Richard Williams - The Moral Foundations of Education

Richard Williams

“It is inevitable that all societies have morals,” said Richard Williams, Associate Academic Vice President for BYU. Dr. Williams spoke on The Moral Foundations of Education and its relationship to the Moral Dimensions of Education, four educational belief statements created by Dr John Goodlad. Dr. Goodlad is the co-founder of the National Network of Educational Renewal. The Moral Dimensions of Education are the collective subject of a lecture series designed as part of the year long celebration of the 20th anniversary of the BYU- Public School Partnership. Dr Williams was the first of five speakers.

The presentation began with a reiteration of Goodlad’s assertion that education is a “moral endeavor,” a stand that places a unique responsibility for the development and learning of children, youth, and adults, on schools and institutions that prepare teachers. “A moral foundation for education is essential,” stated Dr. Williams. “Teaching is a moral action because other humans are involved and within teaching there are meaningful contributions to humans.”

Dr Williams took the idea to the next level noting that education is the propagator of culture, passing it from one generation to the next. Thus education becomes the vehicle to pass moral values from generation to generation. “Culture is produced by morality,” he summarized.

Interfacing moral values in education with the theory of simultaneous renewal, or that teacher preparation and public schools systems must work together to make positive change in public education, Dr. Williams stated “Morality is also a core to educational renewal.”

Dr. Williams noted that policy makers hesitate to talk about education and morality together based on a fear that conflict may result. However, Dr. Williams counseled that faith is a necessary aspect of a moral education because it gives answers to the why questions of civility and “good” choices. He added that addressing only the how of moral choices is too narrow a focus to produce moral individuals. That no answering the why questions produce nihilism, which is the death of meaning.

Spiritual values are also imperative because of the effect on teachers when they believe they are teaching active moral agents instead of creatures who are intelligent by chance. “Moral foundations are not possible without looking toward some good end to humans” he added. Williams recommended that a moral foundation gives meaning to the hope that is in humans—whether for this life or the next.

Dr. Williams stated that teachers must be trained so they are aware of the role they have to teach virtues. “The modeling of virtues is necessary by teachers for students,” he said, adding, “We must judge acts as good or bad, right or wrong.” A moral education, declared Williams, is the enemy to tyranny.

Dr Williams concluded by reemphasizing that morality is necessary for education, educational renewal, and continued democracy. “We at BYU are uniquely positioned to make a contribution to discussion on moral dimensions. We will meet intolerance—but we have a history of overcoming this intolerance.”

Dr. Richard Williams biographical Information

Dr. Williams holds a Ph.D. in Psychological Sciences and Philosophy from Purdue University. He has been a professor in the Department of Psychology at BYU since 1995. On three occasions he was chosen as Outstanding Teacher by graduating students in that department. His scholarly work includes four books, numerous book chapters and journal articles, and dozens of invited papers and addresses.

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Educator Preparation Program (EPP)