Dialogue with Maria Rosa Buxarrais

Rafael Bisquerra

The following pages present a conversation with Dr. Maria Rosa Buxarrais, a professor from the Department of Theory and History of Education (THE) at the University of Barcelona (UB).  Throughout her professional career, she has carried out research in the field of moral education, education in values, professional ethics, and teacher training.  Currently, she is the Principal Investigator of her research group, Grup de Recerca in Moral Education of UB (GREM).  She has previously held positions at the university including the department director, the Dean´s delegate for Masters and Doctorates, and director of the Research Section of the IDP-ICE Professional Development Institute of UB, among others.  Currently, she is the director of the Observatory of Civism and Values ​​of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Dr. Maria Rosa Buxarrais, has published various articles in scientific journals, books, and contributed book chapters with both national and international publishers. Her latest publications include:
Buxarrais, M.R. y Vilafranca, I. (Eds). (2018) La mirada femenina de la educación moral. Desclée de Brouwer.
Buxarrais, M.R. y Burguet, M. (2016) Aprender a ser. Por una Pedagogia de la Interioridad. Graó.
Buxarrais, M.R. y Ortega, E. (2019). Controversies are no excuse: Citizenship education in Spain. Citizenship Teaching & Learning, 14, 3, 331-346.

For more information you can visit her personal website: mariarosabuxarrais.com

The dialogue between Maria Rosa Buxarrais and Rafael Bisquerra proceeded as follows.

Rafael Bisquerra (RB) .- Hello Maria Rosa.  Many consider that the great sources of moral and values in ​​education from the 20th century are Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, who basically investigated moral judgment and reasoning.  Now, entering the 21st century, an emotional revolution is taking place in the world of morality, represented by Joshua Greene, Jonathan Haidt, and Jesse Prinz, among others. What do you think of the emphasis on the emotional dimension of moral education?

Maria Rosa Buxarrais (MRB) .- The emotional revolution that has been taking place in the field of moral research since the beginning of the 21st century presents very interesting elements that should be examined and disseminated in order to improve the practice of moral education and values. It should be noted that these contributions do not contradict the cognitive-evolutionary approach of Piaget and Kohlberg, but rather broaden and enrich it.  In that sense, Carol Gilligan could be considered as a predecessor of the emotional approaches, since she proposed the “ethics of care”, where empathy takes preference.  On the other hand, in our research group, since the beginning of the 21st century, we have been working with the emotional dimension of moral education, because we consider that the moral personality is made up of three dimensions: the cognitive or rational (moral judgment), the sensitive -emotional (moral sensitivity) and volitional or behavioral (moral strength).  Specifically, the sensitive-emotional dimension allows us to realize, not only what is happening inside us, but also outside.  Without moral sensitivity, we could not make ethical decisions, and this is why it is so important to take it into account when educating.  It is shown by all the learnings that emerged from Noddings's “ethics of care”paradigm.

RB .- Could we say, then, that we are at a convergence between emotional education and moral education?

MRB.- In a certain way, an interest in emotional issues can be observed in morals and values ​​education from the turn of the century. On the other hand, in the emotional education, there has always been an interest about the moral dimension, which can be considered as evidence of this convergence. Relating moral education with emotional education implies emphasizing the idea that education consists of offering answers to all the person’s dimensions in order to develop coherence between thinking, doing, and feeling.

RB.- The Congress of Deputies, on November 19, 2020 has approved the new education law LOMLOE (Organic Law of the LOE’s modification), now awaiting its approval through the Senate. In the current writing, the expression “emotional and values ​​education” is quoted five times. Could this be one more manifestation of this convergence?

MRB.- Perhaps we have reached a situation in which emotional education has been considered essential, not only because of the multiple benefits it can offer to academic performance and the improvement of coexistence in the classroom, as research shows in this regard.  That said, emotional education has been related to people’s ethical behaviors.

The training of people as a whole entails an emotional education that proposes an awareness of oneself and what is happening in an intrapersonal and interpersonal level, because we learn by experiencing emotions or situations loaded with ethical values, which we do by experiencing, observing, feeling, and living in a socio-cultural context. By knowing and regulating our emotions and being aware of our values, we will be able to face the multiple ethical conflicts that encounter in everyday life. 
Now, more than ever, during childhood one must find meaning in what works in school, because if not, one cannot develop and grow as a person in an integral way. To do this, we must start with teacher training, not only on a professional level but also on a personal level. It is essential that teachers carry out a deep knowledge of themselves, in order to put into practice a teaching of inward looking that integrates the emotional part.

RB.- What changes would you propose in teacher training to make what you propose effective?

MRB.- At least, several things. Among them, a subject on emotional education and values, compulsory in teachers training for kindergarten, primary and secondary school. This subject should include, among other aspects, emotional management, values ​​training, and consequent responsible behavior.

RB.- Assuming that it is not a coincidence, but rather a trend indicator, the fact that the expression “emotional education and values” appears at least five times in the LOMLOE text approved by the Spanish Congress of Deputies, what would you think about an Official Masters in Emotional Education and Values?
MRB.- Given the circumstances, this is probably a possibility to contemplate to promote training and research on these issues, with a view to the implementation of a well-founded and efficient educational practice, with integrating characteristics of various aspects such as gender education, feminism, and other aspects that are very important for a comprehensive development of the personality.

