The teaching of values in the public schools has become a topic of almost constant debate. The Christian Coalition and similar groups insist that "Judeo-Christian values" should be taught. Political liberals and many in the education establishment insist that all values instruction be left to parents and the home — that while..
The teaching of values in the public schools has become a topic of almost constant debate. The Christian Coalition and similar groups insist that "Judeo-Christian values" should be taught. Political liberals and many in the education establishment insist that all values instruction be left to parents and the home — that while schools can help students "clarify" their own values, they cannot and should not "teach" or impose values.
The argument thus framed polarizes communities and stirs up the respective troops, but contributes little to our understanding of the role of the public schools in forging a common culture from an increasingly diverse citizenry.
The Christian Coalition is wrong, because a value system is not a religion. Undoubtedly, many values are rooted in (and common to) the world’s great religions. For many of us, our religious traditions are a source of our values and provide a particular framework for understanding and acting on them. But the absence of religion is not the same as an
absence of values, and it is quite possible to fashion moral or ethical beliefs independent of sectarian ideology.
Those who claim the schools must be neutral in the matter of values are wrong, because such neutrality is impossible. The religious right is correct when it suggests that the issue is not whether values shall be imparted, but which ones. If schools really sent a message that there are no standards, that all behaviors are equally acceptable, that would also be
a value — and, I believe, a very bad one. Schools don’t really send that message of course (certainly not in Indiana!), inflammatory rhetoric notwithstanding.
A great deal is being written today about American culture, much of it ethnocentric nonsense, but that does not mean there is no such thing as a distinctive American ethic. The job for our schools is to teach the values that are fundamental to that ethic and thereby to strengthen the American community.
If we are to transmit values which are supportive of our Americanism, we must identify what it is that we all share, that which we hold in common as citizens. When we ask the question, the answer becomes apparent: ?we share the values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, as reflected through our national history.
What are those values?
There is the value of liberty. Americans believe in our inalienable right to hold our own opinions, to think for ourselves, to assemble with our friends, to cast our votes, to pray or not, all free of government coercion.
There is the value of equality before the law. This is not to be confused with the fuzzy notion that we are all somehow interchangeable. It is not to be confused with the belief of some religions that all people are equally worthwhile. This is a more limited proposition – – the notion that government must apply the same rules to all its citizens, that groups do not have rights, individuals do. It was a radical notion in 1776. It is fundamental to the way we understand ourselves and our society today.
We value the marketplace of ideas, the supreme importance of our ability to communicate with each other, unfettered by government censorship.
We also value government legitimacy and the rule of law. So long as our representatives continue to derive their authority from the consent of those they govern, we recognize our individual obligations to respect and obey the law. If we protest a law we believe to be unjust, we recognize our obligation to accept the consequences of that disobedience.
Finally, we value the civic virtues which are necessary to the realization of the foregoing values: honesty, courage, kindness, and mutual respect and tolerance.
In a country where, increasingly, people read different books and magazines, watch different television shows, attend different churches, and even speak different languages – where the information and beliefs we all share are diminishing and our variety and diversity are growing –these are the core values we can and should teach our children. Teaching them will not satisfy those whose real agenda is theocracy, but they are far too important to become a casualty of the culture wars.