Morals and values are developed. Children acquire ideas about right an wrong at different ages. Lohlberg (1963) has investigated such development, describing three levels of moral thought. The levels and stages are described in the table provided in this unit. These stages have been identified from verbal responses of children and adults to moral dilemmas presented to them. One such dilemma is: Should a civil defense worker leave his post to help his family, which may have been injured in a disaster, or should he stay where he is and help others? Responses to such a dilemma could be based on beliefs that:
Stage 1. The worker should stay, or he’ll be punished by the authorities.
Stage 2. He should go to his family because he’ll worry himself to death if he doesn’t find out what happened to them.
Stage 3. He should go because good husbands care about their families.
Stage 4. He should stay because the rules say he should not leave his post.
Stage 5. He probably should stay since he agreed to man such a position in an emergency, but if some special circumstances came up, he might justify his leaving.
Stage 6. He should stay because if he left he would be putting the safety of a few over the many, and that’s not right; the people near him who are in trouble are someone’s family also, and he is ethically bound to take care of them. If he didn’t, he would probably feel miserable the rest of his life.
Children of various ages show various levels of moral thought. The rate of development through the stages can be increased through experiences. The stage at which the child is functioning sets limits on what he can comprehend. Studies have demonstrated that the sequence of moral development cannot be altered. Children never revert to a stage through which they have passed.
Moral development is a process of growth based upon interaction with the environment, Educators and behavioral scientists are working on the problems of improving moral development in a technologically mature and rapidly changing society. Teachers will do well to remember that when moral concerns are an issue, a student can profit from exposure to belief at one stage above his own. Presenting moral beliefs at high levels of abstraction and complexity will probably be ineffective with young children.
Table 19-3. Kohlberg’s Definition of Stages of Moral Development (Source: Adapted from Tuirel (1973, pp. 733-734)).
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