Education involves the cultural patterns that determine how a people pass on their values and accumulated knowledge/experiences to future generations. I have consciously used as neutral a definition as possible for our purposes here of presenting varying conceptions of education in the East and West. Education involves two processes, official curriculum content and moral education; in other words while a particular subject matter is being taught, teachers also educate and socialize students into the accepted value system of their society either directly (through the curriculum) or indirectly (through their behavior and how they teach). How we teach is just as important as what we teach; undoubtedly they are intimately linked. Pedagogy has various usages in the field of education; a common definition used is the “study of teaching methods, including the aims of education and the ways in which such goals may be achieved” (Pedagogy, 2010). Accordingly, the main factors to be addressed when discussing pedagogy are the educator, student, and content; however, this research strives to provide a pedagogy that can be utilized for theological or empirical knowledge (irrespective of content). The pedagogical definition that will be used here is the teaching methods and corresponding relationship between teacher and student utilized to reach ones’ educational objectives.

While much of the literature in the field of education has focused on the cognitive aspects of education, more recent research has highlighted the importance of discussing what kind of moral education goes on in the classroom (Lickona, 1991; Moore, 2007). In America, values are often derived from the liberal arts public education system, citizens’ various personal religious beliefs, or some combination of both (Moore, 2007; pgs.1-10). The focus of this study is on developing a pedagogy culturally relevant to one particular belief system-Islam; however, it will be analyzed in comparison to existing literature on Islamic pedagogy as well as some analogues from the Liberal Arts value system. I will present existing literature on Islamic pedagogy as background in the presentation of data section.

This literature review will focus on Western literature regarding moral education and outline one of the closest analogues to Islamic pedagogy-the Ethic of Care-including the specific teaching methods that would logically accompany such a philosophy of teaching.


Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist by profession, was one of the earliest academics to comment on the importance of reconnecting the link between cognitive and affective factors when researching the human psyche (Goldstein, 1999, pg.648).Vygotsky defined a zone of proximal development as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (as cited in Goldstein, 1999, p.649 emphasis added). Therefore, using a customized student-centered

pedagogy, an educator could scaffold a student along to higher, more intricate concepts (building on their previous knowledge) depending on the supportive guidance received either from the teacher or other peers who had comprehended the concept (Goldstein, 1999, pgs.649-654). Vygotsky realized that learning is not simply an individual activity (otherwise not much disciplinary analysis would be needed outside of a psychological lens), and that more insightful analysis of educational development needs to be discussed in relation to the social interactions that take place between the actors involved. Accordingly, by developing deeper relationships with their students, educators can consciously care for students in a way that provides a suitable environment for growth.

Such deliberate attention to students’ needs on the part of the educator would also provide a role model for other students to help each other grow in cooperative learning settings. As will be highlighted, the quality of the student-teacher relationship is pivotal to Islamic pedagogy as well.

Many academics5 have elaborated on the nature of this affective and caring relationship between teacher and student (Bailey, 2000; Noddings, 1984; Rogoff, 1990). At the time that Nel Noddings wrote Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education (1984), she was responding to a growing sentiment (as evident through the increasing moral education literature) that more attention should be paid to treating students like humans who need time, attention, and guidance to intellectually and emotionally develop (Lickona, 1991). Noddings took this concept a step further by clarifying that an educator has a moral obligation and responsibility to actively care for their students and embody the values they want to instill in them by virtue of the educator’s position as a role model (Noddings, 1984).

She goes as far as to say that the one-caring (the educator) must “receive” the cared for (the student) into themself by being “engrossed” with their goals and needs; this motivational displacement involves temporarily preferring the student to one’s self (Goldstein, 1999, p.656). On the part of the cared for they are expected to somehow acknowledge or reciprocate this care in every caring encounter (Goldstein, 1999, p.657), but are not ordered to (Noddings, 1984, p. 72). In fact, this reciprocity could involve the teacher being directly acknowledged or simply witnessing the cared for’s “happy growth” Consequently, Noddings (1984) has differentiated between naturally caring and ethically caring for one’s students; the former is not a reliable form of care because the educator might simply not naturally care for or be drawn to a particular student, while the latter involves an active, professional choice to care acknowledging an ethical obligation. Ethical caring is an action, not a quality. A student/teacher relationship based on ethical caring is more important because naturally caring for all of one’s students may or may not occur. Also, people are naturally more drawn to those they are similar to in some way, in which case natural caring would not suffice for equitable guidance of students.

Educators should choose to care in strategic ways, irrespective of whether natural caring develops over time or not. Ethical caring

demonstrates a sincere dedication on the part of educators to help students grow, whether they are having a bad day or not, whether they “like” the students or not; this choice requires a genuine belief in children’s ability to succeed, which empowers the teacher and student throughout the learning process. Such a practical and tailored approach to each child helps students develop intellectually and morally. While this caring approach seems ideal in explaining what should be done, one question is left unanswered, how do we motivate practitioners to care? Why should they maintain a “concern for the ethical self” (Noddings, 1984, p.75,) in the unpredictable daily hustle and bustle of over-energized children, increasing discipline problems, and even occasionally violent behavior? This will be developed in the discussion of Islamic pedagogy, but first let’s look at practical examples of Noddings’ approach in the field.


