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Nice is Not Enough: The Discovering

Ethical Leadership Seminar


Larry Nucci

University of Illinois at Chicago

copyright 2000

Educators and parents alike recognize the special challenges presented by children during early adolescence. In this chapter I will present an overview of one component of a novel educational program directed at the moral and social development of middle school students. What is of particular interest to the purposes of this conference is the way in which the program targets already bright, sensitive, good children as a way of impacting the moral climate of the middle schools throughout the district, and the sociomoral development of the children as a whole. This program is not in lieu of prevention efforts already in place, but is intended to build from strength, and not to simply rely on interventions with troubled children. The goal is to take already "nice" children, and to begin their personal journey toward ethical leadership. The assumption is that by targeting a critical number of children at their point of entry into middle school, and by sustaining the gains made through the succeeding curriculum, the district will achieve an overall improvement in the sociomoral impact of the middle schools.

The journey begins with the Discovering Ethical Leadership (DEL) seminar in the Summer between the end of fifth grade, and entry into the sixth grade of middle school. The seminar is intended in part as a "booster shot", building from the sociomoral knowledge base and attitudes the children have already created. The "booster shot" aspect of the seminar supports those elements of the children’s personalities and social values that have already made them identifiable as "good" children. These are qualities such as empathy, concern for others welfare, and a general regard for social norms, and healthy respect for authority that we commonly associate with moral character. Ethical leadership, however, is more than being "nice" in the conventional sense. It requires the capacity to engage in social and self criticism from a moral standpoint. Thus, a central element of the seminar are activities which engage children in critical thinking, and learning to trust in their own judgment while taking the viewpoints of others seriously. Finally, ethical leadership requires the integration of one’s moral knowledge into one’s self definition. Consequently, the seminar also includes activities designed to stimulate students’ moral self reflection.

Before going into the actual components of the DEL seminar, we need to review the theoretical and research foundations of the program. Undoubtedly, the most contentious element of moral and character education is how one defines morality, and its relationship to other social and religious values. The basic activities of the DEL seminar are grounded in what has been referred to as social domain theory.

Theory and Research Foundations

Domains of social judgments. Within domain theory, a distinction is drawn between morality, societal convention, and personal issues of privacy and prerogative (Nucci, in press). Moral issues are prescriptive in that judgments of the right or wrong of such actions do not stem from their connection to social rules, but rather to the non-arbitrary effects of actions upon the welfare of others (Turiel, 1983). Conventions, in contrast, are the arbitrarily designated standards of social conduct established by social consensus. Judgments of the right or wrong of conventional actions are a function of the existence of governing social norms (Turiel, 1983). The distinction made in social domain theory between morality and convention is nicely illustrated in the following excerpt from an interview with a 4-year-old girl regarding her perceptions of spontaneously occurring transgressions at her preschool.

MORAL ISSUE: Did you see what happened? Yes. They were playing and John hit him too hard. Is that something you are supposed to do or not supposed to do? Not so hard to hurt. Is there a rule about that? Yes. What is the rule? You're not to hit hard. What if there were no rule about hitting hard, would it be all right to do then? No. Why not? Because he could get hurt and start to cry.

CONVENTIONAL ISSUE: Did you see what just happened? Yes. They were noisy. Is that something you are supposed to or not supposed to do? Not do. Is there a rule about that?Yes. We have to be quiet. What if there were no rule, would it be all right to do then? Yes.Why? Because there is no rule.

