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Doing the right thing at school involves moral reasoning about right and wrong that interplays with a sense of responsibility as children move towards being active citizens. In the current study, we investigated how 124 Australian children’s understanding and reasoning about doing the right thing changed over the early years of primary school (age 5–6 years through to age 7–8 years). This study included children’s ideas about how they knew what was right and wrong and how they worked out for themselves what was right and wrong at school. The main finding suggests that children did not believe they were engaged in personal decision-making or reflections about what was right and wrong at school as they progressed through Year 1 to Year 3. Instead of developing autonomy and personal decision-making, children came to rely more on external authorities for knowledge. The implications from these findings point to the need to support children to become active citizens through participatory pedagogies and a focus on democracy.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Journal Article

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