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Copyright © 1998 by David E. Ross
Repeatedly, politicians denounce the absence of values from public school curricula. It would help if we had a universal set of values to which all moral persons subscribe. Of
course, we all share some generalizations (e.g.: prohibiting murder); but specifics escape general acceptance (e.g.: killing during war, executing criminals). As adults, we really cannot agree on what moral principles we value. With this diversity of values, we cannot avoid infringing on parental rights by trying to teach values in our public schools. Yet many of those same politicians put a very high priority on the value of parental rights.
- How can we teach students to respect their parents if they are abused or even molested at home?
- How can we teach students not to steal when their own parents steal from the community, state, and nation by cheating on their taxes?
- How can we teach that there is honor in work when a parent boasts at home about goofing off on the job or — worse — has ordered the layoff of 1,000 employees to enrich his or her own pocket?
- How can we teach children not to lie when parents send untruthful notes to school, claiming a child's absence was because of illness when the family actually went skiing?
- What is the lesson about justice when a parent boasts about shirking jury duty?
These are not cases of trying to teach values to children whose homes lack values. Instead, these are cases where teaching values could also teach disrespect for parents; this must be avoided above all else, even when a dysfunctional family prevents the opposite, the teaching of respect for parents.
Nevertheless, if we are to live peacefully with our neighbors, there are a few values that we should teach our children and practice in our adult lives:
- We should tolerate opinions diverse from our own, disputing with others civilly and not violently.
- We should respect other persons as individuals, each with some unique quality that gives him or her an identity, and not characterized as merely a member of a stereotyped group.
- We should expect other persons to have values that differ from our own. We might not accept those values, but we should respect the rights of others to have them.
- We should respect ourselves by taking control of our lives. We should each recognize what is good for ourselves and what is bad, accepting the former and rejecting the latter. We should not yield to pressures from others who might have different values.
Beyond this brief set, public schools should encourage our children to find their values outside the classroom, within their own homes and religions rather than attempt to inculcate a "one size fits all" set of values.
11 January 1998
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