Moral Education for a Secular Society
The Development of Moral Laique in Nineteenth Century France
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The current controversy over the teaching of values and the role of religion in our public schools is an important and much discussed topic. Stock-Morton's work represents not only a valuable historical investigation, but a useful resource for the review and consideration of our present-day dilemma. France is the only country which has attempted to teach an official secular morality and Stock-Morton's is the first study to describe and trace the development of that effort. During the nineteenth century, the impetus for a practical, secular moral teaching arose, primarily through the concern of those who sought the liberalization of French society and politics. The educational dilemma faced at that time arose from the opposition of the Catholic Church to liberal government. Gradually liberals and radical reached a consensus on the necessity of teaching ethics in the schools while eliminating the presence of the clergy. Their solution and its philosophical basis were anchored in the Enlightenment and the Revolution, but developed in the context of nineteenth-century political and philosophical change. In the 1880s, when the republicans were able to inaugurate universal, free, and secular education, secular ethics became a required course for all.
The history of morale laique is significant at a time when our own country is rife with controversy over the role of religion and the teaching of values in the schools. Stock-Morton's thoughtful study represents an important contribution to the literature for those concerned with these significant issues.
Phyllis Stock-Morton is Professor of History at Seton Hall University.
"The study is well thought out and researched, while at the same time it is beautifully styled and crafted. " — Jack L. Roth, Case Western Reserve University
"The topic concerns more than nineteenth century French history. It concerns the assumptions as secularity in contemporary Western culture. The topic is fundamental to any field of study that deals with values. " — Philip L. Smith, The Ohio State University