Moral Education

Discussion Prompt 1:

How traditional societies function, according to Smith:

(a) There are tribes among the Eskimos and the Australian aborigines that do not even have words for disobedience.

(b) Tradition exerts its influence tacitly – spontaneously and unthinkingly. No laws are formulated or penalties affixed; no plans for moral education are intentionally devised. Group expectations are so strong that the young internalize them automatically. (Smith, 162)

What about our society? To what extent do you see ‘tradition’ at work in our time and place? What parts of daily life operate ‘tacitly’ according to ‘group expectations?’ Or might aspects of a society’s tradition be discernable only after they are lost?

Discussion Prompt 2:

According to Smith, education was key to Confucius’ plan for reinstating the role of tradition in society through instillation of deliberate tradition:

“Moral ideas were to be driven into the people by every conceivable means – temples, theatres, homes, toys, proverbs, schools, history, stories – until they became habits in daily life… Even festivals and parades were [in this sense] religious in character. By such means, even a society constituted of individuals can (if it puts itself to the task) spin an enveloping tradition, a power of suggestion, that can prompt its members to behave socially even when the law is not looking.” (Smith, 170)

Was this method of deliberate tradition confined to a context of merely ‘long ago’ and only ‘over there’?

“The United States has its story of George Washington and the cherry tree… […] The stories express national ideals, and shape peoples to their image.” (Smith, 171)

What part do morals or ‘national ideals’ play in your own education? Why is education mandatory up to a certain point in the United States? Why have we subsidized higher education to the point that some amount of college is expected from almost everyone? Can it be explained solely in economic terms (e.g. training the workforce to ensure prosperity)? Or are we all the product of an educational system designed to impart a deliberate tradition? Could we account for changes in our collective morals under this view?

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