Emily Benning’s Summer Fellows research examines ethical formation and identity development in the classroom.
As our modern world places greater emphasis on the value of “finding our truths,” or discovering our identity and what matters to us, the field of education struggles to recognize that ethical formation is inherent to our identity development. I discuss the social and individual ramifications of neglecting what Robert Kunzman calls “Ethical Dialogue” in the classroom and, drawing from Charles Taylor, the consequences of sustaining a culture via relativistic ideals. I expand this argument by advocating for the inclusion of Hans Georg Gadamer’s theory of hermeneutic experience in educational practice. Gadamer’s “hermeneutic circle” is a model of understanding that requires a student to break from the chains that bind them to their perception of reality, as illustrated in Plato’s allegory of the cave, and dialogue is only effective in inciting a productive change that advances one’s self-understanding when its interlocutors are critically engaging with the values that constitute each individual’s identity. While I conclude with a “methodology” section on how to create more opportunities for this experience in the classroom, I acknowledge the challenges of institutionalizing this educational philosophy.
Interested readers will find Benning’s paper on the Ursinus College Digital Commons.