Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Public Instruction of Values Education and Character Training
by Rick Hartwell
Throughout history the instruction of the younger generations has encompassed the transmission of societal values and the development of acceptable character traits. Such instruction was often, but not exclusively, met within the confines of the family structure and reinforced through the habitudes and prohibitions of the supported, or perhaps merely tolerated, prevalent religious orthodoxy. While societal groupings were small or isolated, the transmission of values and character was processed merely through the multiple iterations of what was socially viable. Aberrations from the norm, beyond the limits of idiosyncrasy, were not acceptable and were dealt with rapidly and thoroughly. Methods of correction - punishment, ostracism, and death - were readily available.
As societal groupings expanded and encountered others with differing values and identifiable character traits, conflicts inevitably arose. Some ended in the annihilation of one group by another. Some ended in absorption of one group within another. And some ended in accommodation, each group either tolerant of or compromising with the other. This latter resolution would have created an environment in which the allowance for and recognition of the values and character of the first group had to be accounted for by the second group, while it yet retained and transmitted to its next generation the societal values and character traits of its own. Both groups were caught in this dilemma and both groups would have institutionalized the transmission of their cherished values and character. This interaction would have been compounded by and speeded up as subsequent social groups were encountered.
As with the institutionalization of the rites of birth, coming-of-age, marriage, and death, the institutionalization of educating the young was assumed first by the family. Then it fell to the social group of greatest allegiance, often supported by local religious affiliation and orthodoxy, and finally to the society as a whole. This more generalized, institutionalized form of education worked well for the transmission of basic skills useful to the individual within society: husbandry, agriculture, crafts, fine arts, and, eventually, the skills of the literate. There were, however, the seeds of dissent planted within this concept when it came to instructing, or even modeling, social values and character traits.
Those individuals providing the instruction, no longer family members or even necessarily members of the same religious persuasion or cultural group, were participants in and practitioners of their own values systems and character development. The audiences before them were the impressionable young from diverse social and cultural groups. As teachers, as models, the individuals providing instruction inevitable opened the doors of alternative beliefs and values. Youth, and rebelliousness, were served. Constraints were imposed and as more formalized procedures were established for investing in individuals the right to teach, the obligations of what to teach and not to teach began to be standardized.
There have always been educational dissenters. Socrates was certainly one. He openly defied the social norm of early Athenian society; however highly he may be esteemed today, he paid the ultimate price for trespassing the boundaries of values education within his own time and place. A similar case could be made for many other figures of historical note: Galileo, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln. Their arenas of conflict may have been science, religion, and politics, respectively, but their weapons were actually the transmission of values education and character. The reader is free to nominate others to this pantheon of values educators. Nisbett notes that, “There has been surprisingly little research on those beliefs and theories shared by the mass of people in our culture” (1980, 30). A thorough analysis of these historical watershed events in light of shared versus divergent cultural values, would be most illuminating.
In a recent issue of NEA Today: The magazine of the National Education Association (NEA), the organization’s President, Bob Chase (2001), remarks, “I am always taken aback when I hear folks say that our schools should return to teaching values. We never stopped teaching values. We teach them explicitly, and more important, we model values. Everything we do and say in front of our students is a values statement” (5). The teaching of values always has been, and remains, an integral part of the formal classroom experience.
The foregoing may appear to have been a lengthy digression, and in looking back it is certainly longer than originally intended. However, it was necessary to establish the historical basis of the conflict in teaching values in the public arena. The problem remains, of course, as to whose values shall be taught and of what shall they consist? These are the issues most recently discussed in the professional literature, being argued in the public forum and from the pulpit, and being dealt with daily by the classroom practitioner.
In his 1991 work, Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility, Thomas Lickona notes:
Schools wishing to do values education . . . need to be confident that: (1) there are objectively worthwhile, universally agreed-upon values that schools can and should teach in a pluralistic society; and (2) schools should not only expose students to these values but also help them to understand, internalize, and act upon such values (38).
As to exactly what constitutes these values, Lickona cites the “two great moral values: Respect and Responsibility . . . the core of the public morality . . . the fourth and fifth R’s” (43), and in Appendix A to the book allows that there are a multitude of others, among which are honesty, fairness, tolerance, prudence, self-discipline, helpfulness, compassion, cooperation, courage, justice, integrity, courtesy, hard work, self-worth, and “a host of democratic values” (421-422) from which the teacher “must still work up their own list - starting with respect and responsibility” (47). While not the only cataloger of values, Lickona’s list holds up well as a focal point for future reference.
