Decision Making Skills in Relation to Values
One goal of character education is to develop children's abilities to make decisions based on democratic principles and sound moral values. There is nothing new about this. It was implicit in the education of young Roman citizens in the ancient Roman Republic. In modern times, two generations of social studies teachers have praised and quoted Shirley Engle's eloquent advocacy of the belief that decision making is the heart of the social studies (Engle, 1960). Making decisions involves value judgment calls. Engle pointed out that evaluation skills are needed throughout life. People constantly have to decide not only what is the right thing to do, but what is the best thing to do, what they want to do and what they have to do. Evaluation skills are always difficult because of dilemmas and conflicts and because there is often doubt about evaluational criteria and questions such as relevance, truth and accuracy, suitability, importance, utility, greatness, potential, goodness, beauty, quality, effort, or even quantity.
We make judgments and decisions on the basis of what we hold to be important, sensible, good, and worthwhile. However, the essential evaluation skills that teachers need to develop in children build from awareness and reasoning. To develop this awareness, students need to be given frequent and significant opportunities to make decisions. They need to learn how and when to question what they see and hear. Teachers need to model how such decisions are made.
Children need to learn to determine when and how they should make decisions. They need to be able to distinguish different kinds of situations requiring decisions.
- Sometimes decisions have to be made on the basis of some single criterion and sometimes it is necessary to weigh and consider several criteria.
- Sometimes the difference between right and wrong is clear-cut, but more often the decision is not so clear.
- Some decisions have to be made with only partial information.
- Some judgment calls are easy and some are difficult because of conflicts in how we feel.
- Often we have to make holistic judgments based on experience.
- Some decisions are made on purely personal bases, solely on what serves one's own ends, personal ambitions, or feelings and emotions.
- Some decisions should be made altruistically with the good of one's self sacrificed for the good of others or of the group.
Values are involved in determining what alternatives are actually available (what the options actually are) in a given decision-demanding situation. Values also are the basis for making choices among the available alternatives (What course of action should be pursued? What solution is the best "fit" to existing conditions? What alternative offers the most advantages or fewest disadvantages? and Which choice is most dangerous or most safe?) Values even influence how we deal with evidence (distinguishing fact from speculation, conclusion from opinion, fantasy from reality, truth from falsehood, etc.), determining relevance, determining adequacy of evidence, projecting a trend, and making personal decisions or determination of ultimate courses to take (e.g., defining justice or morality in a particular situation). Teachers who are trying to help children become more responsible as well as more effective problem solvers have many opportunities in the social studies to give children experiences and practice that develop evaluation skills. Following are examples in each of the skill areas.
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