Learning Experience 4: Wide-Awakeness and the Moral Life

Maxine Green, author of “Wide-Awakeness and the Moral Life,” discusses the necessity for all people to develop a critical consciousness and begin their journey to a moral life. Greene uses literary examples and detailed explanations to relay her thoughts and ideas to the audience. She underscores the importance for teachers to embark on the moral life in order to pass on their sense of wide-awakeness to the students. 

Greene begins by defining wide-awakeness as a plane of consciousness in which the person is in full moral awareness to life. Many people in society live in a mere habitual and mechanical like state, never questioning the world around them. The only means of escape is through asking why. This inquiry usually arises from a new found anxiety or understanding of an injustice in society. The people who lack a sense of wide-awakeness act almost as a puppet to the demands of life and its responsibilities. The current structure of the business world adds to the difficulty for people to break this trance and take initiative in their own lives. Individuals often do as they are told, inhibiting their consciousness. Many people are unfortunately caught in the system due to the ordinality of their lives  or the belief that the world is predefined. They lack the understanding that their reality is interpretative and can be changed by a simple question. By inquiring why certain conditions, like unnecessary domination, exist individuals can become wide-awake and begin their journey to the moral life. 

This is particularly important for teachers to take this initiative. They must bring wide-awakeness into schools for the benefit of their pupils. Educators must question what courses of action the school is taking and how it affects the moral academic track their students are on. This will allow members of the school community to embark on the moral life. Teachers must be able to make defensible choices and relay this ability to their students. Those that are half-asleep are more likely to follow a crowd which is especially dangerous for naive children. Teachers must truly become in touch with themselves and decide on the grounds in which they make decisions. This means that we can no longer use a system of rewards and punishments for moral behavior in schools. This will allow both educators and the educated to take responsibility for their own actions. Students must learn to make moral choices and take moral actions. Principles and norms can be used as a guide, but it must be understood that these are not final and decisions should be weighed on a personal level. Imagination, awareness, and attentiveness are required on this trek to the moral life. Teachers must identify alternatives for their students, teach principles and norms, as well as enable pupils to reflect and communicate about their decisions. A moral life is required in order for students to learn because learning is a choice that must be made. This is what makes a teacher’s job so difficult especially if they are inhibited by school demands. 

The author’s ideological perspective is evident by her support for the moral teaching of students to stray from traditional barriers. Greene embraces true ethical teaching that allows young adults to make decisions on their own and stand by said choices in wake of a variety of alternatives. She obviously believes in education creating a better tomorrow for children and finds that embarking on the moral life is the key to this. Her ideas mirror that of Paulo Freire in his piece, “The Banking Concept of Education.” Freire argues against the current education system. He claims that the deposits teachers are forced to make in their students’ minds are hindering the children’s ability to develop a critical consciousness. Both also speak on the unquestioned hierarchy of schools, with Freire detailing the damaging effects this system has in different capacities. Greene’s in depth discussion of the importance of wide-awakeness in the educational sector is inspiring and highlights her true passion for the betterment of academics. 

I agree with Greene’s thoughts and ideas. She allowed me to reflect back on my high school experience and realize the lack of consciousness in the classroom. I was able to question why in my social experiences outside of the school; however, I simply stuck to my predetermined schedule in the educational facility. I would accept each assignment, project, and test without question. Even when the exams seemed not to cover the material taught in class or detailed in the chapter, I still accepted any bad grade as a personal failure instead of simply inquiring. My wide-awakeness in the school was both provoked and stifled by anxiety. The anxiousness I felt for tests spurred a series of questions about why I had to sit for hours attempting to memorize information, only for me to be stumped by a widely complex question on the exam. However, this same anxiety would prevent me from embarking on the moral life and actually inquiring about why I must do these things because of my fear of the authority figures in the classroom. This piece opened my eyes to the idea that I should have questioned this hierarchy, as well. Why does the teacher get to hold such a dominant role in the classroom? And why does their position allow some educators to belittle students or stifle creativity? This is most likely due to a struggle for control that exists in many human beings, but unfortunately this instinct inhibits others from reaching their true potential.