The distinctions which have been drawn between morality and social convention have been sustained by findings from over 50 studies conducted since 1975. This research has indicated that children, adolescents, and adults treat violations of morality, such as harming another, as wrong whether or not there is a governing rule in effect, and generalize these judgments of wrongness to members of other cultures or groups which may not have norms regarding such actions. Conventions, on the other hand, are viewed as binding only within the context of an existing social norm, and only for participating members within a given social group. While there is some controversy over whether the distinction between morality and convention is made by members of all cultural groups, a number of studies have demonstrated that subjects from a wide variety of the world's cultures do differentiate between matters of morality and convention. Evidence in support of the morality/convention distinction has been obtained from subjects in Brazil, India, Israel (Arab and Israeli subjects), Korea, Nigeria, Virgin Islands, and Zambia. Moreover, recent research has demonstrated that something parallel to the distinction between morality and social convention operates within the moral and normative conceptions of religious children and adolescents with respect to their conceptions of religious rules. It has been found (Nucci, in press) that children and adolescents from observant religious groups (Amish-Mennonite and Orthodox Jews) judged certain religious norms (e.g., day of worship, work on the Sabbath, baptism, circumcision, wearing of head coverings, women leading worship services, premarital sex between consenting adults, keeping Kosher) in conventional terms in that they regarded these as contingent on religious authority or the word of God, and as particular to their religion. In contrast, moral issues (e.g., stealing, hitting, slander) were regarded as prescriptive (wrong to do) independent of the existence of a rule established by religious authority or by God's word, and as obligatory for members of all other religious groups.

Morality and convention are distinct from one another, and can be further distinguished from actions in the personal domain. While both morality and convention are concerned with regulating interpersonal actions, the personal refers to actions that are matters of individual prerogative and privacy. These are actions that have little impact on others, but which are integral to how we construct the unique facets of ourselves, and establish our sense of ourselves as individual. Americans tend to treat choice of friends, music tastes, the content of personal correspondence, phone calls, diaries, and what we do with our own bodies as personal matters beyond the legitimate authority of conventional or moral regulation. Research on children’s and adolescents social judgments has found evidence that identification of issues as personal is not confined to western culture, but seems to be a basic aspect of human social reasoning (Killen & Sueyoshi, 1995; Miller, & Bersoff, 1992; Nucci, Camino, & Milnitsky-Sapiro, 1996; Yau & Smetana, 1995).

Domain interactions. The discovery of distinct domains of social knowledge helps to focus the aims of moral education by identifying the core content and structure of morality. However, many of the applications of moral knowledge in everyday life involve interactions between and among moral and non-moral values. This is not surprising given that all social interactions take place within societal systems framed by conventions. Thus, although many everyday issues are straightforward instances of either morality, convention, or personal choice many others contain aspects from more than one domain. In such cases, people may differ from one another in terms of the weight they may give to one or another feature of a given issue.

Two basic forms of overlap occur between morality and convention. In one form, called domain mixture, conventional norms sustaining a particular organizational structure are in harmony or conflict with what would objectively be seen as concerns for fairness or rights. Examples of such overlap would be conventions for lining up to purchase tickets, or gender role conventions which proscribe areas in which men or women may participate. In the former case, the convention (lining up), while a morally neutral and arbitrary way to arrange people, could be used to serve a distributive justice function (turn taking), and cutting in line would, therefore, become unfair. In the latter case, the convention (gender role) may be in conflict with fairness if the convention prevents members of one gender from obtaining opportunities afforded the other. The second type of moral/convention overlap, labeled second order moral events, occurs when the violation of a strongly held convention is seen as causing psychological harm (insult, distress) to persons maintaining the convention. In our culture, for example, attending a funeral in a bathing suit would generally be seen as insensitive toward the deceased and the grieving family, and not merely an instance of unconventional conduct.

In responding to issues that involve elements from more than one domain, individuals may either subordinate the issue to a single dimension and reduce an issue of overlap to one that is primarily either moral or conventional, or engage in an effort to coordinate the multifaceted nature of the issue taking the moral as well non-moral aspects of a given situation or event into account. These responses to overlap at an individual level help to account for the inconsistencies we observe within people as they respond to events in different contexts. For the most part, within democratic societies, these areas of overlap are non-controversial inasmuch as they represent values concordant with morality and the conventional status quo. Consequently, values education programs purporting to foster such conventional values enjoy wide public support. Controversies are likely to emerge, however, whenever the relations between moral and non-moral components of issues are not in accord, and, therefore likely to be viewed differently by the affected parties.

