things as moral which were customary. This new kind of teaching questioned certain moral standards which had grown up and, taking a more advanced ground than that which made mere custom determine a moral standard, declared that certain rules of conduct should be followed because they were better than custom. The determination of what was better was generally arrived at by the experience of realizing that a condemned custom was detrimental to general physical or mental welfare.

Moral instruction along this higher plane became most prominent among the Hebrews and the Greeks, was carried on by the Romans and has continued down to our own day.

It was quite natural that from earliest times moral instruction should become closely interwoven with religion and the clergy. The latter as a class were the preservers of custom and the speculative philosophers on improvement. Great moral teachers other than the clergy did arise and brought about what were sometimes considered great revolutions in moral ideals, but generally throughout ancient and medieval times the dominating importance of religion and the priesthood made the religious organization the determining factor in moral instruction. Particularly in the Middle Ages the close association of education with ecclesiastical institutions made the clergy the almost sole teachers of morals.

Beginning with the Renaissance and the Reformation there began to grow almost imperceptibly and very gradually a separation between religion and education which has culminated in their practically absolute divorce in the public schools of France and the United States. In the course of this long movement moral instruction largely remained in the hands of the churches, as those in control of state-supported schools felt that because of the variety of religious sects no form of religion should be taught. The close connection hitherto existing between the teaching of religion and the teaching of morals, and a feeling that the two were difficult to separate, were probably responsible for permitting the teaching of morals to drop out of state-supported institutions.

In countries like England and Prussia, where the church and state maintained and still maintain a close relationship, and the public schools are still strongly under the religious influence of the Church, moral instruction was continued. The tendency to drop it from the state-supported schools of the former country led in 1906 to the formation of the Committee on Moral Instruction and Training in Schools for work both in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

In France the government in 1882 put into operation a course of study in morals for use in the public schools. In the United States the Religious Education Association, organized in 1903, has begun an agitation for the introduction of moral instruction in the public schools and its efforts have been seconded by a recently established (1911) National Institution for Moral Instruction with headquarters at Washington, D. C.

These movements in the United States have had particular reference to the public schools. Schools, conducted by or in conjunction with churches or religious sects, and ethical culture societies, and many, though not all, private schools, consciously attempt to give moral instruction. The colleges, generally speaking, the public elementary and the public high schools, do little or nothing in an avowedly formal way with moral instruction.

The problem presents great difficulties particularly in the United States. The heterogeneous character of the school population, comprising as it does children from scores of different peoples foreign to each other in language, religion, institutions and moral ideals, makes it extremely difficult to get a common meeting ground. A course of study in morals comparatively easy to carry out in a New England or Southern village, where all of the people are of a common ancestry for generations, encounters unexpected difficulties in New York city. A course now used in France, for example, can, in some particulars, be shown to be ill adapted to the United States.

Again, the teachers, though all agreed that something along the lines of moral instruction ought to be done, are in no agreement at all as to how it should be done. Those who believe that formal lessons in morals with a definite allotment of school time ought not to be given seem to be in a majority. They feel that some suggestive course of study ought to be drawn up so that teachers would be enabled to give training in character and morals in conjunction with the studies already in the curriculum, particularly those of English, history and civics. They feel, however, that each study may be made to answer the purpose, when skilfully and deftly handled, and that everything in connection with school life should be utilized: the playground, sports, the assembly, the school city, self-government, dramatics, pageants, home visits, parents' meetings, etc. They lay emphasis on the personality of the teacher and on the necessity that normal schools and other teacher training agencies are under, to develop teachers who will exercise a good influence on pupils by their personality, spirit and example. They also urge that those who employ teachers should place the element of personality more strongly to the fore than formerly.

The teaching body as a whole may be said to be passive with reference to moral instruction. Though perhaps acknowledging its worth they are willing to do nothing active to bring it into the course of study. Some meetings of the National Education Association (1907 and after) have had papers read upon it and they have met with a favorable reception. In some communities the courses of study in the elementary schools point out the opportunity for giving moral instruction, but this is not general.

A considerable negative element is found which doubts the utility of moral instruction. Members of this group maintain that it cannot be shown that the moral condition of the people in countries where religious and moral instruction is given is any higher than in the United States. They say that it cannot be shown that the graduates of church and private schools, where more or less formal moral instruction is given, are superior to those of the public schools, where virtually no or very informal instruction is found. They maintain that it is only through the personal influence of the teacher that good results are obtained and that all efforts should be directed toward the preparation of the teachers. They seem to overlook, however, the fact that the teacher is an outgrowth of the boy or girl, and that to get effective teachers a system of moral instruction for the children is necessary, as the pupil of to-day is the teacher of to-morrow. In spite of this negative attitude on the part of some the outlook at present is that courses of study for morals and character building will have a great growth in the future. See Ethics; and related topics on Education.

Bibliography. — Griggs, E. H., ‘Moral Education’ (pp. 297-341); Martin, E. G., ‘Moral Training of the School Child’; Rugh, C. E., and others, ‘Moral Training in the Public Schools’; Sadler, M. E., ‘Moral Instruction and Training in Schools in Great Britain and Ireland’ (Vol. I, pp. 480-489); and ‘Schools of Other Countries’ (Vol. II, pp. 351-369); National Education Association, indexes to volumes of Proceedings; Religious Education Association, Index to all publications to 1909 — see under Schools, Morals, etc., and particularly Vol. III, pp. 137-146; South Dakota Education Association, ‘List of Books Useful in Class Work.’

James Sullivan,
State Historian, The State Education Department, Albany, N. Y.