How Valuable Is “Values Education”?
PLACE: School, Morals Education Class.
SETTING: Five students huddle in an imaginary life raft, as their schoolroom floor becomes the vast Atlantic Ocean. They are lost at sea after their cruise ship sank during a raging storm. Each student plays the role of one of five characters: a vivacious movie starlet; a middle-aged clergyman; a female Nobel-prize-winning nuclear scientist; a militant male medical student, the only black in the group; and a male Olympic athlete with strong racial prejudices. The five imaginary survivors face a moral dilemma: The life raft has food and room for only four. One person must be sacrificed, or all will lose their lives. They have 30 minutes to make a decision.
QUESTION: If your child was in this class, what choice would you want your child to make?
FOR more than a decade, a revolution in moral education has been sweeping through North American schools. In the past, family and religion took the lead in teaching children their values. But today many feel that the schools must do it. Why? Because, as the president of Harvard University, Derek Bok, pointed out in U.S.News & World Report, a public belief is that “families and churches are not as influential as they once were in transmitting values to individuals.”
“We have parents who teach few, if any, moral principles to their children,” laments one school supervisor of special education. “For some children, we are their only source of moral education. If they don’t learn it here, they’ll learn it in the ‘streets.’”
What Is Values Education?
Its goal is not to teach right or wrong. Rather, it is to open up discussions and “let children discover and create their own values.” Whether this is a good thing for children or not depends on whom you listen to. Some teachers of values education call traditional methods of moral education indoctrination, or giving children prepackaged adult values. Today magazine explains: “Teachers are instructed to teach there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to any ethical issue the class may discuss.”
Other educators and parents, however, counter that these new methods teach that there are no absolute moral truths. This undermines respect for parents.
Suppose the session discussed cheating. The message many students would carry away, according to sociologist Dr. Kathleen Gow, would be: “Just do whatever you think at the time. There’s nothing right or wrong about cheating in itself. But be cool. Check out the scene. Know your audience.”
Interestingly, when cheating was being discussed in one classroom, the teacher was asked by a student if they had to be honest on tests in that class. The teacher responded: “All of you who choose dishonesty as a value may not practice it here.”
Role-playing is used to help students understand values and viewpoints—their own and those of others. Students act out conflict situations similar to the one described at the beginning of this article. Each student pleads his case as to why his character should live, and then the class votes on who is the most worthy to live—and who must be allowed to die. The exercises may cause guilt, confusion, and nightmares, and teach children that killing is acceptable.
Again, the teacher exposes the children to moral dilemmas, such as—
◻ Choosing between two young children in a house fire when only one can be saved.
◻ Deciding whether cannibalizing a corpse is acceptable if you are starving.
◻ Discussing whether mate swapping would be all right if the couples agreed to it.
After presenting the dilemma, a question period examines the problems and the possibilities—but, again, the dilemma is left without a solution and without guidelines.
Another approach teaches the student to think on the values he is adopting in light of his life goals. These ultimate personal goals—survival, pleasure, freedom, or something else—should be the student’s overriding consideration. This approach is simply another form of “do your own thing.” A student could end up valuing pleasure more than anything else and still be viewed as having sound moral values.
For the student to reach his life goal, happy compromise is encouraged. Compromise becomes justified by claiming that “we should strive to be reasonably moral but not extremely moral,” that “nothing is intrinsically good or bad.” But T. W. Harpur in The Toronto Star writes that this method “fail[s] to communicate any basis for deciding what is right and wrong to our young people.” He concludes that “it is impossible to teach true morality without some agreed, absolute standards.”
The Wall Street Journal published a comment on all of this as follows: “To tell a student stealing is wrong or that kindness and loyalty are good values, would be, according to Values Clarification, to manipulate and coerce a student. . . . Adolescents were in effect given the message that parents, the school or society had no right to tell them what standards should guide sexual behavior. Whether premarital sex was right or wrong, for instance, adolescents would discover for themselves as they were helped to clarify their personal values. . . . If parents object to their children using pot or engaging in premarital sex, the theory behind Values Clarification makes it appropriate for the child to respond, ‘But that’s just your value judgment. Don’t force it on me.’”
The Journal then adds: “These positions directly contradict the Biblical view that God is the ultimate lawgiver and that the good life is to be found only in losing oneself in the service of God and of one’s neighbor.” The objections to values clarification, however, are not limited to religious fundamentalists. “Nonfundamentalist scholars from major universities,” the Journal declares, “have faulted Values Clarification on at least a dozen counts.”
Responsible parents want their children to think deeply and reason on questions of morality and not blindly accept such valueless “values education.” Little wonder delinquency is on a toboggan slide! Parents must protect their children against teaching methods that give license to immorality and that undermine wholesome respect for parental authority. In addition, Christian parents want their children to know that humans cannot successfully live independent of their Creator and that his moral principles and laws are the best to follow.—Isaiah 33:22.