Column: Values of the past
Travel back with me to when you were in elementary school.
Remember the teachers who truly influenced you? Remember those who taught you how to read and write and think, but who also went a giant step beyond school subjects and taught you what was right and wrong and encouraged you become a better person?
I was thinking about my grade school teachers recently because a teacher was quoted as saying she didn’t teach values because values are relative. She taught students and subjects.
Maybe I was just lucky, but I had parents who taught me—in many ways—what was right and wrong, what I could do and shouldn’t do. Participation in Cub and Boy Scouts also taught me valuable lessons. And I can still name teachers who made it quite clear that some behavior was acceptable and other behavior wasn’t—like cheating, stealing, lying, tormenting others, torturing animals, and breaking promises.
So I’m wondering if teachers are still assisting students to learn about values, morals and ethics? Are kids learning that some things are clearly right, and that some ethical truths are not subject to debate.
Are they learning to be civil to one another, considerate, generous, truthful and respectful of classmates of different color and ethnicity?
Are they learning that cruelty is bad; kindness, good?
There are ethical relativists who believe that public opinion should be the final arbiter of moral decisions. Are they telling us that because the majority of all high school students admit to cheating, we should sanction it? Are we to agree with those who proclaim that there is no such thing as right and wrong, just good or bad arguments?
I wonder if there are school administrators and teachers in our county who believe values are not part of their schools? I truly hope not because everything they do or don’t do is value-laden. As author Samuel Blumenfield says, “You have to be dead to be value-neutral.”
Author Christina Hoff Summers writes: “ Leaving children alone to discover their own values is like putting them in a chemistry lab and saying, “Discover your own compounds, kids. If they blow themselves up, at least they have engaged in an authentic search for self.”
Parents and teachers and all the rest of us who have contact with young people, need to let them know that standards of honesty, civility, excellence, and honor exist, not subject to personal preference and polls. There is a body of moral knowledge, standard of ethics, and eternal values that requires our allegiance.
To be realistic, there are some parents out there who are unprepared to deal positively with questions of moral, ethics and values. Therefore, schools must be doubly concerned with character education.
Standards of human decency, principles of right and wrong, requirements of honesty do have their place in schools. Having clear ideas about right and wrong is just as important as being able to read, write and compute.
Virtues can be taught and learned.
Character can be molded.
I believe the young will respond far better to the goal of developing virtuous character traits than settling for those that degrade and diminish their capacity to do and be good.
Exemplary and noble citizens should not be the exceptions, but the rule. And our country’s leaders should reflect the best of us, not the lowest or most ignoble examples of moral strength, goodness and integrity.