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The corruption of Americas youth is a popular topic today in the media, among lawmakers, and with concerned parents. Often the good old days of generations past are looked upon with longing because of their simpler ways. Decades ago the largest problems in schools were talking out in class, not paying attention, and forgetting to do homework. Todays problems are violence, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and delinquency in general. Everyone believes these issues are a result of something different: bad home lives, lack of religious ideals, the media, the wrong education or no education at all. Throughout the years, moral education has been looked to as both an answer and cause.
Schooling in morals and values that is provided to youth can be categorized (somewhat) two ways: values clarification education and character education. I believe that the extremes of both of these options are not the answer. Concentration on values clarification education, with some indirect character education woven into the general curriculum, is the most practical answer to this on-going argument. Not all people are familiar with values clarification and character education, so it is necessary to specify the standpoint of both positions, neither of which I agree with completely. Values clarification education (V.C.) was a popular way of teaching values education in the 1960s and 1970s. Now referred to as non-directive education, it is a system where students are not told which ways of living, thinking, and feeling are right and wrong.
Instead they are encouraged to explore their own personal values and become familiar and comfortable with them. Through this process the youth has formulated a strong set of beliefs that are entirely their own, allowing them to adhere firmly to their values. This is a relativist way of viewing ethical thought because each situation is relative to its own circumstances. (Rachels, Ch2) Another technique that is often incorporated along with clarification is dilemma ethics. In this methodology, originally founded by Lawrence Kohlberg, teachers assist students in resolving moral conflicts, facilitate student reasoning, and ensure that discussions take place in conditions that are conductive to growth in moral reasoning. Kohlbergs dilemmas are meant to foster reasoning and thought in forming ones values and morals. (Kohlberg) Using these techniques helps strengthen a childs convictions without forcing a set values system upon them and brainwashing them to one view. As pregnancy, substance abuse, and violence among teenagers has grown worse, the call for a different kind of ethical education system has been made, thus causing a return to the character education of previous decades.
Proponents of character education want a restoration of traditional ways of teaching ethics to students. In these types of courses, students are taught exactly what is right and wrong. Their values are judged and deemed to be acceptable or unacceptable standards to live by. Educators who choose to implement character education programs focus on core values: values that are thought to be universally accepted by all cultures (if such a thing can exist). Two researchers, L. Gibbs and E. Earley, identified these universal values to be: compassion, courage, courtesy, fairness, honesty, kindness, loyalty, perseverance, respect, and responsibility. (Titus, 4) This is most closely related to the school of thought of Immanuel Kant who believed that ones conduct should be guided by the universal laws of morality.
(Rachels, Ch9) At first glance, these principals do seem to fit a universal mode of thinking, but their universality can easily be questioned when they are put into what if circumstances. And who is most likely to question what is being told to them? Kids. Children are often curious and ask numerous questions; while teenagers are skeptical and will think up the exceptions to anything that is passed off as universally accepted. This is the situation. There is no one set of moral rules that can apply to all situations at all times; therefore no one set of values can be taught. Children must learn what their morals and values are through experiences which includes input from parents, clergy, friends, relatives, peers, the media, and other outside parties. A system of values clarification is most effective in helping a child to sort through all of theses experiences and choose the best values from lessons learned. Values clarification promotes reasoning and thought. Reasoning is the basis of moral and virtuous action, as said by philosophers like Aristotle.
Reason is what sets humans apart from other species when it comes to their unique activity. Aristotle bases all virtuous moral behavior on the use of reason to function well and lead a practical life. (Aristotle) By using a V.C. system, personal values are not imposed upon, separation of church and state are further preserved, and family lessons are not overridden. Also children are not brainwashed into all thinking along the same lines. When children/teenagers are told what to think and do, they become mindless, and the lessons they learn mean less than when people learn things through practical experience. All people formulate their values based on three methods, which are all rooted in experiences. These methods are inculcation, modeling, and values clarification. (Howe, Simon, Kirschenbaum) I feel that a system of V.C., along with indirect character education that recognizes the three methods of value formulation, is the only answer to this problem. The first method is inculcation.
This is a process of direct training that usually happens when one lives in the value system itself. The inhabitant of the value system then absorbs the ways and creed of the environment. In following with this, I believe that if a teacher creates a virtuous atmosphere in their classroom, good moral lessons will be impressed upon (but not forced upon) the students. The students will then have a bank of good experiences to look to when clarifying their beliefs. (Howe, Simon, Kirschenbaum) For instance, if the teacher makes a fair sets of rules, which are enforced equally and effectively, many lessons can be learned from this. Lessons in fairness, sharing, lying, cheating, stealing, violence, etc. can be learned this way.
This would be much more effective, and much less forceful, than teaching a set curriculum of one value system. If questioned about the rules, or why the teacher mandates that certain things are right or wrong to do within the classroom, the teacher could explain that a rule is what he or she feels to be right for the situation. They could go on to say why this is an appropriate action and explain it in rational detail. Then the child would be more likely to look upon the fact that the teacher and other children must follow a certain principal because it is good. This leads to the next method of value formulation. Modeling (role modeling) is following a moral model of action or to act a certain way to set a good example.
This method lets the actions show the morals. Things are learned by doing, not saying. Modeling works in two directions. One can formulate good moral values so that others will want to follow their virtuous example. But on the other side, one can observe good moral values in a person, admire them for these actions, and then model their actions after the example. (Howe, Simon, Kirschenbaum) This is a very common thing in classrooms.
Everyone knows that children and teenagers follow the examples of others around them, whether it is parents, teachers, friends, coaches, clergy, or media figures. If the teacher sets a good example in the classroom, students are more apt to follow. They will do what the see more often than they do what they hear. Even if the teachers (or coachs, or principals, or priests, etc.) example only wears off on a few children, it is likely that the behavior of the those children will wear off on other children in turn. If the behavior does not directly inspire virtuous beliefs, it will once again offer a bank of better values for the student to think of when clarifying their beliefs. This leads to the last method, which is V.C.
itself. As said before, this is where others beliefs are not judged as right or wrong. Instead, one is encouraged to examine their convictions, decide how important they are, and choose the ones they value most and stick to these. This is the step in which things learned through modeling and inculcation are reasonably thought over to conclude which are the best for the individual to follow. In conclusion, every adult that believes that character education is the answer to todays problems should try to remember their youth. Children and teenagers alike are not impacted heavily by standard life choices classes where they are told which things are right or wrong.
Personally, I know that my parents, my peers, and my personal experiences have attributed to the values that I hold. Nothing that was ever taught to me in a formal class has made a significant impact on my ethical thought process. I have learned things from teachers, but it was through their actions toward other students, others in general, and myself. A good balance of values clarification and indirect character education is the most effective standard to teach ethics by. Bibliography: Bibliography Aristotle. Happiness and the Virtues Vice and Virtue pg. 293-304. Branch, Rick. Non-Directive Education in the Schools The Watchman Expositor http://www.watchman.org/nondirec.htm.
Howe, Kirschenbaum, and Simon. The Values Clarification Approach Vice and Virtue pg. 657-664. Kilpatrick, William. Experiments in Moral Education http://www.hi-ho.ne.jp/taku77/refer/kilpat.htm. Kohlberg, Lawrence. The Child as a Moral Philosopher Vice and Virtue pg.
586-609. Rachels, James. Chapters 2 & 9. The Elements of Moral Philosophy pg. 20-36, pg. 122- 131.
Sykes, Charles. The Values Wasteland Vice and Virtue pg. 665-676..
Research essay sample on Values Clarification