When it comes to pedagogy, the art of teaching, there are many different interrelationships among different theories of knowledge, theories of learning, conceptions of curriculum and approaches of broad inquiry for the purposes of schooling. Every teacher is faced with a challenge to effectively convey his or her message of knowledge and inspire today's youth. It takes a certain amount of passion and consistency to pursue such a career.
This paper will argue the validity of Nel Noddings' groundbreaking work on the notion of care and take a look at her book Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. The thesis born out of the reading will also touch on her other works as well. To pursue a just argument that the notion of care works today, this paper will also look at Aristotle's Ethics. By examining his work, the paragraphs below will conduct a theoretical conversation or argument between the two educators. This conversation will explore their different ideas about ethics and morality. This argument will examine how these ideas apply to education today. More specifically, it will look at examples of inner-city experiences at the elementry school level in the Los Angeles Unified School District. By providing these samples of leadership in the classroom, one can argue that a blend of theories is used on a daily basis in the classroom. Is this method successful? What kind of impact do these theories have in the classroom?
Much of Noddings and Aristotle's ideas are found in basic human nature. It is reasonable to assume both can be used. Is this at all possible? Is Noddings' theory too liberal and modern? Is Aristotle's point-of-view out-dated and archaic? Are his ideas too masculine centered while Noddings' are too feministic? Will each of their arguments stand up as theory or will only one stand out as the victor? What are the possibilities? Are there limitations to each idea? This paper will attempt to answer many questions that result as a juxtaposition of these works.
Noddings and Aristotle: A Hypothetical Conversation
If these two great thinkers were to meet today at a table for quiet conversation, what would they say to each other? What kind of dialogue, debate or argument would result? It is clear that each teacher would clarify their stand and thoughts on educational theories used for schooling. They may even agree on some points but I believe that each would be at opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. How does this concept shift our thinking about education? Does the literature need further elaboration? Are there new concepts born out of the reading experience? Does this complicate the original assumption or expand upon it?
Nel Noddings is closely identified with the promotion of the ethics of care; the argument that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making. Her first major work Caring explored what she described as a woman's approach to ethics and moral education. Her argument starts from the position that care is basic in human life. All people want to be cared for (Noddings, 2002, p.11). She starts from the position that while men and women are guided by an ethic of care, natural caring or a form of caring that does not require an ethical effort to motivate it (although it may require considerable physical and mental effort in responding to needs) can have a significant basis in women's experience. Natural caring, therefore, is a moral attitude and considered a longing for goodness that arises out of the experience or memory of being cared for. On this basis Nel Noddings explores the notion of ethical caring and defines it as a state of being in relation, characterized by receptivity, relatedness and engrossment.
It is not easy to decide what caring actually means to each and every person. Her approach is to study the caring that is actually experienced. She asks simple questions like "what are we like" when we interact in caring situations. This question especially initiates an element of self- discovery that we are receptive to new ideas and emotions. Receptive attention is an essential characteristic of a caring encounter. The carer is open to what the cared-for is saying and might be experiencing and is able to reflect upon it. However, there is also something else here - motivational displacement. In other words, the carer's motive energy flows towards the cared-for. The carer thus responds to the cared-for in ways that are, hopefully, helpful. For this to be called 'caring' a further step is required. There must also be some recognition on the part of the cared-for that an act of caring has occurred. Caring involves connection between the carer and the cared-for and a degree of reciprocity; that is to say that both gain from the encounter in different ways and both give.
A caring encounter, thus, has three elements according to Noddings:
A cares for B - that is A's consciousness is characterized by attention and motivational displacement - and
A performs some act in accordance with (1), and
B recognizes that A cares for B. (2002, p.19)
With this in mind, there are differences between caring-about and caring-for. One learns to care-about from experiences with caring-for. Noddings states, "learning first what it means to be cared for, then to care for intimate others, and finally to care about those we cannot care for directly" (2002, p.31). Caring-about is essential and significant in societal change. Still Smith writes, "caring-about is something more general and takes us into the public realm" (2004, par. 4) while caring-for holds more personal conations to the individual.
Nel Noddings sees education (in its widest sense) as being central to the cultivation of caring in society. She defines education as "a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation" (Noddings, 2002, p. 283). Given the above, it is not surprising that she places a special emphasis on the home as a site for educational encounter. Indeed, she views the home as the primary educator and argues for the re-orientation of social policy to this end. This is not to sideline the role of schools but simply to recognize just what the home contributes to the development of children and young people.
Falkenberg explains, "ethics of care characterizes a certain type of approach toward human morality. In a narrow sense the approaches are about conduct in moral situations, in a wider sense they are about a way to live one's life" (par. 5). This sums up how Aristotle saw the subject of ethics. Aristotle does not discuss a concept of care in his writings but his ideas surrounding ethics are very concrete. To him, ethics equaled life's object. He writes, "it is clear that this (ethics) must be the Good, that is the supreme good. Does it not follow, then, that a knowledge of the Good is of great importance to us for the conduct of our lives" (Thomson, 1976, p. 63-64). He emphasizes that if one does not conduct their life according to the "Good" then one is not worthy of experiencing life. The reader would assume this idea carries over into the notion of care. If one is not of high moral character, then one cannot experience care or learn from care. He continues by saying young men do not have the knowledge or experience to learn subjects that are not at his level. He concludes the young man "tends to follow his feelings, with the result that he will not make no headway and derive no benefit from his course" (Thomson, 1976, p.65). He further concludes the defect is due not to lack of years but lack of living.
Aristotle is not from the school of thought that all is lost without experience if one is of high moral character. With any student, there must be a starting point where the learning process takes off. He suggests it is human nature to start with what is already known. In this respect, this idea is not far from Noddings' theory that much of learning and knowledge stems from the home environment of the student. He further defines "moral goodness is the result of habit" (Thomson, 1976, p. 91) and moral virtues are not "engendered in us by nature" (Thomson, 1976, p.91) but rather we are a clean slate to receive them. Still the virtues full development is due to habit. His theorizes once one acquires the potential for learning, the best learning process is experience. Aristotle explains while one has the potential for learning, one also has the potential to not learn. It is our free will that decides. He suggests, " we must give our activities a certain quality because it is their characteristics that determine the resulting depositions" (Thomson, 1976, p.92). What does this mean? Aristotle meant that it does not matter what habits one forms at a young age, but…