Read the reading and respond to the following questions for Short Writing Assignment #6
1) What similarities or differences do you identify between Jean Watson & Nel Noddings’ theories?
2) The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world (anonymous). Do you think that Nel Noddings’ would agree or disagree with this statement and why?
3) What would Noddings’ response be to someone who believes that “excessive punitive measures” are the only way to have your first grade students follow the class rules?
Nel Noddings’ reading
Nel Noddings is closely identified with the promotion of the ethics of care, – the argument that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making. Her first major work Caring (1984) explored what she described as a ‘feminine approach to ethics and moral education’. Her argument starts from the position that care is basic in human life – that all people want to be cared for (Noddings 2002: 11). She also starts from the position that while men and women are guided by an ethic of care, ‘natural’ caring – ‘a form of caring that does not require an ethical effort to motivate it (although it may require considerable physical and mental effort in responding to needs)’ can have a significant basis in women’s experience (ibid.: 2). ‘Natural caring’, thus, is a moral attitude – ‘a longing for goodness that arises out of the experience or memory of being cared for’ (Flinders 2001: 211). On this basis Nel Noddings explores the notion of ethical caring – ‘a state of being in relation, characterized by receptivity, relatedness and engrossment’ (op. cit.).
What caring actually means and entails is not that easy to establish. Nel Noddings’ approach is to examine how caring is actually experienced (what we might describe as a phenomenological analysis). She asks “what are we like” when we engage in caring encounters? ‘Perhaps the first thing we discover about ourselves’, she continues, ‘is that we are receptive; we are attentive in a special way’ (Noddings 2002: 13). This attention shares some similarities with what Carl Rogers describes as ’empathy’ (see Carl Rogers. core conditions and education). However, Noddings is cautious as ’empathy’ is ‘peculiarly western and masculine’ in its Western usage (op. cit.). Instead she prefers to talk about ‘sympathy’ – feeling with – as more nearly capturing ‘the affective state of attention in caring’ (ibid.: 14).
Receptive attention is an essential characteristic of a caring encounter. The carer is open to what the cared-for is saying and might be experiencing and is able to reflect upon it. However, there is also something else here – motivational displacement. In other words, the carer’s ‘motive energy’ flows towards the ‘cared-for’. The carer thus responds to the cared-for in ways that are, hopefully, helpful. For this to be called ‘caring’ a further step is required – there must also be some recognition on the part of the cared-for that an act of caring has occurred. Caring involves connection between the carer and the cared-for and a degree of reciprocity; that is to say that both gain from the encounter in different ways and both give.
A caring encounter, thus, has three elements according to Nel Noddings:
We could say that a caring person ‘is one who fairly regularly establishes caring relations and, when appropriate maintains them over time’ (op, cit.).
Caring-about and caring-for
Nel Noddings helpfully, also, highlights the distinction between caring-for and caring-about. Thus far, we have been looking largely at caring-for – face-to-face encounters in which one person cares directly for another. Caring-about is something more general – and takes us more into the public realm. We may be concerned about the suffering of those in poor countries and wish to do something about it (such as giving to a development charity). As Noddings initially put it, caring-about involves ‘a certain benign neglect’. She continued, ‘One is attentive just so far. One assents with just so much enthusiasm. One acknowledges. One affirms. One contributes five dollars and goes on to other things’ (Noddings 1984: 112). However, in her later works Nel Noddings has argued that caring-about needs more attention. We learn first what it means to be cared-for. ‘Then, gradually, we learn both to care for and, by extension, to care about others’ (Noddings 2002: 22). This caring-about, Noddings argues, is almost certainly the foundation for our sense of justice.
The key, central to care theory, is this: caring-about (or, perhaps a sense of justice) must be seen as instrumental in establishing the conditions under which caring-for can flourish. Although the preferred form of caring is cared-for, caring-about can help in establishing, maintaining, and enhancing it. Those who care about others in the justice sense must keep in mind that the objective is to ensure that caring actually occurs. Caring-about is empty if it does not culminate in caring relations. (Noddings 2002: 23-4)
From this we can see that caring-about is a significant force in society. As well as being an important feature of our sense of justice, it also contributes to the cultivation of social capital. We learn to care-about, according to Nel Noddings, through our experience of being cared-for. Instead of starting with an ideal state or republic, care theory starts with an ideal home and moves outward – ‘learning first what it means to be cared for, then to care for intimate others, and finally to care about those we cannot care for directly’ (Noddings 2002: 31).
Smith, M. K. (2004). Nel Noddings, the ethics of care and education’, the
encyclopaedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/nel-noddings-the-ethics-of-care-and-education/. Retrieved: September 16, 2015].