In some cases these areas of overlap represent cultural shifts that result in minor controversies over such things as the extension of personal expression. These variations take place along the edges of a framework in which the critical or basic elements of personal freedom are recognized and given expression. As an illustrative example, consider the issue of freedom of self expression as it relates to clothing or hairstyle choices. While most young people within the United States view clothing selection and hairstyle as matters of personal choice, they do so within a conventional framework which requires them to be clothed, and which prescribes somewhat different forms of clothing for males and females. Regional variations and historical shifts in conventional styles of dress affect the range of variations which individuals may employ as a mode of self expression. Among today's urban youth, for example, these avenues for self expression have expanded into the use of body piercing, brightly colored hair, and tattoos. Despite the words of a lyric popular among American youth in the 1980s that, "You've got to fight for your right to party," it would be hard to argue that one can extend basic human strivings for self expression and happiness into a basic human right to party at will or to sport green hair. That is to say, that while one can draw the connection between, for example, the desire to have green hair and underlying psychological requirements for the construction of agency, it does not follow that agency is tied to a particular mode of expression.

Resolutions of domain overlap. There are three basic ways in which individuals deal with social issues involving more than one domain.

Subordination. One common response is to treat a multi-domain issue as falling within a single domain. There are two potentially negative consequences of such subordination. In one case, typical of persons in positions of power within the social hierarchy, the tendency is to read situations involving overlap solely in terms of the existing conventional social order. For example, males in traditional cultural systems tend to view issues pertaining to women, such as their role in family decision-making, or their possible larger role in society as matters of tradition, and historically defined convention. Traditional approaches to character education, which define morality in terms of the norms of society, and moral socialization in terms of inculcation of the young into the norms of the social system, fail to recognize that their approach inherently perpetuates existing immorality in the name of moral education.

On the other hand, radical social critics tend to see such issues solely in terms of rights and fairness, and fail to take into account the social organizational function of the governing conventions. For example, radical feminists tend to frame issue of family decision-making solely in terms of equality and fairness, and fail to consider the consequences of equal opportunities for self fulfillment on the functioning of the family as a social system.

Conflict. A second response to issues that contain elements from more than one domain is conflict in which the person vacillates between a view of the event as pertaining to one domain, and then the other without resolution. Women contemplating an abortion who shift between viewing abortion as a personal choice, and as the taking of human life illustrate this form of reasoning.

Coordination The goal of sociomoral education is to foster students, ability to recognize the multifaceted elements of complex social issues and to attempt to bring the moral and non-moral elements into coordination. Instead of reading a multifaceted issue in terms of the existing conventional normative framework, or reacting solely to the moral elements of an issue, the third response to domain overlap integrates the multifaceted components of an issue. An example would be the current efforts being made within US culture to generate shared gender roles in the home in order to remove gender inequities, and yet allow for the smooth functioning of the family as a social system.

Developmental issues: early adolescence. The picture of social values and social reasoning that emerges from domain theory is more complex than explanations of values formation based on the idea that we acquire our social values simply by learning norms from our elders. Not only are moral values distinct from other social norms, they operate in dynamic interaction with one another as a function of the individual’s reading of the social context. To make matters more complex, each domain of social values operates as a distinct developmental system. Finally, as you would expect, the period of early adolescence is an important period of transition in all three socio-moral domains. The major shifts associate within each domain during this age period are as follows:

Morality The great accomplishment of middle childhood is the construction of a morality based on reciprocity. This a morality of equality in which what is fair is defined by everyone coming out even. If one person does work one than another, this morality would argue that each should get paid proportional to the amount of work done. While this morality is certainly more fair than the self-serving egocentrism of younger children, it does not allow for consideration of differences in need or ability among persons. That is to say that this morality does not make much of an allowance for considerations of equity. In late childhood and early adolescence, children begin to bring in equity as an element of their morality. Now being fair is more than coming out even since some people’s needs may justify unequal treatment in order for things to be fair. Early adolescence is a period in which concerns for equality and equity in interpersonal relations are brought into balance or coordination (Damon, 1977).

