K. H. Grobman

A structured class discussion to help students get the most out of reading excerpts from "In a Different Voice" by Carol Gilligan.

You may request a single copy of the 7-page PDF file of excerpts by sending a short note to teach@devpsy.org; then you can make two copies available for your students on reserve.

Moral Development & Gender

I designed this lesson plan to help students in a developmental psychology class learn about moral reasoning development. This lesson is a great opportunity for a pretty intellectual class discussion by exposing students to some of controversies and ambiguities they'll encounter if they become scientific psychologists. Before attending class, students read excerpts from Carol Gilligan's "In a Different Voice." The first time I taught it one of my students raised her hand to comment, "I always thought everything Freud said must be true because it's in our textbooks but we can disagree with him." It seems like her thoughts were so far from the abstract ideas graduate students might extract about normative biases. But this is a great place for students to begin and if one student made this leap each time I taught this lesson, I would consider that a wonderful accomplishment.

I compiled some excerpts from, "In a Different Voice" by Carol Gilligan. The excerpts are chosen for several reasons: (1) to focus on the basic point about normative biases, (2) to show the potential bias is the way we ask questions, (3) to focus on the most common text-book example of the Heinz dillemma, and (4) to reinforce student's understanding of classic developmental theories. The excerpt compilation is not included on this web-site. If you would like a copy of it for personal use, please e-mail me. Then you can have students make a copy for their person use.

Assumed Prior Knowledge of Students

Students should previously be introduced to Kohlberg's stage model of moral development.Students should read the Gilligan excerpts before class but they do not necessarily need to fully understand the ideas presented.

If this is the First Discussion-Oriented Class this Term

Begin by giving the class some idea of how you would like the students to behave in a class discussion. I admit that: class discussions are often really hard to get going and manage. At the same time, discussions can be so rewarding because it means addressing a problem together. Point our individual differences in students. This is basically to make students feel comfortable talking.

Some of you are probably quiet in class and others of you like to get out your opinions quickly. There's really nothing good or bad about either way of participating; they're just kind of different and people fall everywhere from the two extremes to places in between. I know when I was an undergraduate in class during a discussion I would have to rehearse my questions and points several times in my head to be sure enough that I was saying something that wasn't bad. There's definitely a virtue in trying to say your ideas clearly. But please remember that we shouldn't expect one another to be able to think through every idea on our own. Please try to have a little less preparation and try to give us your thoughts and feelings half-formed. Then we can discuss and refine the ideas togther. Just because you give an opinion doesn't mean your always tied to it.

At the same time some of you probably have always been more active in classes. Maybe you even wonder why so few people will participate? It's great that you're willing to take the risk of exposing your ideas even before you have carefully worked on them. But also try to keep in mind that everybody else in class is actively thinking too. Some student's just take a bit longer to raise their hands. And sometimes it can frustrate them because the discussion moves so fast the class has moved on before they get to share their ideas. But it would really benefit all of us and our discussion is everybody is involved. So if you notice yourself talking a lot, please try to give yourself a bit more time thinking about your ideas before you raise your hand.

Introducing Today's Discussion

The goal of the introduction is to make sure students understand what the"different voices" are. During this part of the discussion, student's are asked to focus on how Kohlberg's and Gilligan's moral orientations are similar or different. They are not saying which is better or worse or making any other value judgements. Before student's enter the classroom draw the following table on the board:

The "Ethics of Justice" Voice & Men

factual VS
logical & right/wrong
logic & rule-based
less caring
matter of fact (practical)
present focus
strict rules
black & white
taking a commanding role

The "Ethics of Care" Voice and Women

impact on relationships
caring & concern
more caring
rationalizing away facts (abstract)
future focus
making exceptions
shades of gray
people oriented
shying away from decision-making

This chart shows many of the ways students in our class understood the two different voice. Do you feel this is a fair interpretation? How much of the way the two voices are portrayed is really in Kohlberg and Gilligan's Theories and how much is our personal beliefs about gender sneaking in?

If students don't respond to this prompt choose particular parts to challege. Try to focus their attention on what is really at the core of the two voices and try to separate that from individual's beliefs of how men and women are different from each other in general.

A Repertoire of Potential Discussion Topics based on Prior Student Reaction

This is a free-flowing discussion that hopefully will arise mostly from the students. As students give their opinions it opens opportunities for the instructor to 'pull out' insightful points and recast students' ideas into new questions. The following are set of questions an instructor can use to help keep the discussion going. They arepresetned in the order I feel is most intuitive to have progress throughout the discussion. However, if a student opens up another order by his or her comments, the instrucor might change things around.

Moral Reasoning instead of Moral Behaviors?

Is moral 'reasoning' really matter because it's not about the process. What matters is the conclusion. So we should be studying moral behaviors? How come men are seen as having better moral reasoning when women have higher morals than men? Like men are much more promiscuous than women. Maybe it's not so much the end results that are different but the path to get there. But another student says she thinks what these studies are about IS the paths and not the end results. What is morality anyway?

What might cause these Different Voices?

If there are these differences in moral reasoning, are they biologically or socially determined? One students asks how genetic makeup could possibly matter to moral reasoning. Another student suggests that there's a "motherly instinct" which could account for the difference.