In his chapter, “Making character work,” in An integrated approach to character education, edited by Rusnak in 1998, Switala lists: honesty, trustworthiness, punctuality, cooperation, respect, and responsibility (11). In the same edition, Barbour’s chapter, More than a good lesson plan, lists: honesty, trust, cooperation, respect, responsibility, hope, determination, and loyalty (70). In Emotional Intelligence, 1995, Goleman lists the “components of interpersonal intelligence” pursued by Hatch and Gardner in 1990: “Organizing groups - essential skill of the leader”; “Negotiating solutions - talent of the mediator”; “Personal connection - empathy and connecting”; and, “Social analysis - to detect and have insights about people’s feelings, motives, and concerns” (118). Although phrased much differently than those on Lickona’s list, these, too, constitute vales education.
Beane lists the values reviewed by the 1983 Task force on values education and ethical behavior and, although lengthy, there is reason to cite them fully: compassion, courtesy, critical inquiry, due process, equality of opportunity, freedom of thought and action, honesty, human worth and dignity, integrity, justice, knowledge, loyalty, objectivity, order, patriotism, rational consent, reasoned argument, respect for others’ rights, responsibility, responsible citizenship, rule of law, self-respect, tolerance, and truth (1990, 174-175). Note that these are listed alphabetically, not by any assignment of priority. In Values in education: Notes toward a values philosophy, Lerner suggests clusters of human needs, viewed as dualities and not hierarchically as with Maslow. Lerner juxtaposes the need for growth with the need for security, the need for selfhood or identity with the need for belonging, the need for meaning with the need for feeling and interaction, and, finally, the need for believing [in the future] (1976, 30-35, emphases added).
There are several previous studies that laid a foundation for compiling such lists. Hutchins’ 1917 research of “The Children’s Morality Code,” cited by Leming, emphasizes: self-control, good health, kindness, sportsmanship, self-reliance, duty, reliability, truth, good workmanship, and teamwork (1993, 1). Ryan’s 1993 evaluation of the 1947 works of C. S. Lewis leads him to believe that Lewis’ works for children contain the common values of kindness, honesty, loyalty to parents and family, and an obligation to help the poor, the sick, and the less fortunate (1). There are others of historical interest, but they do not address values significantly different from those already listed.
More recently, Carter finds the following values of significance in schools: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, justice, fairness, integrity, and caring (1999, 2). The California State Department of Education has created a “Character Education” website that lists “character traits and virtues such as honesty, courage, perseverance, loyalty, caring, civic virtue, justice, respect and responsibility, and trustworthiness” (retrieved October 20, 2001). Berreth, Deputy Executive Director, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), notes that “Schools should make basic moral values - such as justice, altruism, and respect for human dignity - a strong unifying theme” (2000, 1). Singh lists respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and citizenship, taken from the Character Counts! Coalition (2001, 47). Kagan, borrowing much from Lickona, creates a “Structures for Character” matrix which contains the following “Virtues Fostered”: leadership, helpfulness, kindness, good judgment, cooperation, courtesy, understanding, impulse control, self-motivation, and responsibility (2001, 54, duplications removed). Again, there are several more recent studies, inquiries and programs, but they, too, begin to duplicate one another.
In comparing the values and character traits among all these citations, what becomes evident is the great similarity in listings. True, the word selection may vary, the descriptive adjectives may change, but there is an undeniable uniformity nonetheless. Almost without exception, the values of respect and responsibility are listed. Beyond those, it often becomes unwieldy and it is convenient to create a more manageable list. Lickona himself suggests dealing with no more than five (1991, 422) in addition to “the two foundational moral values” of respect and responsibility (45). In reviewing Lickona’s list there are, indeed, five values that appear with the greatest regularity on the other lists. Thus, the generally agreed-upon list of values and character traits to be taught are: respect, responsibility, justice, integrity, courtesy, hard work, and self-worth. It should be noted that the quality of tolerance, cited earlier in this paper by the president of the NEA, and highly esteemed in education throughout the past decade, does not appear separately but is, presumably, subsumed within the quality of justice. A formidable list, even assuming that all parties to the educational process agree with it, but it does satisfactorily address the question: if there is one list, what is the general consensus as to the specific values to be taught?
Loveless holds that “the schools of the 20th century reflect more of the nurturing, custodial functions of the family” (1998, 5). The foundation for this was presented earlier. Henry poses essentially the same issue, “From where comes the belief that teachers should be parents?” and provides confirmation of the premise contained herein: “The answer is from the circumstances that our children do not have enough parents, because parents are unable to do all that has to be done by parents nowadays” (1963, 312, emphases in the original). So, the responsibility for instructing what were once merely familial values has been transferred to the teacher. But what about the role religion used to play in values education and character training? Loveless continues,
Although religious instruction is forbidden in the schools, programs have appeared promoting ethical training (e.g., character education, moral development, values clarification) and many of their lessons appear to be little more than secular translations of religious tenets (1998, 5).