Social convention. The arbitrariness of conventions makes understanding their social function more opaque to children than are issues of morality. As a result development of concepts of convention alternates between periods in which children create a basis for justifying the existence of conventions, followed by periods in which the further reflection causes children to negate their prior position. In middle childhood, kids come to the view that conventions are to be upheld because they preserve a degree of social order (reduce chaos). Children at this age do not really have a sense of societies as social systems, but do appreciate that there are people in charge of things who make up the conventions that keep things moving along. Fifth grade children are at this point in their reasoning about social convention. This is part of the reason that they seem so agreeable in relations with adult authority relative to younger and older children.

Middle adolescence, however, is the point in which children negate the above point of view, and interpret the arbitrariness of convention, and its adult source as meaning that conventions are nothing but the arbitrary dictates of adult authority. This negation of convention is a part of what makes their relations with adults less easy going than they had been in middle childhood.

Personal domain. Added to the negation of social convention is the tendency beginning in late childhood and early adolescence, for children to begin to claim an ever increasing area of their conduct as "personal" matters rather than issues subject to legitimate parental or teacher authority. This developmental "double whammy" helps to explain the emergence of adolescent-parent conflict in this age group (Smetana, 1996). An example of a typical source of parent-adolescent conflict is the orderliness (or lack thereof) of the child’s bedroom. From the child’s point of view, this is an issue of personal choice. From the parent’s point of view, this is a matter of family social convention.

Goals of a developmental approach to moral education an character formation

The research on children’s sociomoral development provides the backdrop for the following goals of moral education and character formation.

Develop students’ capacities to engage in critical moral reflection on the social lives they lead as individuals, and the structure and norms of the society they inherit.

Help students engage in moral decision-making in everyday life contexts.

Help students integrate their moral understandings as a central element of their conceptions of themselves as persons

Help students to develop their capacities to act as moral agents.

The DEL program

Basic structureThe DEL seminar is a one day intensive experience that uses small group discussions, and role plays, interspersed with group games to engage students in focused activities around social issues. In its initial year, we included sixty fifth grade students (30 boys and girls) drawn from each of the five elementary schools in the district. Students were selected on the basis of teacher nominations and the judgments of a selection committee comprised of teachers and parents. Ten teachers participated to allow for a 5:1 student/teacher ratio. Teachers were selected by the district superintendent from among teachers who submitted applications to be in the program. Teachers were paid for their time.

The day’s activities were designed to provide a mixture of reflective work, and fun. The focal points of the program were the small group activities. For each activity, the children were assigned randomly to one of ten groups. Each group had one teacher and six children evenly divided by gender. This process meant that children and teachers would come into contact with new group configurations throughout the day.

Seminar Activities and Goals

Table 1 outlines the events of the DEL seminar day. The day begins with a series of get acquainted exercises, followed by a group activity designed to help children learn how to engage in communicative forms of discourse. The goal of this initial exercise is to provide children with a basic tool needed to stimulate sociomoral cognitive growth. Communicative discourse involves the honest sharing of ideas and opinions with the goal of arriving at the best shared position about an issue. This is in contrast with competitive discourse, where the goal is to have your own personal viewpoint win the day.

The bulk of the day’s remaining group activities are designed to engage students in reflective activities that focus on moral and social conventional issues, and issues of overlap between convention and morality, and issues of convention and the personal. The goal is to help children to begin the process of constructing integrative resolutions of social issues, and to become sensitive to the ethical content of multifaceted issues. Each of the exercises is geared toward the developmental phase that the children are at. The actual content of the issues the children deal with were generated through focus groups conducted with fifth graders prior to the design of the program. 

Overview of events of the DEL seminar

The first of these issues is dealt with in a group role play. The content of this first role play concerns a moral issue that the children during the focus groups raised as the single biggest concern they had at school: the issue of group exclusion of unpopular children. In this role play the children confront issues of equality and equity as they struggle over who to choose as the last player in a kickball game. The choice is between an unpopular child who doesn’t get picked often, and a popular child who is often included in group activities. The role play is complicated with probes and questions from the teacher that alter such factors as the relative playing abilities of the children, and that raise issues such as rights of freedom of association (e.g., don’t you have the right to play with who you want to). In the end, children are asked to collectively work out the fairest solution to the situation. This role play asks children to put themselves in the shoes of each protagonist and forces them to begin to challenge their assumptions about the role of equality, equity and personal choice in making such moral decisions.