One alternative hypothesis is it's about upbringing. If children are raised in nurturing homes where families discuss conflicts, they'll grow up with a morality of justice but if their home is conflict-ridden they'll grow up with a morality of care.

There's more to think about in children's games than was said. It's true that boys and girls play differently becuase they're socialized that way (exp: the father of a boy who plays with barbies will flip out and the peers of a girl who plays with trucks will tease her). What makes the games different is girls' games are more open-ended so girls think more about how to play with each other.

Isn't this a difference we teach kids by the ideal models we give them. Many religions have a strong justice oriented male deity and/or a sesitive caring female deity. And what about the heros and heroines of stories/tv/etc we show children?

Are there other Explanations for Why Jake and Amy (or boys & girls) Thought Differently?

Maybe the boy just sounded more advance becuase he was more confident. Could the sex difference be due to some other developmental issues like self-esteem?

The differences are really about being emotional (which girls naturally are) versus analytical (which boys naturally are). But another student says that boys are still emotional and girls are still analytical. It's just when they approach moral problems boys bring analytical thoughts into their thinking and girls bring emotions into their thinking. (i.e. is it a sex difference in 'personality' or in the context to use certain traits?)

Is there really a Sex Difference?

Is it real a sex difference (boy versus girl) or a gender difference (boyish versus girlish)? It's important because there are a wide range in the gender of boys and girls.

Are there ways to make the gender differences even stronger or make them go away? For example, if we took the Heinz dillemma and put lots of restrictions on it like you can't borrow money and can't appeal to the pharamcists. Would everybody think the same way then?

These sex difference might exist but do they at every age? I.e. across development? One student suggests women become more liklely to "bend rules" as they get older so they become more like men.

Why wasn't Jake using an ethics of care because he was having the husband overlook the laws to care for his wife?

Is Developmental Psychology Research really biased? And is it still biased?

Gilligan is right that studies need to be done with women. But this doesn't make research with men wrong. The research needs to be done seperately because the sexes are so different and we need a psychology of men and a psyhcology of women.

Wasn't Carol Gilligan just as biased in conducting her research as Lawrence Kohleberg was in conducting his research?

Aren't these results outdated? They may have been true back then but today American women are taught to be feminine and aggressive so our debate is just academic?

Looking at Ourselves at Scientists: Do we conduct research from a Perspective or Objectively?

To help bring the class toward closure, write the following on the board: Research Question: How are girls different from boys?

Do you think we can start with this research question a study it objectively?

Take another look at this research question. What is the perspective of the scientist raising the issue?

If students still don't draw out the male normative model, ask how this research question is different from the folowing. Write it on the board too. How are boys and girls different from one another?

Is this normative thinking only a perspective issue we have about gender? Or could it include other divisions in society: SES, race, nationality, sexual orientation, the mentally ill versus the mentallyhealthy?

Your class might be starting to get overwhelmed because this is a really abstract lesson. If they're still engaged you might really give them something profound to think about by using the following example. Make sure you already wrote the two previous questions on the board.

When you read these two questions (point) what are we assuming in both questions?

They probably won't notice the assumption but let them struggle.

One thing that's being assumed is that there are two clearly defined sexes and genders: male/female, boy/girl, man/woman. But there are people who are born somewhat in between. They are born with genitals and chromosones that really don't fit either simple category. They're called "intersexed." Until very recently, it was the policy of medical doctors to 'fix' intersexed children at birth to be either 'completely' a boy or 'completely' a girl. But today intersexual activists are challenging this normative model that says they have to be one or the other.

Concluding Class

Summarize the key points that were disucssed in class. The outline of questions above gives a nice list of bullet points to restate.

I end with some personal reflections:

I remember being an undergraduate and sometimes I would read my textbooks and wonder, "Why should I become a developmental psychologist? All the questions are already answered for us in our textbooks." And it's true that in our textbooks and sometimes our classes we usually focus on what know. But what I feel is most interesting is how LITTLE we know! And what makes it more difficult is how hard it can be to FIND OUT what we don't know! Kohlberg certainly didn't think, "Ha, Ha, Ha, let's see how I can design a theory to be biased against women?!?!" He was really trying to figure it out. It's just hard and that's why we have so many people from so many perspectives trying to find answers to the same questions. It's relly exciting for me to be part of a field where almost every thought every hypothesis, and every result is something that raises so many interesting questions that are often more fascinating than the questions we began with!

Some Background Research for the Instructor to be Aware of:

Kohlberg (1963): Cross sectional studies of different age groups show different moral reasoing stages at different ages in a way that's consisten with the sequence suggested.

Kohlberg (1969): This sequence was found cross-culturally: Britian, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey, US, and Yucatan But non-western cultures proceed through the stages 'slower'.

Haan et al, 1976; Holstein, 1976; Kohlberg, 1969: These studies found that adolescent girls most often scored 3 and adolescent boys scored most often 4. But Walker (1984) found sex differences in only 8 of 54 studies conducted in the US and some of these differences favored women.

Walker et al (1987) interviewed 80 Camadian children with personal and hypothetical moral reasoning questions. They found that only a minority of children consistently used either an ethics of care or an ethics of justice. Most children, whether boys or girls, used both.