When I am an educator, I plan to position myself as a true leader. This does not place me above my students, rather gains me their respect. With this trusting bond, my pupils will not fear me and be able to question the world around them. Since I plan to be an elementary school teacher, I will not just use rewards and punishments for behavior. I will ask my students why they did what they did, present them with alternatives, show them the path I would have taken, and ask if this changes their mind and to explain their reasoning. The question of “why” will be encouraged in my classroom, ensuring that this is a safe space for them to truly understand their choices and take responsibility for their actions. Young children may not come to class with a full understanding of right and wrong so it is my job to show them how to decipher between these two easily. Their lack of understanding does not give me the right to create a moral hierarchy, it simply means that I must take the time to provide my students with the guidance they need. Greene’s article was inspirational and eye-opening. I hope that my students will grow up strong, independent, and wide-awake which begins in the classroom. Being wide-awake is what leads to an improved education system, thus a better society.

For the learning experience this week, my group and I decided to discuss the aforementioned themes, specifically keying in on how and why wide-awakeness and the moral life should be incorporated into all classrooms. Our learning objectives were to understand wide-awakeness and the consequences of lacking it, as well as comprehend how and why this is implemented in the classroom to encourage students to embark on a moral life. We chose these topics to focus on because we thought they were most valuable to a class full of potential future teachers. These individuals should understand the responsibilities they have in the classroom and how their actions could affect students. In addition, comprehending the moral life in general will help everyone, even those not going into education, because it provides a different perspective that could push people to a more critically conscious life. My contributions to the planning of the lesson were to make slides 7 to 10 in our google slides presentation. These were needed to introduce the concept of wide-awakeness in education and the roles teachers and students play. Also, these slides allowed me to show how the concepts are relevant in our lives as current students and potentially future teachers.  In addition, I found both videos and the comic used in our discussion, as well as created all the questions found in our shared google doc. While teaching the lesson, I was in charge of presenting my slides to inform the class. Also, I asked the questions about our presentation and the other media used in the discussion in my breakout room. 

My breakout room consisted of Shaina and me. I began by inquiring about her past experiences with schooling and whether or not she felt she was wide-awake. Shaina explained that, similar to me, she was not embarking on a moral life in school. She sees that both in and out of the classroom, she did not question many things that involved her academics, simply played along like most children, as well as teachers, do. Following this we watched, Values Songs – The Respect Video. This song spoke of respect and how children must value those around them. I asked Shaina how this compares or differs from Greene’s ideas on morality. We spoke about how this video is extremely different because it merely tells children what to do, it does not allow them to make decisions for themselves. Shaina spoke about the fact that sometimes not everyone deserves your respect and it is the teacher’s job to guide a student on how to make those decisions, not just simply make them for the young adults or provide a blanket statement about a variety of moral issues. The next video, Kohlberg’s 6 Stages of Moral Development, underscores how children develop through different stages which Greene touched on in her article. I asked Shaina if this moral development could be sped up with Greene’s push for wide-awakeness. We agreed that this process could move more rapidlly; therefore, children would potentially skip multiple steps in their moral development. This could completely change how we understand this process since moral development is a direct result of societal actions. With a wide-awake society, children will be more apt to embark on a moral life early on. Finally, we discussed the comic entitled “First Time: University Homework” by Kaplan Comics.

This image showed a professor not providing a student with necessary guidance. He merely tells the young adult to figure it out. Shaina and I discussed how that many teachers employ this tactic because they believe it sparks creativity in students and allows them to problem solve on their own. However, we acknowledge that with no guidance, this actually has the opposite effect. Students are no longer questioning why, but are merely working to someone else’s standards. This would push against a moral life and is a very negative attitude to bring to the classroom. Shaina and I agreed that we would not practice this technique in our classrooms.

I enjoyed my last learning experience with the class. Shaina was enthusiastic and easy to talk to, both great qualities in a future educator. I feel as if my learning experiences have all provided me with valuable knowledge and different perspectives to take into consideration. I am excited to take the knowledge and energy I put into these assignments to my future classroom.

References

Greene, M. (2018/1978). Wide-awakeness and the moral life. In A. R. Sadovnik, P. W. 

Cookson Jr., S. F. Semel, & R. W. Coughlan (Eds.), Exploring education: An 

introduction to the foundations of education (5th ed., pp. 218-224). New York, NY: 

Routledge.

Freire, P. (2013/1972). The banking concept of education. In A. S. Canestrari & B. A. 

Marlowe (Eds.), Education foundations: An anthology of critical readings (3rd ed., 

pp. 103-115). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kaplan Comics. (n.d.). First Time: University Homework

YouTube. (2018). Values songs – The Respect Song. YouTube

YouTube. (2019). Kohlberg’s 6 Stages of Moral Development. YouTube

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