Reading Caring, by Nel Noddings, has opened up an area of attention, involving human interaction, that previously, I had not given extensive thought. Although I am not majoring in education, nor will I officially become a teacher after graduation, the ideas discussed within Caring will be applicable to the forms of teaching that I will encounter in my life, such as natural interactions with friends, co-workers and my future children. Throughout the book, many sections seem to be rebuttals of former ideas concerning caring, relationships and life. Although these other philosophies are often brought up, Noddings manages to illustrate how her feminine approach can improve caring relationships in various cases; sometimes her ideas are a complete abandonment of her predecessors views, and in other instances they are merely a logical augmentation. Noddings thoroughly discusses the concepts of “caring for,” the relationship between “one-caring” and “cared for;” “ethical caring,” a system of caring based on “natural caring;” and the “ethical idea,” an ideal way of converting “natural caring” to “ethical caring,” in regards to concrete relationships. As a man, it can become easy to overlook caring. Society seems to expect one to not care at times, or to not show too much emotion. I will show how these ideas from Caring have helped me to look at and analyze caring relationships in my life and with regard to the film, The Class. As a result of the newly acquired knowledge from Caring, I can assert that although François, one of the teachers from the film, wanted to care, he did not truly move from merely “caring about” to “one-caring” with his students.
Noddings explains in the Fundamental Nature of Caring that, “the process of moral decision making that is founded on caring requires a process of concretization rather than one of abstraction.” (Noddings, 8) This is the foundation that she continues to build her philosophy on – the idea that abstraction can only lead to confusion. In What Does it Mean to Care, she discusses the standard elements that one considers when thinking about caring. She emphasizes engrossment above all overs and continues on considering it to be a major component of caring in the chapters that follow. To be engrossed in a person is to have all of one’s attention and interest absorbed by someone. I cannot help but realize that at times when I thought that I was caring, I may not have been truly engrossed in the “cared-for.” Noddings states, “I cannot claim to care… If my care-taking is perfunctory or grudging.” (Noddings, 9) She means that caring is not simply an action – there are qualities beneath the surface that are unique to a truly caring relationship. One cannot simply go through the movements and be expected to be recognized as “one-caring” by the “cared-for.” This was a recurrent problem within the film, The Class. The “cared-for” looks for signs that tell whether the supposed “one-caring” has regard for them or if they are simply being treated perfunctory. (Noddings, 19) Noddings later explains that this can be verified by reciprocity. If the “one-caring’s” care is acknowledged and accepted by the “cared-for,” it will be reciprocated. (Noddings, 70) To achieve this result – to make an impact on the “cared-for” that they cannot help but notice – the one caring must abandon their preconceived notions and devote themselves to the understanding of others’ perceptions, needs and desires. (Noddings, 24) In the film, François failed to do this. He, like myself at times, attempted to demonstrate his care but did not fully account for the feelings of his students. Most notably, this occurs with Khomba. François had established a relationship with her but did not realize how he was making her feel at times while they were interacting. She ended up thinking that her teacher was picking on her. This was not François’ intention; however, it was the end result. If François would have fully immersed himself in the caring relationship, a motivational shift would have occurred. When this occurs the “one-caring’s” energy flows towards the “cared-for.” (Noddings, 34) If caring is not quickly recognized and given back the “one-caring” must have the courage to go on caring until it is acknowledged. (Noddings, 38) François had a lot of difficulty persevering while it appeared that none of his students recognized his attempts at caring. He seemed to retract his focus back onto himself in these events. The one caring must not do this; in order for the “cared-for” to ever recognize caring they must believe that the “one-caring” is completely engrossed in them, in the moment and not thinking about themselves.
