Carol Gilligan's Theory
Carol Gilligan developed a framework where the ideas in it centre on a morality of care, or system of beliefs about human responsibilities, care, and consideration for others. Gilligan proposed three moral positions that represent different extents of ethical care.
nlike Kohlberg, Piaget, or Erikson, she does not claim that the positions form a strictly developmental sequence, but only that they can be ranked hierarchically according to their depth or subtlety.
In this respect her theory is “semi-developmental” in a way similar to Maslow’s theory of motivation (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Taylor, Gilligan, & Sullivan, 1995).
The table below summarises the three moral positions from Gilligan’s theory.
Position 1: Caring as survival
The most basic kind of caring is a survival orientation, in which a person is concerned primarily with his or her own welfare.
If a teenage girl with this ethical position is wondering whether to get an abortion she will be concerned entirely with the effects of the abortion on herself.
The morally good choice will be whatever creates the least stress for herself and that disrupts her own life the least. Responsibilities to others (the baby, the father, or her family) play little or no part in her thinking.
As a moral position, a survival orientation is obviously not satisfactory for classrooms on a widespread scale. If every student only looked out for himself, classroom life might become rather unpleasant for everyone.
Nonetheless, there are situations in which focusing primarily on yourself is both a sign of good mental health and relevant to teachers.
For a child who has been bullied at school or sexually abused at home, it is both healthy and morally desirable to speak out about how bullying or abuse has affected the victim.
Doing so means essentially looking out for the victim’s own needs at the expense of others’ needs, including the bully’s or abuser’s.
Speaking out, in this case, requires a survival orientation and is healthy because the child is taking caring of herself.
Position 2: Conventional caring
A more subtle moral position is caring for others, in which a person is concerned about others’ happiness and welfare, and about reconciling or integrating others’ needs where they conflict with each other.
In considering an abortion the teenager at this position would think primarily about what other people prefer. Do the father, her parents, and/or her doctor want her to keep the child?
The morally good choice becomes whatever will please others the best. This position is more demanding than Position 1, ethically and intellectually, because it requires coordinating several persons’ needs and values. But it is often morally insufficient because it ignores one crucial person: the self.
In classrooms, students who operate from Position 2 can be very desirable in ways. They can be:
- Eager to please
- Good at fitting in
- Good at working cooperatively with others
As these qualities are usually welcome in a busy classroom, teachers can be tempted to reward students for developing and using them.
The problem with rewarding Position 2 ethics, however, is that doing so neglects the student’s development - his or her own academic and personal goals or values.
Sooner or later, personal goals, values, and identity need attention and care, and educators have a responsibility for assisting students to discover and clarify them.
In classrooms, integrated caring is most likely to surface whenever teachers give students wide, sustained freedom to make choices. If students have little flexibility about their actions, there is little room for considering anyone’s needs or values, whether their own or others’.
If the teacher says simply:
“Do the homework on page 50 and turn it in tomorrow morning”,
then the main issue becomes compliance, not moral choice. But suppose instead that she says something like this:
“Over the next two months, figure out an inquiry project about the use of water resources in our town. Organise it any way you want-talk to people, read widely about it, and share it with the class in a way that all of us, including yourself, will find meaningful.”
An assignment like the previous example poses moral challenges that are not only educational, but also moral, since it requires students to make value judgments. Why?