(Reprinted with permission from The Educational Forum, written by Hendrik D. Gideonse.)
Thomas F. Green’s Voices: The Educational Foundation of Conscience is an exploration not of moral philosophy but of a philosophy of moral education. He is interested less in the substance of a moral philosophy than in how it is possible to come to have one of any kind.
Ethics, for Green, is the effective regulation of conduct. Moral education seeks to govern conduct and relate it to thought. Thus, moral education is the formation of conscience. Green understands conscience to be reflexive judgments of approval and disapproval (including the appropriate emotions associated with those judgments) about things that matter. It is not ever an abstract matter; it is rooted in the particularities of one’s identity and situation.
Green calls the process by which we acquire the capacity for reflexive judgment “normation.” When strong norms are acquired, the standard, the appropriate emotions, and the accompanying capacity for reflexive judgment are integrated with one another. Normation features a critical attitude encompassing a caring to be correct. It is the structuring of the emotions of self- assessment. When norms are acquired, we do not just know them; we have them, and they have us.
Major portions of Greene’s exposition are devoted to an elucidation of five voices of conscience. The “still small voice” commenting on conduct is not one voice but several; in particular, the voices of craft, membership, sacrifice, memory, and imagination. Furthermore, they need not all agree.
The conscience of craft is displayed whenever the norms of that craft govern our assessment of our own work or performance as good or bad, skillful, fitting, and the like.
The conscience of membership, Green acknowledges, may seem a stretch. After all, conscience is perceived as something private. Yet the norms governing reflexive judgments are not private; they arise in the context of a group and govern the conduct of members. Membership necessitates being subject to the group’s norms.
The voice of sacrifice or duty is often seen as the core in moral judgment, partly because it can be so dramatically contrary to what prudence might otherwise dictate. Green means, however, to include prudence as an essential form of reflexive judgment. In fact, it is central to the conscience of craft. Telling the truth or keeping a promise may call for sacrifice; that is, actions that involve turning from pure self-interest.
The fourth and fifth voices of conscience are memory and imagination. In every exercise of reflexive judgment in which the self is judged in terms of origins, ancestors, or founders, memory is engaged. Wherever exemplars are brought into play, the voice of imagination is engaged. The importance of a sense of past, or roots, is critical. No less is the capacity for imagining states of affairs other than those currently existing; otherwise there would be no moving beyond any current problematic state of affairs.
Green goes beyond discussion of the formation of conscience to confront broader issues of public speech, the office of the citizen, and the relation of both to policy processes in a republic. These matters are of particular importance to teachers, whose office it is to serve the value of democracy, as expressed in the social structures that render its form and functions.
Suppose we took Green’s argument to heart. What would we in teacher education be led to do? We cannot fully achieve conscience of craft or deep awareness of the purposes of teachers in U.S. society in the course of a preparation program. To prepare truly conscientious beginning teachers, we must pay attention to the extent that the achievement of these ends has already begun in them.
Academic strength is crucial. Without it, how could candidates acquire norms pertaining to the conscience of craft? Teachers who do not know and appreciate the intellectual content and claims of later learnings will not be in a position to judge the appropriateness of what they teach or what students learn at earlier stages. Another equivalent body of knowledge teacher candidates must master addresses the professional or craft knowledge about teaching: learning, curriculum, assessment, instructional techniques, institutions and structures of schooling, and students, their families, and their communities. We also may want to know how well prospective candidates are developing their voices of conscience.
What would change if preparation was sought to foster development of a multivoiced professional conscience rather than merely a technical proficiency in the craft?
First, all the parts of the education program would exhibit familiarity with, and comfortably express, the fundamental value being served by the teaching profession: the development of a public in service of the continuous reinfection of the republic. In a free society committed to majority rule in the larger context of minority rights, this huge responsibility should never to be far from view.
Second, conceiving of professional education as a deeply moral enterprise whereby we acquire the norms associated with five voices of conscience governing professional conduct would require recognition of the inseparable connection between the cognitive and affective dimensions. Having the capacity to make judgments about one’s work and experience accompanying emotions is what Green means by having a conscience of craft.
Third, Green flatly rejects the notion that people “have” values. He demonstrates that the language of “having” values is a very recent entry into discourse on such matters. Values are forms of social relations in the societal structures we create to serve them. They do not exist in the individual nor, therefore, can they be taught. What can be taught, or at least learned, perhaps, are dispositions or commitments—in Green’s terms, strong normation. Thus, our pedagogical task is to develop dispositions, attitudes, or commitments toward values, but not values themselves. As professionals and citizens, we also have a continuous obligation to ask and, if necessary, address how well the structures created to support those values are performing their function.
Fourth, acquiring norms cannot be done in their absence. We can hardly expect conscience to develop in an environment where conscience is not routinely and continuously manifest. The preparing institution, therefore, must assure congruence between the program’s aims, content, and processes. Strong norm acquisition is a subtle and complex learning process requiring deep immersion in an environment always supportive of the reflexive application of thought to conduct.
Finally, the curricular design must make explicit in every way that all objectives reflect standards of performance. Achievement or nonachievement, performance or nonperformance, leads to more than a grade. They are proper matters for consideration by one’s professional conscience.
The focus on structures arises as a direct extrapolation of Green’s notion that social structures are the manner in which we express values. The structures we create to carry out the initial preparation of teachers may also tell us something about the boundaries of membership—in this case, in the guild whose norms we expect candidates to acquire.
We have only begun to scratch the surface of rearming teachers’ professional education to address not just competent performance but conscientious performance. We need the active participation of other members of the professional community before pressing this issue.
Though various teacher education programs feature some of these implications, it feels like a whole new gestalt when put together in this way. Grasping Green’s ideas about the formation of conscience has completely reorganized my thinking on the field of education.