What Values Do We Want to Teach?
The place of values in the classroom is controversial. Whether teachers should teach values is not really the point. Nearly everyone concedes that teachers have to deal with values. Opinions differ, though, about what values should be taught and how we should teach them. Teaching a particular religious or political viewpoint, how to vote in an election, or what constitutes acceptable reading or entertainment are certainly questionable. There are, however, at least three areas where it seems important that the schools take an active and effective role in developing children's beliefs. These are:
- Values related to living in a democracy
- Values implicit within a multicultural society
- Values that relate to school success and to the functional classroom
The main purpose of the social studies is to help children develop as good citizens. Character education is at least implied in the goal of civic virtue. While few would take issue with the importance of good citizenship or the development of character, there is controversy over what these terms mean and about the methods that can and should be used.
Emotional charges of indoctrination can be levied easily and words such as nationalism can be intoned with either positive or negative meanings.
Though a broad spectrum of viewpoints exists, there seem to be at least six areas of values where teachers need to work in order for the democracy to continue to exist.
- The need for participation
- The worth of and rights of the individual
- The rule of the majority and the rights of the minority
- Personal responsibility
- Respect for law and authority and for other people
- Equality and justice
The goals of character education in relation to these values can be developed in a number of ways. Teachers need to develop classrooms that are moral communities, where fairness, trust, caring, and taking responsibility are both expectations and norms.
History is an important part of the development of these values and intrinsic to character education. Classrooms which are themselves moral communities should promote greater awareness in children of what has happened in the past and what is happening now related to their own country and others. Knowledge of the reasons that governments exist, the principles and purposes upon which they were founded, and the events leading up to their present state is essential for understanding the present and for preparing for the future. Simply looking at the founding of this country and others and studying history in general, of course, are part of an established educational tradition. But to build democratic values, an active learning approach is needed. Children can be given responsibility, can make decisions, and can develop their own views in relation to what has happened in the past. Teachers can hold mock elections and mock trials and they can use opinionnaires and polls in the classroom. They can set up classroom governments, and look at questions of human rights and individual and corporate responsibility in current events. Even so simple a thing as playing games and sports can become occasion to talk about the importance of rules, personal responsibility, and concern for the rights of others. Things that teachers do to help individuals gain acceptance, success, and confidence are all an important part of citizenship education in a democracy.
© ______ 2004, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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