Nel Noddings is a contemporary philosopher of education. She teaches at Stanford University and Teachers College, Columbia University. She is world famous for her innovative approach to moral education, which she calls caring. She suggests that a caring attitude is necessary to enable changes in our schools and the whole educational system. In her many books she describes concrete examples of caring at a variety of levels: for others, for plants and animals, for our environment, and for the spiritual self.
Her work inspires many educators, parents, as well as others interested in creating and nurturing environments that care for the spirit. Noddings's approach is an ethical and educational model to be implemented in school classrooms. She calls for introducing spiritual questions into our curriculum. Even math classes may be relevant to a religious or spiritual problematic because such figures in the math curriculum as Descartes or Pascal struggled with the difficulties involved in trying to prove the existence of God. Noddings argues that the modern liberal education is devoid of feeling and caring dimensions and does not enrich the human mind and spirit but tends to narrow its scope. A caring, feminine approach to education is not limited to logical reasoning but draws attention to human passions, concerns, and ethical responsibilities. Noddings's vision includes schools designed as the centers of care where youth can work in a collaborative manner. A caring education, she argues, will enable children to develop into adults capable of caring for others in this world. A central concept in Noddings's ethics is relation. A caring relation is an encounter between two human beings that creates a sense of connection. Both the caregiver and the care receiver contribute to this relationship. A caregiver has a specific state of consciousness described by Noddings as receptive and full of desire to help a stranger in need. This desire constitutes a motivational displacement. A care receiver must necessarily be responsive as otherwise a caring relation would not be mutual and reciprocal. The desire to be cared for represents a universal human characteristic. Noddings contrasts the standard model of religious moral education with the idea of confirmation, which represents an act of affirming and encouraging the very best in somebody's action even if such a better self is only potentially present. Contrary to moral judgment, confirmation sustains a continuous connection between the two people.
Addressing questions of children's belief or unbelief in God, Noddings stresses that they should be the subject of intelligent inquiry. Noddings reminds us of John Dewey's view on democracy that should include a common truth on the encounter of God in people in all departments of action. The existential and metaphysical questions should be raised in an ordinary classroom and during regular high school classes. Noddings's discussions focus on the nature of God and many gods; the possibility of spiritual progress and the danger of religious intolerance; human desire to experience a sense of belonging; feminism and the politics of religion; immortality, salvation, and humanistic aspirations; science, mathematics, and religion; human dependence on God; and secular ethics. The question of the meaning and purpose of life is of equal importance to children and adults alike. Teenagers often succumb to pessimism. Rather than denying this feeling, Noddings suggests a life-oriented education, capable of assisting students in realistic self-evaluation and creating a caring environment.
Noddings stresses a moral life in the community and its specific importance for students who are especially proud of group loyalty. The hard questions of selfunderstanding and learning to apply the compassionate rules of the group in relation to treating strangers should become part of students' own ethical and social responsibility. Noddings thinks that students should begin to understand the fragility of facts devoid of context and speaker. She points that value education should not be dogmatic. She calls fundamentalism the biggest stumbling block to educating for pluralistic values. She insists that a critical and appreciative examination of religion belongs in schools and students would benefit from it. Noddings presents feminist spirituality as an alternative to traditional patriarchal religion noticing that women have long suffered inferiority under the prevailing theological and philosophical theories. She suggests that students should be exposed to both the story of the Fall and to its feminist critique with the emphasis on the Goddess religions, in which the biblical serpent brings knowledge and healing. Students should have an opportunity to study the plurality of positions and become aware of many alternative and often controversial religious beliefs. Noddings is interested in the problem of evil. The deep exploration of this and other questions contributes to an enhanced capacity for all people to make intelligent connections to the spiritual realm.