Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What values should be taught in school?

In a recent thought-provoking post, Jenny D. asks whether teachers should teach subject matter or values. It’s a good question. My regular readers probably know what my answer is. However, I’m going to answer a question left in the comments of that post. Elizabeth asks, “Values -- whose values? What if they are different than the parents?”

In today’s schools, much is made about the values of social justice and civic engagement. One set of values Jenny D. lists is, “equality, diversity, popular sovereignty, liberty, life, patriotism, pursuit of happiness, truth, common good.” For starters, let’s take a look at that list:

  • Equality: I don’t believe that schools should teach that all people are equal as a value. This runs contrary to the common sense observation that each person has his own strengths and weaknesses. Where equality rightly belongs is in a government course, where students should be taught that all people are equal under the law, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Diversity: Get diversity out of the curriculum. It focuses on race, gender, and sexual orientation at a time when students need to learn that they are more that.
  • Popular Sovereignty: Again, this shouldn’t be taught as a value. It’s one mechanism in the function of government. It should, however, be taught that way along with the idea that the Constitution protects us by limiting popular sovereignty in important ways.
  • Liberty: This is something that is a value, but it is one that stems from respect for the individual, something that I’ll elaborate on in a moment.
  • Life: Like liberty, this comes from respect for the individual.
  • Patriotism: I’m of two minds on this one. The first is that people should respect this country, making patriotism a good thing. The second is that I’m wary of a government institution (public school) attempting to teach patriotism, since it could devolve from respect of the country into obedience of the government.
  • Pursiut of Happiness: Like life and liberty, this comes from respect for the individual.
  • Truth: Depends on how this one is taught. If it is that the reasoned pursuit of truth is a value, then I absolutely support it. If it is that some higher authority (media or government) knows the truth, then I oppose it.
  • Common Good: Letting a government instution teach the common good is dangerous, since it will likely be the government-defined common good.
Now, to the values I would like to see taught:
  • Respect for the individual: This is the core value upon which this country is founded, and it is something that every person here must learn. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are really every individual’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A corollary to this value is the respect for an individual’s property, something sorely lacking nowadays.
  • Integrity: This value is vital for functioning both in academia and in life. Specifically for schools, integrity should focus on the value of one’s own word, and one’s own work. Kids should learn, from an early age, that it is wrong to their name on another’s work. In fact, it can be considered theft. Also, kids should be taught that what they say means something, and that they are responsible for keeping their word.
  • Discipline: This should be valued since it is what helps people overcome their weaknesses. The more disadvantaged the student, the more important discipline becomes.
Respect for the individual is key in the values system, since it depends on respecting both one’s self and others. Integrity comes from respect for one’s self, as does discipline. Now, I’m not talking about self-esteem here. In fact, I think the concept of self-esteem, as employed by many educators today, is disrespectful to the individual since it discourages honest views of one’s self and actions.

I believe that if we could teach these values to our students, in addition to a strong grounding in the material, then we would be graduating students much better prepared for college and life. One need only to look as far as KIPP Academies to see what is possible with the right values.

TOPIC: Education