Moral Education and Common Schools in America: a Historian's View

Journal of Moral Education 13 (2):101-111 (1984)
Moral education was a central purpose of common schools in nineteenth-century America. In order to make state-regulated schools as inclusive as possible, educators attempted continually to broaden the cultural basis of school morality, first to a pan-Protestant, non-sectarian religion in the mid-nineteenth century, then to increasingly secular versions in the early twentieth century, and recently to a more pluralistic and morally relativistic stance. Although there is a basic historical continuity to this strategy, the present secular and cosmopolitan ideology, supported by the federal government and many professional educators, has often clashed with traditional, local, parental and sectarian views at the grassroots level, contributing to the sense of crisis surrounding public schooling today.In view of the increasing cultural diversity of the American population and the constitutional developments of the past twenty-five years, educators cannot simply turn back the clock to recapture a viable basis for moral education. The task for the 1980s, instead, is a continuing and self-conscious adjudication of local and cosmopolitan values
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