At this point in the program, fifth graders are mentally drained and need a physical break from the chore of engaging in moral argumentation. As you can see in Table 1, it is at this point that we provide the children with a physical group game: bouncing large colored balls trying to keep them in the air and moving about the room from person to person.

The second group activity is a simple discussion about a hypothetical scenario involving the social convention of using titles to refer to teachers and others in authority. The purpose of this exercise is begin to get the children to work through their own conceptions of the social functions and purposes of such arbitrary conventions.

The first two activities, then, are focused upon issues that fit primarily within a single domain of morality or convention. The third activity presents the first time that children are confronted with a situation in which the existing social conventions establish an inequity. The purpose of this exercise is to move beyond the development of children’s sense of fairness and their appreciation of conventional norms, to beginning to employ that sense of fairness to engage in moral critique of the conventional status quo. This is the beginning of moving children beyond being "nice" toward becoming capable of moral leadership. This initial issue employs a role play that pits the norm of viewing age as a basis for paying children for jobs they do, against fairness. In this case, the job initially belongs to a younger child, who does the work just as well as an older sibling. Finally, the issue asks the children to consider whether the person advantaged by the norm (the older sibling) is in any way obligated to resist or attempt to alter the moral elements of the situation.

The final role plays of the morning pit the issue of personal choice against the wishes of parental authority. The first half of the role play involves the ubiquitous issue of the "messy bedroom." The second half involves a different sort of conflict in which the child protagonist elects to engage in an activity that puts the child in some personal danger. Children are asked through the role plays to work through their views of personal choice and parental authority in both sorts of situations, and to come up with positive approaches to negotiating with parents in such situations.

This role play ends the activities of the morning. However, we attempted to continue the lessons of the morning through the lunch break. We did this by exploiting an opportunity to have the children live through one of the existing conventional/moral contradictions of everyday life, namely, the fact that women generally do more in the way of food preparation than do men. In this, case, we require the boys to serve lunch to all of the girls and the teachers, and to clean up afterwards. This activity was roundly received warmly by the girls, and met with less enthusiasm, and some resentment from the boys.

Following the object lesson of the lunch break, the children spend some time discussing the fairness of having the boys do all of the serving and cleaning up, and the relation between this and their own everyday experiences. This discussion, like the role play regarding children’s wages, asks the children to apply their moral and social understandings to evaluate the morality of everyday social practices. Again, our goal is to go beyond simply reinforcing the qualities that make for "nice" children, toward helping them become ethical leaders.

The subsequent role play again deals with moral issues, but in this case the question of moral reciprocity is not in the context of a prosocial act, but rather in the context of a situation that pulls for retributive justice. In this case, the role play pits a wronged child in the situation of deciding whether or not to seek an easily available act of retaliation against children who have wronged her. This issue, which engrossed the children who participated in the program, asks children to think through the difference between vengeance and justice.

Each of the activities up to this point focuses upon a particular social or moral issue. The following activity, however, focuses upon another aspect of ethical leadership, the capacity to remain true to one’s best judgment in the face of group opposition. This may seem in contradiction with the earlier focus on communicative discourse, but it is not. Communicative discourse is not about compliant conformity, but rather the search for the best course of action supported by the best reasoned justification. It is not group conformity that is sought, but reasoned group consensus. This next activity uses the classic Asch (1956) conformity situation to place the children directly within a context that pulls for them to conform to group expectations. In this case a series of three lines are project on a screen at the front of the room. One of the lines is longer, and one shorter than third one. Three middle school accomplices each in succession identifies the middle sized line as the one that is longest. The participating children are then asked to secretly write down which line they think is longest, and then to close their eyes and raise their hand when the letter corresponding to the line that they think is longest is read out by the teacher. Once this is done, the lead teacher then shares what percentage of the children chose the middle line. The teacher then reveals which line is actually the longest. The children are not asked to reveal which line that they actually chose, but are engaged in a discussion about the exercise.