Loveless is not the first nor, likely, the last to note the appeal of religion in transmitting values and character, even within the public domain. Just as a brief sidebar, Lickona’s Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility was itself dedicated “for God” (1991, dedication page)! One could easily be tempted to digress and tie this in with the current public and legal discussion regarding the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Schools are merely, or perhaps mostly, reflections of the society as a whole. Religion, regardless of orthodoxy, exists within the social structure and it is untenable to expect its purgation from education. “The American school originated as an extension of fundamental social units: families, churches, and communities” (Loveless, 1998, 1). “American classrooms, like educational institutions anywhere, express the values, preoccupations, and fears found in the culture as a whole” (Henry, 1965, 287). For Henry, “School is an institution for drilling children in cultural orientations” (283). One might wish he had avoided the term drilling, with what has become a pejorative connotation, but the fact remains that Henry’s observation is valid: schools provide cultural indoctrination - another connotatively-loaded word. This is reiterated by Bidwell when he insists, “It is assumed that school systems are client-serving organizations, that is, that they are social units specifically vested with a service function, in this case the moral and technical socialization of the young” (1965, 973, emphasis added) and they “also are agents of public welfare” (977). Although schools currently assess only the attainment of the “technical socialization of the young,” they are, indeed, still charged with transmitting moral socialization as well.
As noted previously, in California there is even a governmentally sanctioned and supported internet website produced by the State Department of Education, (http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/about.pg.html, retrieved October 20, 2001), which provides: an historic background to the teaching of values education; current trends in the field; a detailed, annotated bibliography; and, the recommendation to include values education as part of the assessment process in social science content. Also in California, the English-Language Arts Framework, also produced by the State Department of Education, contains a number of references to the direct and indirect instruction of both values education and positive character traits (1987, v, viii, 1, 7, 17, 42). The frameworks documents for the other core content areas contain similar references, particularly in the area of social sciences. As commented on by Mitchell and Boyd, “Societal-level influence flows into the schools through special interest groups, political parties, sectarian religious groups, family values and cultures, education professionals, architects, and textbook publishers, along with a host of other groups and organizations” (1998, 134). Although not investigated herein, it seems most likely that similar support for values education exists from professional and political organizations in states other than California.
However, although required of them, is it reasonable to expect that teachers be both the selectors and deliverers of values training? Bidwell notes that “relations between teacher and student would appear to be necessary to the massive form of socialization which is required in bringing students from childhood to adulthood” (1965, 975). This necessity has not diminished in the ensuing three and a half decades. The wider globalization of information and cultural exposure students now encounter, demand an even greater sensitivity to values and character education. In the view of Rowan and Miskel, “an important source of work rules is the (often implicit) ideologies held by teachers, students, parents, and administrators in school systems” (1998, 375). The order in which these are listed is not accidental. Even more than parents, classroom teachers are the modelers of societally-expected work rules.
The classroom, then, “is the level of public moral philosophy, where human and social values are developed and defined” (Mitchell & Boyd, 1998, 135, emphasis added). Mitchell and Boyd include in the fifth level of their educational organization paradigm those elements “left largely in the hands of educational philosophers and curriculum theorists” (138). One could be certain that they meant to indicate only those who formulate educational direction from within the university; however, teachers are, by definition, curriculum theorists and educational philosophers; their day to day, even moment to moment, decisions form the basis of the “human and social” values received by their students.
Nisbett notes that “Social judgments and expectations often are mediated by a class of schemas . . . cognitive structures representing the personal characteristics and typical behaviors of particular ‘stock characters’” (1980, 35). Among these “stock characters,” of course, are the teachers encountered throughout the formal educational experience. The number of these “stock characters” who influence any given student may well exceed four dozen by completion of twelfth grade. Absolutely “no one, including the most marginal or socially isolated of humans, ever escapes the deep imprint of macro- and micro-cultural systems in which he or she is reared” (Wolcott, 1983, 383). This is so, regardless of the continuity or discontinuity of the values taught and modeled by teachers and those instilled at home. “School systems not only are client-serving, but also are agents of public welfare” (Bidwell, 1965, 977). The family can no longer provide to the child both the technical and moral imprints required by society.
So teachers are, quite naturally and over an extended period of time, the instructors of values and character. This professional demand, shouldered readily by most teachers, carries a great load of responsibility. The teacher must be vigilant to every behavioral nuance displayed. Tierno address this admonition well:
A teacher exhibiting a behavior, or engaging in an act, in the view of one or more students is, in effect, providing a model for students to emulate. The mere fact that the teacher engages in the action suggests to students that they may choose that behavior for themselves. Since most social learning results from observation and imitation, teachers need to consider carefully every aspect of their conduct -- no matter how seemingly minor -- that students can observe” (1998, 59).
