What are the benefits of moral education

Just community

Just community

The idea of ​​the Just Community School was developed by the American psychologist and educator Lawrence Kohlberg and represents a practical implementation of his theory of moral development developed in the 1960s (Kohlberg 1987, 1995). The underlying concept is based on Piaget's (1972) constructivist structural-genetic approach, according to which people's moral judgment develops in communicative interaction with other people. J. Dewey's (1933) concept of experience-based learning in a democratically designed community takes up the concrete form.

The educational principles

The design of the school as a democratic community is based on a number of principles (Oser & Althof 2001):

  • Development as a goal of education: The pupils' formation of judgments is stimulated by real problems in the school; this enables development to a higher level of moral judgment.
  • Improving the relationship between judgment and action: In a fair school community, judgment and action tend to coincide. The deliberate, reasoned and discussed judgment is translated into action in the school.
  • Develop shared norms: Since rules for the behavior of pupils are created in a participatory form and through joint decisions, they become common norms.
  • "Waste of life" as personal experience: Everything that is normally regulated by the house rules, by the school management and by the teacher (especially that which disrupts order in the classroom) should be used as an opportunity for learning processes by incorporating these elements in a discourse to be negotiated.
  • Democratization as a social principle and as a learning opportunity: the school community can decide for itself what is discussed, what is decided in voting procedures and what is carried out.
  • Practicing role-taking: Through the discourse, the pupils learn to take on the perspectives of others involved in social interaction.
  • Creating a world of possible social self-efficacy: The fair school community enables learners to experience that they do not just have to accept the school conditions as they are, but that they can change something themselves with commitment.
  • Practicing encouragement: The teachers expect the students to be a little more than they can actually do based on their abilities. This very carefully chosen encouragement challenges and enables development and learning.

The implementation

Social understanding, a willingness to take responsibility and a democratic attitude are practiced, lived and thus learned in the school community. The learners have a say and make decisions in all areas of school life and thus also take on real responsibility.

Questions of dealing with each other are discussed together. The rules for this are developed and supported by all those concerned. Important goals are fairness, mutual consideration and acceptance of responsibility. The pupils learn that they can achieve or change something through their active participation and that their opinions are taken seriously.

At the center of the Just Community is the community assembly: This is where all school members (learners, teachers, caretakers, etc.) meet regularly (e.g. every 14 days) for joint discussion, joint planning and joint decision-making. The teachers are equal members of the community on the subjects presented to the plenary, which must be significant but must not exceed the level of experience of the pupils (Luterbacher & Althof 2007). The following applies: Every person present has one vote.

A second body is formed by the mediation committee, in which representatives of all classes and one representative each of the teaching staff and the school management have a seat. The task of this body is to mediate problems and conflicts between the parties (individuals or groups). The mediation committee is also entrusted with monitoring the implementation of the resolutions of the joint assembly. Although the committee is not a court, it can still summon students who break the rules to a hearing and even issue penalties.

The subject-specific dilemma discussions are also an important element of the Just Community. A dilemma arises when, in a decision-making situation, at least two values ​​that one does not want to violate are antagonistic to one another. That means, however you behave, you have to violate one of these values. The educational value of the dilemma discussions is that the students learn to argue and that they learn that each subject has its moral dimensions.

In Switzerland, too, the ideas of the Just Community have been and are being implemented in various schools (e.g. at the primary school in Luterbach / SO and at the Balainen school in Nidau ​​/ BE). It is mainly thanks to the great commitment of Prof. Fritz Oser and Prof. Wolfgang Althof that, thanks to their scientific support, these experiments were not soon stopped again, because the development of a fair school community is very demanding on the teachers involved.

The representatives of the fair school community are convinced that this school model can be successful, even if accompanying empirical studies cannot always confirm the expected effects (see e.g. Luterbacher & Althof 2007).

Claudio Caduff, University of Education Central Switzerland, Lucerne University


John Dewey (newly edited by Jürgen Oelkers) (2004): Democracy and Education. An introduction to philosophical pedagogy. Weinheim: Beltz.

Lawrence Kohlberg (1984): The "Just Community" Approach to Moral Education in Theory and Practice. In Transformation and Development: Basics of Moral Education. Frankfurt a.M .: Suhrkamp, ​​21-55.

Lawrence Kohlberg (1995): The Psychology of Moral Development. Frankfurt a.M .: Suhrkamp.

Michael Luterbacher, Wolfgang Althof (2007): Schoolchildren learn to argue. Development of a constructive culture of conflict in the Just-Community School. In The Troubles of Freedom. Problems and opportunities of participation by children and young people. Zurich / Chur: Rüegger, 137-162.

Fritz Oser, Wolfgang Althof (2001): The fair school community: Learning through the organization of school life. In Moral Education in School. Developmental Psychology and Educational Practice. Weinheim and Basel: Beltz, 233-268.