Moral Development in our Classrooms

Brajesh Mishra

Children have this inherent desire to please adults. Be it their parents or teachers. They want us to feel good about them.

Recently, I was reading Rafe Esquith’s book “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire”. Rafe, an award winning teacher from Los Angeles, California, teaches 5th graders from a community of poor and immigrant families. Most of them live in poverty and few speak English as their first language. But students from his class, The Hobart Shakespeareans perform unabridged plays by Shakespeare and go on to attend the finest universities in the country.

In his book, Rafe speaks about the famous Kohlberg’s Six levels of Moral Development and how they can be adapted to the classroom.

Level I : I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble

Most students start at Level I. They walk in a line, finish their homework and sit quietly because they don’t want to get in trouble with the teacher. Fear is the main driving force in such a classroom. But what happens if the stern teacher is not present? Do the students still follow the rules?

Level II : I Want a Reward

Show them the carrot! “Do all the maths problems and you will get a star on your face.” “Help one of your friends and you will get a Superstar card.” I can remember one incident when a girl asked me, “Sir, what will the winning team get?” I said, “Nothing” Then she said in a matter-of-fact tone, “I don’t want to do it then.” It is really important that the children understand that proper behaviour is expected, not rewarded.

Level III : I Want to Please Somebody

Children have this inherent desire to please adults. Be it their parents or teachers. They want us to feel good about them. In my class, there were some children who would start speaking in English the moment they saw me because they knew it made me happy. But then again, what about when I was not there?

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