Barbour notes that the entire school now bears this responsibility: “For years, teachers have been teaching values in their classrooms, but today educators are finding it imperative to build values into the environment of the school” (1998, 77). Teachers may not so much be selecting values and character to teach, as they are modeling and displaying those values and character traits that are required by the society within which they were themselves educated and from which they are drawn!
Is there nothing to prevent the teacher from exhibiting, or even instructing, ill-conceived or discontinuous values? Think of the inappropriateness of those teachers who model smoking behaviors, unprofessional appearance or language, or public disparagement of peers. It is an abrogation of responsibility to say merely that those are adult behaviors; students learn what is modeled, not only what is taught! What, if anything, is to prevent the classroom teacher from delivering an unacceptable version of values which are in conflict with those embraced by the other educational process actors? As Lerner notes, “The real problem is how to bring the discussion of values into education without moralizing, without indoctrination and propaganda” (1976, 76). How indeed?
In a narrowly defined society, an emerging society, aberrations and unacceptable behavior become apparent readily and are readily dispatched. In a pluralistic society, one given to pronouncements of its veneration for multiculturalism, aberrations from the acceptable main are not as easily distinguished, for the main is much broader and the borders not as clearly defined. In addition, as classroom teachers will attest, once the classroom door is closed, much goes on which will never be known. As before, there will always be those who advocate positions outside of the norm. However, whereas earlier societies summarily dealt with these fringe types, modern society is ranged with a vast spectrum of types, including teachers. Teachers are representative of the society within which they themselves develop and learn, including that society’s extremes.
Perhaps it is in the very nature of education to push the limits of accepted normalcy. To do otherwise would be to stagnate. “Attacks on the public school system, whatever their validity in fact, are built into the nature of the system and society. They are part of the decision-making process in a dynamic democracy which has become a pressure-group democracy” (Lerner, 8). Although addressing a different element of instruction, Spindler and Spindler note this as well. “The classroom is more flexible and less permanent than the printed page. One can be wrong, find out, and correct oneself” (1982, 27), what could be termed recursive, revisional learning within a community -- the classroom.
Institutional intervention to preclude the teaching of values and character will never be successful. In quoting Waller’s 1932 work, The sociology of teaching, Bidwell states that “teaching demands affective bonds between teacher and student which are foreign to the enactment of a bureaucratic office” (Bidwell, 1965, 979). This did not change from 1932 to 1965, nor from 1965 to the present. What changed, of course, was a greater exposure to the world that students encountered through diverse technology and virtually instantaneous media reporting. The students have encountered a greater breadth of acceptable values and will continue to do so along a constantly escalating curve.
Students experience the world first through their family and then through their teachers. Such experience is relatively exclusive at first, only becoming more expansive and diffuse as a greater breadth of world exposure is encountered. The values and character traits of those teachers that can be assimilated within what the student has already received, or which do not so greatly conflict with those traits previously received, will be found acceptable. The values and character traits of those teachers which are “not acceptable” to the student’s prior information, too much on the fringe, will be ignored or contested. As students mature, the sifting of values and character takes place in the classroom and on the playground, and no longer in the home or the family’s place of worship.
Since the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, there has been a resurgence of interest in the overt teaching of values and character in the United States. While it is too soon to cite more than anecdotal evidence, such evidence is decidedly weighted. Organizations with packaged programs to teach values in schools are doing a booming business. Posters, flags and placards abound in schools. Incidents that at one time would have given rise to court actions are now considered mainstream: public prayer in school on behalf of those affected by the attacks; a national moment of remembrance, with prayer, broadcast into classrooms; a nationwide morning set aside to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; money solicited from students without prior parental notice, and often without fiscal accountability. These were all instances of values education, uniformly focused because of outside actions, which reflected the general consensus of society at a specific time and place. Values are not created in nor can they continue to exist in a vacuum. They are derived from the social norm and, as broad as that norm may have become, they will conform to the limits of the attention focused on them. Within the context of institutional theory, the environment has changed considerable since September 2001. It is very likely that the structure of educational organizations will also change to reflect the new environmental influences.
As educators we have the responsibility to acknowledge the value traits and character education that is ongoing in our classrooms. We have the responsibility to recognize that we are among the most consistently observed models of societal expectations, as seen and accepted by our students. We have the responsibility to actively engage our students in discussions of moral and ethical dilemmas. We have the responsibility to be teachers!
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