At this point, the children are once again in need of some physical release. The group is engaged in a rousing period of limbo dancing.

The final activity of the seminar involves the children in self introspection. The children are asked to individually write in notebooks a description of the sort of person they are now, the kind of person they hope to become, and the kind of person the most dread becoming. Finally, the are asked to write down what approach they plan to take to reach the goal of becoming the kind of person they hope to be. This last private activity is then shared with group members as a brain storming session aimed at coming up with strategies for how to go about the process of self development.

The day culminates with a validation ceremony with the parents present in which each child is individually recognized and given a certificate recognizing their participation in the seminar. This is not intended as a reward, but rather as recognition of the child’s accomplishment. 

Follow-up Activities

The reunion. The DEL conference itself takes place in August just prior to the start of classes. In order to maintain the momentum generated with participants, there is a reunion scheduled in the Fall in late October prior to Halloween. The students who participated in the program are invited to join a planning committee which literally sets out the activities of the reunion. This past year, one third of the participants, primarily girls, offered to plan the reunion. They worked over a two week period with parent volunteers and teachers to set up the event, send out invitations, and set up room decorations on the event day. The reunion took place on a Friday evening and lasted three hours. In the reunion, the children engaged in group games with activities ending in a reprise of the self-evaluation exercise that they had done in the DEL seminar. The impact of the reunion was to solidify new friendships, since the children were now in two middle schools rather than their five elementary schools, and to rekindle their interest in ethical issues.

Integration into the curriculumThe DEL program had only been in place for 20 months. This Summer we will be instituting a series of teacher in-services designed to work with teachers on the integration and sequencing of follow-up activities throughout the sixth through eighth grade curriculum. These activities make use of much of the discourse principles from the DEL program, and are in conjunction with an emotional development program already in place at the middle schools.

Successive cohorts. Beginning this year and continuing through next year, the number of children invited into the program will be gradually increased so that by its third year, the DEL Summer program will involve roughly one third of the children in the district.

Program Outcomes

At this point we have completed only the first cohort of participants and are in the midst of analyzing much of the outcome data from that first iteration. At this point we know the following:

Students valued the DEL seminar day, and had positive ratings for each of the program components. In fact ninety percent of the students said that they would recommend the program to others, and eighty one percent stated that they would like to attend the DEL Summer program again the following year.

Teachers also positively evaluated the program. The modal overall rating given to the program on a five point scale was 5.0 (the highest rating possible). All ten of the teachers stated that they wished to participate in the program again the following year.

There were no significant differences in the average developmental levels of reasoning about moral or social conventional issues of children who attended the program and those who did not. This was not surprising since the seminar day is only a one day intervention. We would not anticipate an impact on development until the program is fully integrated within the curriculum.

While it is unrealistic to expect an impact on developmental level from a one day program, we had hoped that this experience would open the children to a more integrative approach to issues of domain overlap. We had hoped that this would be evidenced in terms of the spontaneous recognition of multi-domain elements and efforts at coordinated cross-domain reasoning. We did find that there was a significant impact on the tendencies of children to take an integrative approach to issues of domain overlap. Children who attended the program were more likely to provide integrative reasoning across domains than were children who did not. Control group children were more likely to use reasoning from a single domain in response to multi-domain situations.

The use of integrative reasoning is illustrated in the following excerpt from an interview with one of the female participants regarding a scenario in which the child does not wish to clean up his messy bedroom on the grounds that its his room, and that it should be his business whether it is clean or not. This issue is an example of overlap between convention and the personal that is typical of conflicts experienced between parents and children at this age.

Interviewer: What do you think about this?

Student: Well, I definitely think that Judy has a point that it is her room, and that she should keep it messy. I know that I have said that. But, it is after all her parent’s home, they paid for it.

Interviewer: What do you think of Judy’s argument that its her room and she should be able to leave it messy if she wants to?

