Book Reviews: Plan B and Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education

I’ve read 24 books this summer which seems like a lot but isn’t when compared to the stack of books on my desk and the 82 books on my Amazon wish list! So, I’m going to try to “turn it on” in the 30 days left of my summer.

I’ll put Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (wasn’t dumbed down enough for me) and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (not my kind of humor) to one side because I’d rather talk about Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and Clark Power’s Lawrence Kohlberg’s Approach to Moral Education.

I excerpted from Plan B a few weeks ago and listened to the audiobook on some long drives I had recently. This book was full of touching stories and humbling reflections on life and Anne Lamott’s spirituality. At times it got a little too touchy-feely for me (and she went on far too long bitching about George Bush – give me a break) but on the whole this is Lamott at her best. Her prose is awesome – I even scribbled down some of her phrases on my Blackberry at a red light: “Laughter is carbonated happiness” or “Life works because not everyone is nuts on the same day” or “Are you drowning in uncried tears?”

Clark Power’s review of Lawrence Kohlberg’s approach to moral education was equally engrossing, for I have always wondered what the best way for schools (or any formal institution, for that matter) should teach/talk about morals and values. This is a very tough topic for self-described “aggressively secular” private schools like the one I go to. First, the book recaps Kohlberg’s six stages of moral judgment – starting with avoiding rules backed by punishment, to following rules only when it is in your immediate interest, to “being good” and living up to expectations, and culminating in the sixth stage of following self-chosen ethical principles and acting on the principle even when they conflict with a certain law or social agreement. Few people ever reach the sixth stage. After learning that even by age 18 one’s cognitive development is not nearly complete (Yay! The more brain cells the better, baby!) we are taken into the heart of Cluster School, a school founded by Kohlberg that is premised on complete democratic governance with each student and teacher having one vote in school decisions. It is clear that by providing students the opportunity to grapple with tough administrative decisions, they are developing moral reasoning skills that otherwise go undeveloped until they are out in the real world and decide to, you know, fudge the numbers or perform some other great moral deed that is Enron/Worldcom/Arthur Anderson.

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