Evaluate Noddings’ thinking on care in education
Nel Noddings sees education (in its widest sense) as being central to the cultivation of caring in society. She defines education as ‘a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation’ (Noddings 2002: 283). Given the above, it is not surprising that she places a special emphasis on the home as a site for educational encounters. Indeed, she views the home as the primary educator and argues for the re-orientation of social policy to this end. This is not to sideline the role of schools but simply to recognize just what the home contributes to the development of children and young people.
As soon as we view the home as the primary educator two major things follow in terms of social policy. These are that first, every child should ‘live in a home that has at least adequate material resources and attentive love; and second, that schools should include education for home life in their curriculum’ (Noddings 2002: 289). Both of these recommendations have far-reaching consequences. For example, in the case of the first, while some governments have attempted to ensure that there is something like adequate material resources in homes where there are children, there is little evidence of policymakers seriously grappling with how attentive love might be fostered. Similarly, the question of education for home life is not normally addressed in anything like an adequate form. Indeed, the whole orientation of schooling systems in most ‘advanced capitalist’ countries is toward skilling for the needs of business and the economy. Some attention is paid to personal, social and life education – but it generally remains woefully inadequate when set against the demands of care theory. A further significant element here is the direction of a great deal of educational philosophy and theory. For example, John Dewey talks about education in terms of preparation for ‘public life’. While it is possible to see what place education for home life might have in this (and the extent to which caring-for is linked to the cultivation of caring-about) the way in which education is often discussed in terms of public life can be seen as not taking full account of what might be needed for personal flourishing.
A third element can also be seen as following from viewing the home as the primary educator, that ‘schools should, as far as possible, use the sort of methods found in best homes to educate’ (Noddings 2002: 289). This has far-reaching consequences and takes us into the arena of informal education – and the appreciation and facility to move beyond understandings of education that are centred around notions such as curriculum into more conversational and incidental forms.
Nel Noddings has argued that education from the care perspective has four key components: modelling, dialogue, practice and confirmation.
Modelling. Within a care perspective, not unexpectedly, educators are concerned with the growth of people as carers and cared-fors. Unlike cognitive developmentalists, for example, they are not primarily interested in moral reasoning (although there is a recognition that reasoning is important. Educators have to show in their behaviour what it means to care. “We do not merely tell them to care and give them texts to read on the subject, we demonstrate our caring in our relations with them” (Noddings 1998: 190)
Dialogue. The intent is to engage people in dialogue about caring. As Nel Noddings has pointed out, ‘dialogue is such an essential part of caring that we could not model caring without engaging in it’ (op. cit.). In addition, it is also important to talk directly about, and explore, our caring – as it can be manifested in very different ways. It can thus help people to critique and better understand their own relationships and practice. In other words, it allows us to evaluate our attempts to care: ‘As we try to care, we are helped in our efforts by the feedback we get from the recipients of our care’ (ibid.: 191). Furthermore, and crucially, dialogue contributes to the growth of cared-fors.
Practice. Nel Noddings (1998: 191) argues that the experiences in which we immerse ourselves tend to produce a ‘mentality’. ‘If we want to produce people who will care for another, then it makes sense to give students practice in caring and reflection on that practice’.
Confirmation. This particular component, it is suggested, sets caring apart from other approaches to moral education. In making her case Nel Noddings draws particularly on the work of Martin Buber. He describes confirmation as an act of affirming and encouraging the best in others (see Between Man and Man).
When we confirm someone, we identify a better self and encourage its development. To do this we must know the other reasonably well. Otherwise we cannot see what the other is really striving for, what ideal he or she may long to make real. Formulas and slogans have no place in confirmation. We do not posit a single ideal for everyone and then announce ‘high expectations for all’. Rather we recognize something admirable, or at least acceptable, struggling to emerge in each person we encounter. The goal or attribute must be seen as worthy both by the person trying to achieve it and by us. We do not confirm people in ways we judge to be wrong. (Noddings 1998: 192)
Significantly, such confirmation involves trust and continuity. The latter is needed as we need knowledge of the other (op. cit.) and the former as the career needs to be credible and to be capable of handling explorations and what emerges sensitively.