Noddings begins to explore what “ethical caring” means in the section Ethics and Caring. “Ethical caring” is based on “natural caring” and is rooted in concrete situations. (Noddings, 28) Rather than approaching moral problems with regard to cold principles, she advocates looking at each situation in respect to needs, feelings and conditions. (Noddings, 27) The “natural caring” that Noddings is referring to can be exemplified by a mother and child. The type of attention and engrossment that she bestows upon her baby is what must be learned from and extended into the other networks of one’s life. Noddings goes into depth with this topic in the section of Women and Caring. She argues that women are naturally concerned with, “maintaining and enhancing caring.” (Noddings, 42) A woman’s caring is a foundation for her morality and ethics. Unfortunately, François’ Ethical caring seemed to be more shallow than this. Although there were times when he tried to look past principles of punishment and truly care, like when the school board was considering expelling Soleymane, there were other times when he forgot his role of “one-caring” and withdrew back into himself. François would lose his temper and in the instance of his interaction with the class representatives it was quite costly. Instead of placing himself into the girls position, and seeing how they could find humor of their classmates being critiqued, he called them sluts. To make matters worse, he withdrew further and continued to defend what he said and refused to see their perspective. this could have been a chance to show his “ethical caring” with a sincere apology. Although this would have shown his vulnerability – something he feared to do – it would have actually been a powerful example of his fallibility as a human and how to morally respond to it. In the Ethics of Being Cared For, Noddings declares that in a dependent relationship, such as teacher and student, the greater responsibility is placed on the “one-caring.” (Noddings, 76) François seemed to not accept this responsibility at times of the movie. In his defense, if, as Noddings asserts, “ethical caring is based of the “natural caring” that one has experience, maybe there were times in his life where true natural caring did not occur for him to learn from; it is possible he is still on a path to fully defining it. If “We have memories of caring, of tenderness, and these lead us to a vision of what is good – a state that is good-in-itself and a commitment to sustain and enhance the good (the desire and commitment to be moral)” could one that may have experienced a less caring upbringing be at a disadvantage? I believe so, and I think that this is the reason Noddings finds moral education so important – to pass on this knowledge of caring. (Noddings, 99) In The One-Caring as Teacher, she explains that everything one does has moral overtones. (Noddings, 179) This is another reason why the “one-caring” must be engrossed in the “cared-for.” The “one-caring” must know how they are being received – this is not possible if they are withdrawn in their own feelings and not in the moment and focusing on the concrete situation.
Within the Nature of the Ideal, Noddings refreshes what she considers the “two sentiments” from which the “ethical ideal” is derived: “the natural sympathy human beings feel for each other and the longing to maintain, recapture, or enhance our most caring and tender moments.” (Noddings, 104) It’s the commitment to receptivity within concrete caring relationships that natural caring naturally emerges from that Noddings strives for as an ideal. If François had taken more time to focus on reciprocity, he would have been more aware of where the breakdown was occurring involving his attempts at caring. Although François faced quite a challenge, the attainment of his caring seemed to be possible – notably, at times, it was reached. There was an instance where François and Soleymane did share in a caring relationship; The reciprocation was evident when Soleymane showed happiness and pride after being acknowledge for his project documenting his family. Although there are constrains to the “ethical ideal,” acceptance can lead to focus on the concrete and away from abstractions that can confuse all parties involved in caring. (Noddings, 109) Within Nurturing the Ideal, Noddings again elaborates on “developing receptive capacities.” By focusing on receptiveness and not on rules, the child can prevent drawing false conclusions from consequences. (Noddings, 121) Authoritarian styles, such as the principles in The Class, do not show any signs of receptivity and therefor these attitudes do not have a place in moral education. François contrasted sharply with the principle, and at times did try to understand situations; however, even when this occurred it was often not received and reciprocated by his students. To sustain caring, one must maintain the relationship. But, there is also a special reward for the activity of caring: joy. When one opens up to receptivity within relationships they also open up to the experience of joy, as discussed in Receptivity and Joy in Intellectual Work. Joy is a special experience that seems to transcend the traditional thoughts of basic emotions. It can be a great surprise – a culmination of time and events in a relationship that erupt into feelings of great contentment and happiness. (Noddings, 145) Noddings compares it to creativity – an almost mystical experience that leaves one wondering where exactly it came from. As an artist of various forms, I appreciated this comparison and understood completely what she meant. The experience of joy is truly remarkable and can be a very powerful motivator – one that can be used with great enjoyment within concrete relationships – if one opens up to receptivity.
François could not truly enter into receptivity with his students, and although there appeared to be a desire, he did not fully become “one-caring.” I have realized there are times when one must persevere in caring so that it can be recognized and reciprocated by the “cared-for.” When this reciprocity is opened up in relationships it allows energy to flow back and forth and sustain the caring. The sustenance of reciprocity allows the caring relationship to be maintained with rewards to both sides, such as joy. François was a great example of what many people experience in their efforts care. But, with the knowledge of the difference between “caring-about” and “caring-for,” one can achieve better success and enjoyment out of their caring relationships.
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