Student: Oh yes. Because a bedroom’s someplace where it is her essence, her space, and she goes there for privacy … whereas the other areas of the house like the bathroom or kitchen are public and used by all of the members of the household and should be cleaned for everyone’s use.

Interviewer: Well what about the mother’s point of view?

Student: Well in a way the mother is also right. I mean Judy’s room is also part of the house that is for the entire family. So, in a sense it can also be seen as public. For example, when company comes over, they aren’t thinking in terms of this person’s room or that person’s room. So, when that happens, then Judy’s room is also part of the public part of the house.

Interviewer: Well what do you think would be the best way for Judy and her mom to resolve the situation?

Student: Well, I think they should talk about it, or give their points of the argument - because it sounds like something an argument. You know, Judy can tell her mom, "Well its my room", and the mom can say, "Well its my house." And then maybe they can compromise, because they are thinking on two different levels and you know they would have to compromise.

Interviewer: What would the compromise look like?

Student: Well like Judy could acknowledge that her room is part of the house, and maybe the mess reflects on everybody, and she could offer to clean it periodically, and especially when company comes over. And, maybe her mom could appreciate that this is Judy’s private space, and maybe it doesn’t have to always be "white glove" you know, and maybe when company comes over they could like just close the door to her bedroom.


We have been encouraged by the early results of this program. We will not be able to fully evaluate its impact until enough time has passed for us to assess whether the program has affected school climate, and whether the integration into the school curriculum affects the children’s sociomoral reasoning. What we would hope to see, however, is something other than evidence that we are simply contributing to the development of "nice" children. We would hope to see that the children are nice in the sense that they empathize with others, and engage in "random acts of kindness" as the popular slogan puts it. But, we would also hope that, certainly by the end of eighth grade, the children were able to do more.

At this point you may be asking, "Well, what's wrong with "nice", or perhaps a better way to put it things, "what are the limits of being "nice"? I would contend that most of the world's systematic social evils have been supported and abetted by nice people. Slavery could not have existed as a practice if it did not have the support of nice people. The subjugation of women throughout most of history and in most of the world's cultures, including the present day, is being sustained by nice people. The current discrimination against homosexuals, and the past discrimination against people of various creeds or countries of origin has been sustained by nice people. The problem with nice people is the degree to which they do not recognize that the way that they live their everyday social lives may not in some respects be very nice at all.

We will know that this program has succeeded in its aim to discover ethical leadership if in two year’s time students are better able to recognize the moral aspect of everyday social issues, become sensitive to the moral contradictions built into the existing social framework, and feel personally connected to efforts at rectifying those moral contradictions. An eighth grader can hardly be expected to solve the world’s moral problems, and any program with that goal in mind would be fool hardy and irresponsible. On the other hand, there is no better time to begin the process of engaging students in constructing the tools for such moral and social thought than at the onset of the transition from childhood into adult life. The world that these children are about to inherit, and to lead into the future, will present unimaginable moral issues. Dealing with them will require moral leadership that goes beyond the constraints of today’s conventions. In sum, nice is not enough. 



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Damon, W. (1977). The social world of the child. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Killen, M. & Sueyoshi, L. (1994, June). Conflict resolution in Japanese preschool settings. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, Chicago.

Miller, J. & Bersoff, D.M. (1992). Culture and moral judgment: How are conflicts between justice and interpersonal responsibilities resolved? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology62, 541-554.

Nucci, L. (in press, January, 2001). Education in the moral domain. Cambridge university press.

Nucci, L. Camino, C., and Sapiro, C. (1996). Social class effects on Northeastern Brazilian children's conceptions of areas of personal choice and social regulation. Child Development67, 1223-1242.

Smetana, J.G. (1996). Adolescent-parent conflict: implications for adaptive and maladaptive development, In D. Cicchetti and S. L. Toth (Eds.), Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology, Vol. VII: Adolescence Opportunities and Challenges. Rochester NY: University of Rochester Press, 1996, (pp. 1-46).

Yau, J. and Smetana, J. G. (1995). Adolescent-parent conflict among chinese adolescents in Hong Kong. Unpublished manuscript, University of Hong Kong.


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