Race-ing Moral Formation: African American Perspectives on Care and Justice
reviewed by Floyd D. Beachum - 2005
Title: Race-ing Moral Formation: African American Perspectives on Care and Justice
Author(s): Vanessa Siddle Walker and John R. Snarey
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807744492, Pages: 194, Year: 2004
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Race-ing Moral Formation represents an interesting juncture in the area of moral education. It advocates for the moral/ethical perspectives of African Americans in the educational conversation. This work consists of six chapters under two broad themes. The first (Part I) is African American patterns of moral formation across the life span, and the second (Part II) is African American contributions to promoting moral formation within schools. The conclusion (somewhat of a seventh chapter) utilizes the previous chapters in synthesizing a new theoretical model for moral education. This edited work finds its origins in the philosophical justice versus care debate between Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan. This discussion has been traditionally framed in a way that encourages a constraining dichotomous paradigm that does not leave much room for multi-paradigmatic thought or the fusion of these philosophical opposites. The idea of thinking about moral quandaries from a different vantage point is not necessarily new; it really means that more voices are allowed at the table (African Americans in this case). Furthermore, it means confronting the issue of race and how it places different lenses on how we view the world. Walker and Snarey write:
Although we recognize the lack of empirical data justifying the use of race as a term to categorize people, we also understand that race is what historically has been used to give privilege to one group over another. Indeed, the influence of race is so pervasive that a failure to talk about it usually means that the academic theories espoused predominately reflect the attitudes, values, and beliefs of Whites and omit, or assume compliance with, the perspectives of others. Moral formation theory and practice have developed in this manner (p. 3).
This is the rationale as the book seeks to African Americanize moral formation theory.
This work aims to expand horizons with regard to theoretical orientation while building on a solid intellectual tradition. Theoretically speaking, this work adds a new dimension to the aforementioned bifurcated debate between justice (Kohlberg) and care (Gilligan). In addition, it traverses the landscape of both justice and care and arrives at a new conclusion, a set of values and developing virtues that are inspired by (not necessarily exclusive to) the African American community. One might argue the notion of the African American community as posed as a cultural or ideological monolith, but the authors perspective here seems to take into consideration socio-historical factors in placing this community in a somewhat broader context. The intellectual tradition here is the legacy of African American scholarly endeavors against hegemony, oppression, and academic exclusion. The goal of this text, the inclusion of a different voice, is not much different than the struggle we observe in numerous disciplines. Far too many times, the perspectives, voices, and ideas of people of color are pushed to the periphery of the discussion, silenced with cynicism, or muted in a mountain of pseudo-science and/or psychology. Therefore, this particular contribution not only represents significant epistemological growth but also builds on traditions of intellectualism, advocacy, and pride in the face of peril.
The specific chapters speak to the ways in which African Americans negotiate, conceptualize, and utilize notions of justice and care. Part I includes the first three chapters. Chapter One examines ideas of care, culture, and race through the experiences of children; Chapter Two analyzes the experiences, attitudes, and perspectives of Black adolescents; and Chapter Three advocates womanism, an African American feminist ethic. Part II includes Chapters Four to Six. Chapter Four synthesizes research on segregated schools and posits lessons for contemporary schools; Chapter Five presents a case study in which members of a teacher education faculty must deal with desegregation, traditional teaching practices, and a collegial discourse that forces them to examine their own assumptions; and Chapter Six provides a moral quandary that places a teacher in a serious situation in which she must decide between the justice-based rules and regulations of the organization versus the care-based well-being of a student and the students individual problem. Imbedded in all of the chapters is an examination of the interconnectedness of justice and care in the African American context and a shift away from the mutually exclusive view that has long characterized the discussion. The result of the chapters (elaborated in the conclusion) is a matrix of care and justice primary values with five developing virtues. The values are race-and-gender (virtue: liberation), resistance-and-accommodation (virtue: pluralism), religion-and-ethics (virtue: hope), agency-and-legacy (virtue: empowerment), and community-and-individual (virtue: uplift).
Race-ing Moral Formation: African American Perspectives on Care and Justice makes a significant contribution to moral education, African American education, and education in general. First, it adds a new and necessary dimension to the literature on moral education with regard to diversity. The inclusion of this dimension makes room for even more scholarly inquiry into the area and provides researchers with another framework to inform their assumptions, build hypotheses, and analyze findings. Second, this work benefits African American education because it integrates a moral education/psychology perspective and expands the discussion beyond only the utilization of African American theology for ethical insight. In this manner, it can add to concepts such as Afrocentricity and to the field of African American Studies. Finally, education in general stands to benefit when this kind of knowledge challenges traditional assumptions, provides additional frameworks for scholarship, and remains practical and relevant enough to assist the educators working with students on a daily basis.
Overall, this book is a worthwhile contribution to the field. It combines a diverse range of contexts, philosophies, and methodologies; however, a chapter based on empirical data was not included. Nevertheless, the authors achieve their goals of inserting race into the moral discussion, providing a seamless integration of justice and care, and creating not only new knowledge, but a new model to further the conversation. Snarey and Walker write, in this process of moral formation no single voice is ever adequate, so a plurality of tongues is essential (p. 146). This is a lesson not only worth heeding in moral education, but in all fields.