Fostering moral understanding, moral inquiry & moral habits through philosophy in schools: a Deweyian analysis of Australia’s Ethical Understanding curriculum

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This paper provides a Deweyian analysis of Australia’s Ethical Understanding General Capability curriculum documents, which outline a promising moral education curriculum for students aged 4–17 years. The moral development of students has long been identified as a key aim of schooling. However, schools seldom have time for dedicated moral education classes. Furthermore, the two most prevalent approaches to moral education have been subject to considerable criticism: 1) ‘traditional’ character education, which has been criticised for indoctrinating students; and 2) ‘progressive’ inquiry based approaches that are often criticised for promoting moral subjectivism. Australia’s national curriculum offers a promising alternative, named the Ethical Understanding General Capability. It integrates moral education into existing school subjects. Drawing on the ideas of John Dewey, I argue that Australia’s Ethical Understanding curriculum avoids both indoctrination and subjectivism and aims to foster the three key elements of moral education: 1) understanding of moral issues and concepts; 2) moral inquiry skills; and 3) moral habits and values (e.g. being honest and caring). The Philosophy for Children program (P4C), which is heavily influenced by Dewey’s ideas, provides practical methods for implementing the Ethical Understanding curriculum in diverse subject areas at both the primary and secondary levels of schooling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-100
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Curriculum Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020


  • Moral education
  • Ethical Understanding general capability
  • John Dewey
  • the Australian curriculum
  • philosophy for children

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