Teaching Values: Choices, Influences, Future Choices

IMG_1784My Values: There are malleable values that collectively change over time; as Aristotle (Keuss, 2014) posited, the community has shared values derived from the city-state. Most of the values I have adopted from my city-state come from human rights movements, religious freedom, feminism, anti-slavery, workers rights, LGBTQ rights, etc. In general the majority of the human population has agreed (more so with some than others) that these values represented in these movements have cemented principles of right and wrong. In doing so, the historical context has given a code of morals and ethics that I share with my community. Additionally, like Augustine (Keuss, 2014), I have developed my own morals, values, and ethics through inward reflection and my own sense of what is virtuous. Though, this second framework has developed much more significantly in my adult life. Abstract thought and self-reflection are not skills found in children. These are skills that are developed over time.

Following the definition given by Pojman (2014), and given these two aspects in my development as an ethical person, I would put myself into the Pluralist Nonhedonist Camp. There is good in all things. This good is pleasurable. However, pleasure can become self-indulgent and one can seek “higher” virtues such as freedom, community belonging, and love. It seems that my formulation of right and wrong has been established in a nature and nurture relationship. My inner nature both initiates and harmonizes with values that evolve into my moral construct. At the same time, my praxis of ethics and morals comes from my community; my actions are affirmed by their approval.

The Influence of Values on Teaching: A teacher is an agent of the government and must represent the laws of the state and country; neutrality is crucial. Teachers should be fair, cover as many religions as possible, speak from experience, allow students to speak from their personal experience, and stay away from any prescriptions of how to be or what to do. These things should provide fairness to religion and non-religion alike. As Glenn Tinder (2014) suggests in the article “Can We Be Good Without God?” personal dignity disappears when “liberty for all human beings and equality under the law—becomes indefensible.” The classroom is an excellent place for dignity for all, religious and non-religious alike, because ultimately we live in a society with many different viewpoints and I, for one, would like my students to engage the world with respect and liberty. Tinder may call this agape. I call it common sense (E3).

C. S. Lewis, in Abolition of Man (1947), critiques fact, which I as an educator embrace. To avoid suspicion on the part of the student, Lewis may argue, a teacher must be careful to observe only fact about the work of a student – leaving feeling out of the equation. The teacher would be to Lewis a “man without a chest.” But, imagine, a teacher saying, “I simply feel that the student did their best work;” the student would be subject to the emotional landscape or value construct of their teacher rather than being held accountable for their factual work.

A school cannot post the Ten Commandments as a governing document for the school; a school cannot mandate school prayer; a school cannot assume any religious notion for any student (or faculty member). It is in this stringent test that religious freedom is maintained. Because of the first amendment, anyone should be allowed to speak from personal experience, including their religious experience; anyone should be able to reference the Ten Commandments as a personal belief structure; anyone should be allowed to pray in school. But, no one should be forced to participate. Tinder, like myself, argues for religious liberty; though my argument includes a political structure of inclusion at its core. I agree when Tinder (2014) says, “Being good politically means not only valuing the things that are truly valuable but also having the strength to defend those things when they are everywhere being attacked and abandoned.” My right to believe and say anything does not void the rights of another person.

Future Choices as an Educator: Clearly education must go beyond math facts and reading capacity. Schools are unavoidably part of youth development and the formation of a student’s character. A character education would help students shape themselves in the context of community, family, and personal values. Moral education is far too sticky in the context of a plural society – even in a western-based culture. Parker Palmer (1993) seems to admit that both a religious viewpoint and an educational viewpoint end up at the same point – “a contemplative discipline.” If this is really true, education does not need to include spirituality for all. Thomas Lickona (1991) found the same evidence. Though, most of his argument is to the contrary. God is not required to understand moral decisions, “even a kid, using his intelligence, can figure out that something like stealing is bad because it hurts other people (Lickona, 1991, p. 42).” The child, cited by Lickona, did not need God to prescribe moral behavior. The problem of “moral education” is that it carries a religious connotation. It is an explicit endorsement of being religious. In a public school this crosses the expected neutral stance of an educator. Students wanting religious guidance should consult their families and their religious teachers. Character education does not need a specific class. Character education is what every good educator does as they shape the lives of their students. Character education is about developing who you are in the context of your community. It should help you develop self-confidence, broaden your horizons, challenge your assumptions, and strengthen your opinions about the world. It should help you design your path to an improved life. All of these things relate to both universal values and universal experience – none of it needs to be religious but all of it addresses the concerns (i.e. social depravity and increased crime rates) of those in favor of a “moral education.”





Keuss, J. (2014, June 23). Introduction to Moral Educational Theory – Aristotle and St.

EDU6085_60349201450: C 201450 60349 Moral Issues in Education. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA.

Lewis, C. S. (1947). The abolition of man ; or, Reflections on education with special

reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools. New York: Macmillan.

Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: how our schools can teach respect and responsibility. New York, N.Y.: Bantam.

Tinder, G. (2014, July 7). Can We Be Good Without God?. EDU6085_60349201450: C201450 60349 Moral Issues in Education. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Palmer, P. J. (1993). To know as we are known: education as a spiritual journey. San

Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Pojman, L. (2014, June 23). Value: The Quest for the Good. EDU6085_60349201450: C201450 60349 Moral Issues in Education. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA.

Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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