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A Multi-Level Model of Moral Functioning: Integrating Socio-Bio-evolutionary Science, Socio-Constructionism, and Constructivist-Developmental Theory  

Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns and Robert L. Selman

Tensions chronically exist in the research literature among bio-evolutionary scientists, constructivist-developmental psychologists, and socio-constructionist scholars about how to describe, understand, and predict our moral functioning. An analysis of the assumptions of each of these theoretical paradigms, the disciplinary fields that inform their conceptual models, and the empirical evidence they use to sustain their claims reveals the tensions that exist, as different communities of scholars assign different roles to nature and nurture, reason and intuition, and to the private minds of individuals and the social intelligibilities available to them in a given time and place of history. Using simple multilevel structures, it is possible to see that the divisions that exist within these scientific communities can be conceptualized in terms of their use of different levels of analysis, as they each focus on different populations and employ different underlying units of time and space. Bio-evolutionary scientists study humans as species, using slow-paced time units of analysis such as millennia, and their studies focus on the epigenetic dimensions of our moral sense, documenting inter-species variance in moral functioning. Socio-constructionists study humans as members of groups, using moderately paced time units of analysis such as decades and centuries, and their studies focus on cultural variations in what different groups of people consider to be good or bad, according to the social structures and intelligibilities that are available to them in a given time and place of history. Constructivist-developmental psychologists study humans as individuals, using fast-paced time units of analysis such as months and years, and their studies focus on the maturational dimension of our moral sense, documenting within- and between-individuals variation throughout their lifetime. Unfortunately, by focusing on different populations and time units, these communities of scholars produce research findings that highlight certain aspects of our moral functioning while downplaying others. Interestingly, complex multilevel structures can illustrate how different levels of analysis are nested within each other and can demonstrate how different scientific endeavors have been striving to account for different sources of variability in our moral functioning. The use of complex multilevel structures can also allow us to understand our moral functioning from a dynamic, complex, multilevel theoretical perspective, and as the product of (a) genetic variations that occur between and within species, (b) variations in the social structures, discourses, and intelligibilities that are available in the culture and regulate what social groups consider good and bad at different places and times of history, and (c) variations in the personal experiences and opportunities of interaction that individuals have in different environments throughout their lifetime. Researchers need to clarify the epigenetic, historical, and developmental rules of our moral functioning, and the ways in which different dimensions interact with each other.

Article

Aspirations to Gender Equality in Philosophy, Political Activism, and Education  

Gregory Bynum

Late 20th-century and early 21st-century social movement toward gender equality in society has been significant. Parents and educators commonly expect that all youngsters should have the same life opportunities regardless of gender. In education, girls and young women are excelling, often equaling and even surpassing boys and men in academic performance and in earning college degrees and graduate degrees. Further, women are more frequently assuming traditionally “masculine” professional roles (doctor, lawyer, manager, legislator, governor, and others) while men more frequently assume traditionally “feminine” roles, successfully taking on more child care and housework, and working in nursing and other traditionally “feminine” fields. At the same time, preferences for gender hierarchy are still strongly expressed in many areas of society. At the top of leading social institutions including government and business, men still possess far more political, economic, and intellectual leadership power and authority in comparison to women; and in reaction to political and economic power imbalances, women’s rights activists sometimes express the idea of female superiority instead of arguing for gender equality. In the area of socialization, girls and women continue experiencing high levels of gender-specific pressure to conform to narrow ideals of physical beauty and emotional supportiveness, while boys and men continue experiencing pressure to avoid communicating about their vulnerabilities and emotions, possibly stunting their emotional development and impairing their mental health. In this context, gender equality emerges as a vital, early-21st-century educational imperative that is essential in actualizing what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has designated the right of all people to an education for the “full development of the human personality.” In the gender equality imperative’s emergence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the following elements are all interrelated: philosophical perspectives and sociopolitical developments indicating a need for gender equality, thinking and practices opposed to gender equality, and the development of pro-gender-equality educational understandings and practices.