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Reading: Against directive teaching in the moral Community of Inquiry: A response to Michael Hand


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Against directive teaching in the moral Community of Inquiry: A response to Michael Hand


Michelle Sowey ,

The Philosophy Club, AU
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Grace Lockrobin

Thinking Space, GB
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While we consider directive teaching to be detrimental to the Community of Inquiry (CoI), we nonetheless find ourselves in qualified agreement with Hand as he challenges certain norms of practice that support the common presumption in favour of nondirective teaching in the moral CoI. We agree with Hand that it is possible for teachers to impart their own moral beliefs without indoctrinating students, yet we argue that the risk of indoctrination remains present in the many realistic scenarios in which teachers misjudge controversial standards as uncontroversial or in which teachers’ arguments bypass students’ reason. We agree with Hand that substantively closed questions can generate satisfying inquiries, with the caveat that in the absence of open inquiry there is a chronic risk of eroding the ethos of trust in a CoI. Similarly, we find qualified agreement with Hand regarding teachers’ philosophical self-effacement. We accept that teachers may judiciously suspend neutrality in order to ensure that sound arguments and objections are aired and understood, yet we caution teachers against endorsing any particular justification or rebuttal.


We further raise three distinct concerns about Hand’s theory. Firstly, we argue that Hand’s theory is insensitive to the varieties of moral controversy that emerge within the CoI. We maintain that a nondirective approach is required for a proper exploration of (a) controversy over conflicting justifications for shared moral standards grounded in diverse normative ethical theories, where the conative power of particular justifications may differ among individuals; (b) controversy over the meaning, scope and significance of moral concepts; and (c) controversy over the application of moral standards and concepts to actual cases. Secondly, we argue that in light of teachers’ susceptibility to motivated reasoning and myside bias, Hand’s theory places undue demands on teachers to exercise objective judgement. Where teachers unwittingly transmit biases to students, we are not assured that Hand’s proposal can safeguard against indoctrination. Thirdly, we do not share Hand’s conception of moral inquiry as concerned exclusively with argument over the content and justification of moral standards. The narrowness of this conception, together with available evidence that moral argument alone has little effect on moral behaviour, leads us to question Hand’s claim that a fundamental reason for engaging students in moral inquiry is to reinforce their moral formation. We suggest that the scope of the moral CoI should not be limited to argument over the content and justification of moral standards, but should also include the cultivation of virtues and dispositions that prepare students for complex moral decision-making, as well as the investigation of Aristotelian questions concerning what is worthwhile in human life. Given our broader conception of the CoI as both moral and ethical, and our emphasis on students having both the freedom and the responsibility to judge reasonableness for themselves, we conclude that nondirective teaching remains a beneficial regulatory principle for CoI practice.

How to Cite: Sowey, M. and Lockrobin, G., 2020. Against directive teaching in the moral Community of Inquiry: A response to Michael Hand. Journal of Philosophy in Schools, 7(2). DOI:
Published on 18 Dec 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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