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«A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY OF THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN EPISTEMOLOGICAL BELIEFS AND MORAL JUDGMENT AS A PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION FOR MORAL EDUCATION by ...»

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The findings regarding the relation of epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning from a cross-national comparative perspective appear to suggest that the most advantageous condition for increasing principled moral reasoning is for people to hold “sophisticated” views of knowledge. That is, believe that knowledge is not directly handed down from authority, is constantly evolving and has not all been discovered, and tends to change (Arredondo & Rucinski, 1998; Bendixen et al., 1998; Kardash & Scholes, 1996; Schommer, 1990). The current research also demonstrates that academic achievement is positively related to the highest stages of moral reasoning across cultures.

However, this study also adds new evidence that cross cultural differences exist in the relationships of epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning and those relationships may be mediated by culture-specific educational environments and interactions. The relatively greater contribution made by beliefs about simple knowledge to moral reasoning among U.S. college students parallels the results of other studies (Bendixen et al., 1998; Damon, 1988; Kohlberg, 1984; Piaget, 1997) of epistemological and moral development. However, this does not appear to be the case with the Korean students who have been heavily influenced by school cultures that encourage docility and respect for authority, foster building consensus over controversial issues, but discourage

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indicate the relative importance of certain knowledge in principled moral reasoning.

In conclusion, the current research may provide evidence in support of a neoKohlbergian model of cognitive/moral development in the debate between cultural psychologists and Kohlbergian psychologists. Assuming a universal morality may be a result of a kind of arrogance in the form of cultural “imperialism,” as several critics of Kohlberg’s theory have charged (Simpson, 1974). In contrast, advocates for cultural diversity in moral development may miss many of the essential ways of being human and underestimate our common humanity. Rather, in a neo-Kohlbergian’s (Rest et al., 1999;

Narvaez, Getz, Rest, & Thoma, 1999) view, both (a) the individual’s cognitive construction of social and moral meaning and (b) socialization of the individual into cultural ideology are involved in the formation of moral thinking. Neo-Kohlbergians take the view that both processes are simultaneous, parallel, and reciprocal. Therefore, a neoKohlbergian’s position points to the necessity of extending the Kohlbergian approach to include cultural ideology as a factor which might affect the person’s moral development.

There are several theoretical and pedagogical implications that can be drawn from the results. College is thought to be the time in the life cycle for developing postconventional moral reasoning (Kohlberg, 1969, 1975; Rest, 1979, 1990, 1994). The findings from the research support those who assert that students’ university experiences may limit opportunities that are conducive to development of sophisticated epistemological beliefs and principled moral reasoning. Undergraduate education is characterized by the lecture-examination method of instruction, which may seem more applicable to the obedience-punishment stages of preconventional moral reasoning. Many

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accepting and deferring to their authority, and to accept their interpretation of right and wrong. Professors can also stress materials that are important to read or memorize and then test them to reward for right answers and to punish them for wrong answers (Chickering, 1981; Kohlberg, 1984; Maclean, 2001).

Academia is concerned with providing the environment and experiences that foster moral development, with an emphasis on principled moral reasoning. The results of the present study indicate that by providing a fertile environment (i.e., encouraging, inviting, or enabling a student to become a learner with more sophisticated beliefs about knowledge and learning) may help to engender moral development. In support of this view, Johnson and Johnson (1979) suggested that when students are encouraged to grapple with controversial issues in the ambience of cooperative “safe” contexts, they are likely to develop cognitively and morally, to generate a greater number of ideas for solving problems, and to ultimately produce better quality solutions.

Conditions that are conducive to increased usage of principled moral reasoning by university students are, within limits, appropriate and feasible also at the elementary and secondary level. Especially, the results of the present study could have implications for the development of a comprehensive program of civic and moral education for use in public schools, balancing developmental psychology and cultural differences that exist among nations. The results of the present study support those who suggest that an appropriate moral education program for schools should be one that involves the universal aspects of morality and moral functioning as well as its particular manifestations contextualized in specific cultures. In other words, the encompassment of

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for the development of a comprehensive program of moral education because the results of the present study indicate both universal and particular aspects of epistemological and moral development across cultures.





The results of the present study also suggest that moral education in Korean and American schools must be grounded in a constructivist vision of learning, but not direct instruction. For the most part, it may be relatively easy to teach children the “virtues and core values” included in many traditional character education curricula. Nevertheless, it is not desirable even for these children to continue in blind obedience and rigid adherence to the external rules of adult authorities as they mature in age and experience.

Constructivist learning environments are necessary if we want to help children become moral people, as opposed to people who merely do what they are told – or reflectively rebel against what they are told.

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The present comparison of epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning between Korean and U.S. college students suggests several directions for further research. First, the present research identified several factors associated with greater use of principled moral reasoning. However, the combination of all eleven predictors in the U.S. sample explained 23.4% of total variation, while the combination of all eleven predictors in the Korean sample explained 30.3% of total sample variation. Therefore, although the present research has identified a few factors conducive to the use of principled moral reasoning, there are undoubtedly many more. Additional research is recommended, with

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religion) that may be conducive to increased use of principled moral reasoning.

Second, because Schommer’s “sophisticated” view of knowledge is quite similar to the constructivist perspective of knowledge and learning described by Brooks and Brooks (1993) and others (Arredondo & Rucinski, 1998), constructivist learning environments may produce cognitive disequilibrium (Kohlberg, 1969, 1975; DeVries & Zan, 1994). Therefore, future research in needed to examine how constructivist learning environments can be conducive to increased use of principled moral reasoning.

Third, the epistemological belief questionnaire may need to be adapted to take into account Korean culture and students’ school experiences because the questionnaire used in the present study was originally developed for white middle-class adults in the U.S. (Schommer, 1998). Evidence obtained from an item analysis with the Korean sample indicates that there are some problematic items that do not fit the factor structures. The internal consistency reliability is low with simple knowledge (alpha =.44) and innate ability (alpha =.49), although the internal consistency is high with the overall 32-item questionnaire (alpha =.71). Therefore, future research is needed to identify dimensions that underlie Korean students’ epistemological beliefs by taking into account their unique cultural, educational, and social backgrounds. The focus should be on finding ways to characterize Korean students’ epistemological beliefs.

Fourth, from a methodological perspective, because random sampling was not possible in the present study, a large random sample of multiple universities would give more information about the actual moral development of university students and the influence of several social and personal factors. Also, in-depth interviews to complement

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beliefs and moral reasoning.

Fifth, the results and conclusions of the study may not be generalizable to elementary and secondary school students, because only college students from Korea and the United States participated in this study. More longitudinal studies are needed, particularly those that track students’ epistemological and moral development through the educational transition from elementary school to secondary school and from secondary school to college.

Despite the limitations, the current research identified conditions significantly related to students’ use of higher-stage moral reasoning. The study of Korean and U.S.

students’ epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning will open a new avenue to examine the relations among their unique cultural, educational, and social backgrounds, their development of beliefs about knowledge and knowing, and moral judgment development.

It also suggests a direction for future research to aid in academia’s attempts to engender moral development. The findings of this research may lead to interventions and policy changes that will foster increased usage of higher level moral reasoning.

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Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria: VA: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavior sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Colby, A., & Kohlberg, L. (1987). The measurement of moral judgement. Cambridge:

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Cummings, R., Days, L., & Maddux, C. D. (2001). Principled moral reasoning and behavior of preservice teacher education students. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 143-158.

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