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On the Possible Forms a Relationship Might Take between the Moral Character of a Teacher and the Moral Development of a Student


by Richard D. Osguthorpe — 2009

Background/Context: The claim of a relationship between a teacher’s moral character and a student’s moral development has its roots in a rich philosophical tradition. It is a tradition that maintains that the young acquire virtue by associating with virtuous people in a virtuous community. In this way, it is assumed virtue is acquired by example and imitation. Recently, this relationship has received increased attention from philosophers of education, who emphasize the importance of the moral character of the teacher in bringing about the proper moral development of the student.

Purpose/Objective: This article is an examination of the various forms that a relationship might take between the moral character of a teacher and the moral development of a student. It brings important distinctions to bear on the assumed relationship and sheds new light on the complexities of the relationship and its possible permutations. The purpose of this article is to better understand these complexities and suggest alternative conceptions of the relationship in question.

Research Design: The methods employed in this article are primarily philosophical and follow the analytic tradition. Analytic philosophy is primarily concerned with the analysis of meaning, and its primary roots are found in the works of Frege, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Russell, and Moore. The success of this type of philosophical inquiry rests on an ability to better understand the use of language. This article draws on the method of ordinary language and concept analysis, relying on the process of making distinctions and suggesting inconsistencies in the language used to describe the relationship in question.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The analysis shows that each of the forms a relationship might take is seemingly quite reasonable and sensible. However, it also concludes that none of these forms provides a definitive claim that a relationship does or does not obtain between the moral character of a teacher and the moral development of a student. The applications for research suggest that scholars pay closer attention to (a) the agency of students in this relationship, (b) the relative influence of a teacher’s unintentional moral expressions, and (c) the role of modeling in moral education. These applications also point to an important possible shift in the conceptualization of moral education: toward morally good teaching (for its own sake) and away from teaching students to be morally good.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 1, 2009, p. 1-26
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15194, Date Accessed: 11/23/2014 2:13:46 AM

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About the Author
  • Richard Osguthorpe
    Boise State University
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD D. OSGUTHORPE is an assistant professor in the College of Education at Boise State University. He conducts research that combines conceptual analysis and empirical study, and his scholarly interests include the moral dimensions of teaching, the study of moral education in schools, the use of practical argument in teacher development, and the pedagogy of educational foundations. His recent publications include “The Scholarship of Educational Foundations: What Does It Imply for Teaching a Course?” and “Making Sense of Approaches to Moral Education” (with Matthew Sanger).
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