Influences and Affiliations
Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
In the summer of 1977, two A-School faculty members and the principal of Scarsdale High School attended a symposium at the Harvard Institute on Moral Development and Moral Education, where they met psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg subsequently attended Community Meetings at the A-School, on a semi-regular basis, from the late 1970’s through the 1980’s. He also conducted staff trainings on his theory of how people grow as moral thinkers. Kohlberg’s ideas about moral education underlie much of the theory behind Fairness Committee, one of the A-School structures, and continue to influence the values and practices of the A-School in numerous ways.
Kohlberg’s work built upon the theory of cognitive development developed by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget postulated that human beings become increasingly capable of complex thought as they grow up, moving through identifiable stages of abstraction. Kohlberg transferred this concept to the field of moral reasoning, suggesting that people also become increasingly able to understand more complex and abstract positions when considering ethical issues. Kohlberg believed that people become more sophisticated moral thinkers through practice in debating moral dilemmas; hearing the arguments of more developed thinkers pushes those on a more concrete level towards the higher stages.
Kohlberg believed that moral reasoning develops through five stages, as described below:
Stage one: Stage one thinkers see moral issues in extremely concrete terms, considering only their own needs and desires. The central issue for them is whether some course of action will result in a reward or punishment for themselves.
Stage two: Stage two thinkers can take into account the perspective of another person, but only in so far as that person benefits or hinders themselves. A stage two thinker, for example, might believe in acting in another’s interest if he or she believes that that person will later return the favor.
Stage three: Stage three thinkers can take into account the needs and feelings of a narrowly defined group with whom they feel an affiliation, such a family or team.
Stage four: Stage four thinkers can understand the more abstract needs of a whole community. Such thinkers, for example, might understand the importance of upholding rules that interfere with their personal desires, or the desires of their family or group of friends, in the interest of promoting social order and equity.
Stage five: Stage five thinkers can see issues from the perspective of highly abstract principles like justice or mercy, which may not always conform to the established laws of society. Such thinkers might believe, for example, that adherence to some broader humanistic value should transcend the need for order and rules.
The Coalition of Essential Schools
In the spring of 1987, three S.A.S. and ten S.H.S. faculty members attended a conference on the Coalition of Essential Schools, an organization founded by Theodore Sizer and initially affiliated with Brown University. The Coalition was committed to implementing radical reform of secondary education in the U.S. In the spring of 1988 S.A.S. was accepted into the Coalition, and the A-School community voted to approve the faculty initiative to join.
The Coalition’s vision of education was distilled in ten “Common Principles” which included:
- Learning to use one’s mind well
- Less is more; depth over coverage
- Goals apply to all students
- Student-as worker; teacher-as-coach
- Demonstration of mastery
- A tone of decency and trust
- Commitment to the entire school
- Resources dedicated to teaching and learning
- Democracy and equity
The Coalition dissolved as an organization in 2016; however, SAS continues to embrace many of its principles.