n South African Journal of Education - Nurturing democratic virtues : educators' practices

Volume 24, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0256-0100
  • E-ISSN: 2076-3433



One aspect of the role of educators in preparing learners for citizenship of a democracy, namely, the nurturing of appropriate virtues, isexplored. In previous work I identified educators' priorities in this respect. This article reports on what educators say that they do. Certainvirtues are frequently identified in the literature as important if a democracy is to flourish, and their presence in individuals is taken as anindicator of the values they hold. It is widely asserted that schools and educators have an important role to play in promoting thedevelopment of virtues. For the purposes of this paper, an important aspect of this role is conceived of as the fostering of personaldispositions (consistent tendencies to behave in a particular way), referred to as cognitive and moral virtues. Previous research indicatesthat educators are aware of a responsibility to engage with the moral development of the learners in their care but suggests a number ofconcerns related to their capacity and to their understanding of their role. The study reported here was a quantitative survey of the strategiesemployed by a sample of 350 Western Cape educators to nurture the dispositions (both cognitive and moral) they considered to beimportant. Responses to a checklist of thirteen possible strategies indicated that the two most frequently used strategies were thoseassociated with traditional discipline, suggesting that moral education tends to be perceived as a response to negative behaviour rather thanas the active encouragement of virtues. This was to an extent belied by the fact that almost 70% of educators believed that they had animportant role as models. Less than half of the respondents claimed to encourage reasoned discussion, careful thinking and judgement andeducators generally made surprisingly little use of real life or literary role models. Open ended additional responses suggested that educatorsunderstand the importance of broader factors that influence development and that training in Outcomes-Based Education is filtering throughinto classroom practice. It appears, however, that while educators accept a role that goes beyond the mere provision of information, theytend not to conceptualize what they do in terms of nurturing virtues, or as 'moral education' or as 'education for democracy'. They do notcall upon a wide range of strategies for the active mediation of virtues, and appear not to have reflected on these issues. The articleconcludes with some recommendations that might nurture and support educators in their complex task of nurturing and mediating virtues.

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