Our nation faces a crisis of principle
Recently we've been shocked by both the Enron debacle and the cheating scandal in a Kansas school.
At the school, students plagiarized, the teacher flunked them, then the school board, responding to parent pressure, reversed the decision.
These current examples of the crisis in ethics ought to provoke a major societal alarm, but the response is likely to be one of disturbed silence. More like a "what can we do?" or a complacent "that's the way things are today."
When we look at the Enron executives, we must wonder how they reached a point in their lives where greed, selfishness, dishonesty and a lack of honor became primary characteristics. When we think about what the Kansas students have just learned about personal morality, we must shudder at what their futures hold for them and the lives they touch.
One conclusion appears inescapable: Something is missing in their moral education. Something is wrong in the way their parents and guardians brought them up.
Sure, the family is where this kind of education should occur. But in far too many cases, how many youngsters come home to empty houses, and how many families sit down to eat together, and how many families discuss ethical issues or talk about moral questions?
The burning question is whether moral education is important enough to become an essential part of a school's program. In the 19th century it was. Moral issues received major attention in elementary and secondary schools. And the senior ethics course was the culmination of a student's college experience.
Certainly, the demise of families has dramatically increased the number of issues and lessons we expect schools to cover. They already are overburdened. But what could be more important to the development of young people than character education? Too many of our young people have become moral stutterers or moral illiterates?
In the lower grades, private morality needs to be the focus, with education centering on decency, honesty, considerate behavior, personal responsibility, civility and respect toward others. In the later years, teachers can couple social policy questions with the more complex issues of self-deception, hypocrisy, organizational honesty, and social responsibility.
Not providing character education is like putting youngsters in a chemistry lab and telling them to discover their own compounds. They may still choose to "blow themselves up," but at least they will have received an education about right and wrong.
(Ron Barnes is a longtime Prescott resident and a semi-retired educator and businessman.)