Schools as promoters of moral judgment: the essential role of teachers’ encouragement of critical thinking
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The assumption that high level functioning is characterized by a great deal of autonomy is central to some major theories of moral development [Kohlberg (in T. Lickona (ed.) Moral development and behavior: Theory, research and social issues, 1976); Piaget (The moral judgment of the child, 1932)] and to the self-determination theory of motivation [Ryan and Deci (The American Psychologist, 55, 68–78, 2000)]. Based on these theories, we hypothesized that students’ perceptions of their teachers as autonomy supportive, mainly in the form of encouragement of critical thinking, and perhaps also choice, would be positively associated with students’ advanced moral judgment. Data collected from 12th grade students in two regular schools and two democratic schools supported this hypothesis. Results also showed that being a student in a democratic school (as opposed to a regular one) was associated with autonomous moral judgment, and that this association was mediated by students’ perceptions of teachers as encouraging criticism, but not choice. A possible implication is that programs of moral education should explicitly promote teachers’ inclination to encourage critical thinking in their students.
KeywordsAutonomy support Self-determination theory Adolescence Moral autonomy Critical thinking Democratic schools
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