RB.- Let's imagine a future with properly trained teachers, who wants to put the training into practice in primary and secondary education. What do you consider most appropriate, as a subject or being a part of the whole system?
MRB.- I think there shouldn't be a dilemma, but a copulative one: a subject and system. The ideal would be one subject, but also with the involvement of all the teaching staff, which is the only way to become efficient, which means entering systematically.

RB.- Educating implies teaching what is good and evil, and this is an eminently moral issue. In recent decades there has been a neglect on education about what is good and evil. Perhaps because the teachers are not clear about it and they do not know how to teach it. What do you think about the education of good and evil? Are these concepts that should be thaught or is it better to ignore them? Do we have clear criteria to distinguish between good and evil? Are the teachers prepared to educate about what is good and evil?

MRB.- This is an extremely complex issue, which is related to the essential core of moral education. There is no choice but to address this issue and its complexity in education, otherwise we will find people who, in the face of any clearly inappropriate and reprehensible behavior, can say: nobody has taught us what good and what is wrong. Jaume Trilla, in the book “The Professor and the Controversial Values”, distinguishes between desirable universal values, counter values, ​​and socially controversial values. Desirable universal values ​​are those on which there should be unanimous consensus at the social level on the importance of their education and implementation, such as justice, peace, non-violence, do not steal, do not lie, etc. When we talk about desirable values, ​​we mean that we must fight (belligerently) for an education in these values, since this is very important for personal and social development. The countervalues ​​are the opposite, such as discrimination based on gender (sexism), ethnicity (racism), language, religion, xenophobia, any type of discrimination, violence, injustice, harassment, corruption, etc. Education is necessary to eradicate these beliefs and ideologies from where highly dangerous behaviors can be derived.  A third piece is the socially controversial values, which are those where some will be in favor and others against, since they are based on personal preferences, about what I like or not. These aspects are based in respect and freedom as long as no harm is caused to anyone.

RB.- One further step in the analysis of good and evil is the concept of guilt. How we should we live and be educated in the 21st century in relation to guilt? Would it be better to ignore guilt?

MRB.- In many situations and contexts, the concept of guilt has been replaced by responsibility. It is true that the word "guilt" has largely disappeared from educational practice in recent decades, as some other words that have "bad press" such as: good, bad, guilt, punishment, moral, and others. For this, they are replaced by others such as correct, incorrect, responsibility, sanction, values, etc.

RB.- Is the fact that they have "bad press" reason enough for them to be ignored and abandoned? Responsibility is a cognitive dimension; while guilt is emotional. Should we avoid teaching on guilt?

MRB.- Peter Strawson (1974) considers that among the moral feelings are guilt, resentment, indignation and shame. In fact, there are other moral researchers who take guilt into consideration. It is probably necessary to agree that, like it or not, there is no choice but to educate appropriately about the feeling of guilt, even if this expression gets bad press.
RB.- If I understand it correctly, in the field of moral and values ​​education there are a number of issues that are, at least, controversial. Among them are the concepts of right and wrong, as well as guilt. Only on these three concepts, so important for a quality education, we find that teachers are neither sensitized, nor trained to put them into practice. How can the society of the future, that has not been educated in the distinction of good and evil and in the absence of the feeling of guilt, be? One of the goals of education should be to anticipate problems to prevent them. I believe that these issues, which affect morals, values ​​and emotions, are very important for a comprehensive quality training. Further research, training and outreach may be needed to advance in this line. I would like also, to use this space to help spread the word about what is being done in the  Observatory of Civics and Values ​​of the Generalitat de Catalunya where you are currently the director.

MRB.- In the Observatory of Civics and Values ​​of the Generalitat de Catalunya there are several projects that aim to have data and evidence on various aspects of civic behavior and values. One of the recent investigations has consisted of analyzing how people perceive the coronavirus pandemic, how it has affected the ways of relating to avoid infection, and how people respond to the situation responsibly. Another investigation consists of collecting acts of civility and advocacy that appear in the news, such as the typical graffiti that dirties urban decor (monuments, doors, facades, trains, etc.). It also analyzes how the municipalities and other institutions adopt measures to solve the problems of anti-activism. To a large extent, it is an organism that makes an "X-ray" of the social situation, a kind of thermometer that measures the phenomena related to civility and values. Other examples of initiatives have to do with motivation for civic behavior; the confrontations between neighbors; the analysis of the complaints without there having been a prior attempt at dialogue to resolve the conflict, etc. It is observed that many behaviors are governed by selfishness and individualism, without reaching a social conscience favorable to coexistence and the common good.

RB.- Thank you very much Maria Rosa for all these contributions and information that allow us to become aware of how much remains to be done to reach a society formed in ethical, moral and values, which increase the chances of adopting responsible civic behavior making coexistence and well-being possible. In this, moral and values ​​education coincide with emotional education.