Concerned about the moral state of youth in his time, Thomas Lickona undertakes the task of outlining a detailed stratagem for the practical application of a caring pedagogy. Lickona applies the concept of Vygotsky’s “ZPD” to not only demonstrate the importance of teachers taking active roles in helping their children cognitively and morally develop, but that the teachers themselves must embody the potential results of that development. He particularly goes a little further than Noddings by highlighting that one’s private life affects their public behavior (Lickona, 1991, p.49, 79). One has to become a role model of the behavior one wants to see in students; the caring relationship that will be developed is what will allow students to reach their potential development intellectually and emotionally. An artificial façade played out every time a teacher comes to class is easily seen through;

Lickona states “we are coming to see that our societal moral problems reflect, in no small measure, our personal vices” (Lickona, 1991, p.49). On the issue of role models one could also add to this that on a macro level, the leaders of the nation should be the first exemplars in demonstrating these morals on the world stage for them to really have any effect and trickle their way down to the masses. However, the causal direction of social change is not predetermined and teachers are also in a decisive position to effect long-term societal change from the roots up-through the children that will inherit their legacy.

Undoubtedly, one has to truly change oneself before one can hope to be a role model for others.

Doing so will pragmatically show children how to identify when moral action/judgment is needed, how to reflect on it, and then act. By using daily occurrences, positive or negative, in the classroom as teaching moments instead of mere disruptions, Lickona shows how educators can act out the moral reflection process right in front of their students. Teachers can literally “think out loud” when a teaching moment occurs, about their primary reaction to it, the weighing of opportunities for possible further action, and then following through assertively to respond to the situation. This process could involve for example, teachers modeling composure as they pause to deliberate a situation requiring a moral decision, making value

judgments in front of students as to the particular pros and cons of a particular course of action, and then acting (Lickona, 1991, pgs.54-57). This process of using classroom incidents as teaching moments is often called case-based learning. Modeling moral reflection in front of one’s students will pragmatically show them how to consciously represent the values they profess.

Lickona also gives examples of how the lack of role models to model moral behavior cannot even be substituted for by any of the material recompense that is often offered to children for “good” behavior. Role models pass on their morals to others they interact with since moral behavior is a social act that is enacted publically and affects everyone involved. Ergo, the better students treat others socially, the better they will feel about themselves internally. Accordingly, lack of such role models leaves many students in despair, selfishness, and loneliness. Children without role models are often left undisciplined and only interested in material consumption (Lickona, 1991, p.50). Many people are slowly realizing that material pleasures will never substitute for beneficial human interaction. Given that Lickona has shown how moral behavior should be taught, He also gives suggestions for which values should be modeled.

Lickona advises educators to start with the core values of respect and responsibility and then build upon these concepts a customized set of morals (such as honesty, tolerance, fairness, prudence, self-discipline, compassion, cooperation, and courage) according to contextual needs (Lickona, 1991.

pgs.43-44). Lickona acknowledges that “getting agreement about shared values does not, of course, guarantee that people will agree about how to apply those values in every situation” (Lickona, 1991, p.47). This potential ambiguity illustrates once again the importance of using the case-based approach outlined above. By using the curriculum, “disturbances”, and other opportunities in the classroom to model good morals, ethical behavior is no longer as challenging (Lickona, 1991, pgs.62, 69, 72).

Teachers who develop caring relationships with students can “help students to experience the world from the perspective of others” (Lickona, 1991, p.55), an ability essential for teaching respect.

Becky Bailey, on a similar strand of ethical care, highlights the background disposition needed for teaching morals, the importance of maintaining composure at all times so that one maintains control and assertiveness no matter what the situation (Bailey, 2000, pgs.26-30). To actually maintain composure, given the hectic bustle of life in the classroom, one should differ between “management demands” and “moral demands” (Kohlberg & Selman, 1972, p.39); by stressing serious moral infractions much more than the usual spills and misunderstandings, educators can prioritize their demand of children’s short attention spans/ mental capabilities. Only with a composed demeanor can one act purposely, and not off mere emotion, a temperament essential for moral reflection. Also, the importance of acknowledging accomplishments through praise and other methods by the educator is crucial for encouraging students along throughout their moral growth (Bailey, 2000, pgs.82, 85, 92).

Lickona describes the aforementioned procedure for exemplifying moral reflection by saying that “good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good-habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of action” (Lickona, 1991, p.51). A striking parallel will be seen to this method in Islam of how once someone has knowledge of a virtue, they purify their intention to do it, and then carry out the action. Some teachers even use “ethics journals” that helped students to critically reflect on their daily actions in the process of developing effective moral reflection skills (Lickona, 1991, p.56).

Cooperative learning activities are also opportunities to develop bonds between students so that they can assist each other in modeling moral behavior (Lickona, 1991, p.74), while still allowing opportunities for teachers to interject their own moral feedback and guidance (Lickona, 1991, p.85). The feedback on behavior is recommended to be given in private, guiding students to understand why what they did was inappropriate, and is followed up on by the teacher to monitor progress (Lickona, 1991, p.86). Through cooperative learning, students experience “trial and error” opportunities with their peers to practice moral reflection and action, and are then scaffolded to the desired objective through caring educators’ guidance. Students’ participation in their own moral growth empowers them to begin to act independently, raises their self-esteem, and has longer effects on their long-term behavior. Accordingly, Lickona has outlined a framework for developing the caring student/teacher relationship and the process for utilizing this relationship to teach moral education, either directly between student and teacher or through “mini-role models” created in cooperative learning structures.

Subsequently, Ethical Care pedagogy has been shown to focus on the importance of educators consciously caring for their students and developing the relationships needed to scaffold them from their existing level of cognitive/affective ability to the next. This process is accomplished through a casebased learning approach that takes advantage of every opportunity in the classroom as a teaching moment to apply knowledge practically. Such an approach creates transformative learning experiences in the classroom that help students grow. There are many such academics that use some version or another of what we could label Ethical Care pedagogy in Western literature (such as Gloria Ladson-Billings for example; see Dreamkeepers), but I have highlighted these particular authors to preserve space while simultaneously providing an in-depth analysis of such work. The aspects of Ethical Care mentioned here will be compared to similar traits found in Islamic pedagogy.