Moral literacy is a skill that must be crafted and honed by students, and with the aid of teachers who are well-versed in moral subject matter. It is a complex and multifaceted skill set that is interconnected and must therefore be learned completely in order to be used properly. Teaching students about moral literacy is truly necessary if schools wish to produce productive and responsible citizens.
Nancy Tuana, 2007
Imagine a classroom teacher’s program with Language Literacy, Maths Literacy and Moral Literacy..yes, moral literacy. And just like the other two literacies, moral literacy would have its own set of skills to develop. It is of course, something that is faced by every individual on a daily basis, consciously and subconsciously.
To understand its importance in education we look at the three fundamental areas which Tuana addresses in moral literacy:
This, in itself, “…involves at least three major components:
- the ability to determine whether or not a situation involves ethical issues;
- awareness of the moral intensity of the ethical situation; and
- the ability to identify the moral virtues or values underlying an ethical situation. These abilities are complex and require training and practice to master.” (Tuana)
In this area, the student questions whether there is an ethical issue in the first place. An awareness of virtues, such as honesty and compassion, and ethical dilemmas can be advised through ethical frameworks. But it is not just about deciding whether or not it is an ethical dilemma or not but whether they have the ability to judge the moral intensity of an ethical situation. Making this judgment is a lifelong skill where students will be also faced with these ethical dilemmas in their workplace and lives.
Ethical sensitivity is an awareness of why people react to a dilemma a certain way, and what would be the most effective decision to make based on the intensity of the situation. In a world, which through technology is becoming more accessible, this sensitivity and awareness of different behaviours and choices will serve to accommodate varying and individualised approaches to ethical situations. Tuana calls this being an “ethical adjudicator”.
Ethical reasoning skills also involve at least three different abilities. They involve:
- an understanding of the various ethical frameworks;
- the ability to identify and assess the validity of facts relevant to the ethical situation, as well as assessing any inferences from such facts; and
- the ability to identify and assess the values that an individual or group holds to be relevant to the ethical issue under consideration (Tuana, 2007)
Johnson (1993) referred to moral imagination as the “ability to imaginatively discern various possibilities for acting in a given situation and to envision the potential help and harm that are likely to result from a given situation”. Moral imagination is difficult to teach and often relies on values such as empathy and “putting the student in the other person’s shoes”. Narratives have always been helpful to develop moral imagination. Narratives such as “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “The Diaries of Anne Frank”. Moral imagination is not just about identifying ethical decision and the repercussions of our decisions but it is about experiencing the ethical decision from a varying point of view.
To teach Moral Literacy is a lifelong task. To decide if something is an ethical dilemma, what skills are needed and how to respond are skills that students should be supported in developing just as they are in Maths Literacy or Language Literacy. And life’s experiences will allow the student’s to “fine tune” their literacy. Having the foundation set in their schooling years can only aid in developing citizens who not only recognise ethical situations but act in a way that collates individual and collective values.
Tuana, N. (2007), “Conceptualising moral literacy”, Journal of Educational Administration, 45(4), p.p. 364-378.