Controversy with Carol Gilligan

In the years since Kohlberg's death, he has become better known in some quarters as the educator who provoked Carol Gilligan's challenge to his theories and method rather than as a major figure in his own right. One of Kohlberg's colleagues has estimated that Gilligan has had a greater impact on moral education than Kohlberg himself. Gilligan did not feel free to discuss publicly her personal friendship as well as her professional relationship with Kohlberg until 1997, when she delivered the Kohlberg Memorial Lecture at the annual meeting of the Association for Moral Education. While Gilligan had never been one of Kohlberg's students or postdoctoral fellows, having completed her own doctorate in 1963, she agreed to teach a section of an undergraduate course that he offered in 1970 on moral and political choice. She then coauthored a paper with Kohlberg that appeared in Daedalus in 1971 as "The Adolescent as a Philosopher," an article that is still regarded as a classic statement of Kohlberg's approach to moral education.

Gilligan's experience in teaching the 1970 course, however, was a turning point for her in that she was struck by the reluctance of the young men in the class "to talk about the draft, aware that there was no room in Larry's theory for them to talk about what they were feeling without sounding morally undeveloped. . . finding no room for uncertainty and indecision, they chose silence over hypocrisy." Gilligan had initially planned to follow these students to their graduation to study their choices regarding military service, but she chose instead to study women considering abortion as an example of a real-life dilemma. At that point she was confronted by what she termed a "dissociation," or a split in consciousness, between women's sense of self and their concern for their relationships. Although Gilligan continued to teach courses with Kohlberg, over time their views grew further and further apart. In her words, "It became very hard to have a conversation, and I felt that I was not being heard." To some extent, their professional disagreement reflected differences in their educational backgrounds; Kohlberg had come to psychology through the study of philosophy, while Gilligan had majored in English literature as an undergraduate. Whereas Kohlberg was committed to an ideal of an objective moral good, Gilligan began to introduce the methods of literary analysis into what she has called "a voice-centered relational method of research." She has described her methodological innovations in detail in a book she coauthored with Lyn Mikel Brown, Meeting at the Crossroads, which was published in 1992.

In spite of the intellectual friction between Gilligan and Kohlberg, she as well as others who worked with him remarked on his genuine interest in views that differed from his own. Far from being an intellectual dictator, Kohlberg encouraged the School of Education to hire faculty who represented a variety of different positions on human development. One of his postdoctoral students later remarked, "The people that [Kohlberg] brought in did not necessarily agree with him. He would bring in critics. You never felt an 'us/them' or 'either/or' approach with him." Gilligan remarked in her 1997 lecture that ". . . it is extremely important to remember that [Kohlberg] would invite in people who differed from him to talk with him in the public space of his class about these differences." Gilligan went on to state, however, that while Kohlberg thought that her position could be contained within his basic moral paradigm, she was convinced that the paradigm itself was defective.

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