“If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslav’d. This will be their great Security.”
– Samuel Adams –
Morality undoubtedly plays a key role in education…but who gets to decide whose values are taught in school?
As the primary educators of their children, parents can’t just hand over all control to local governments or state legislation to define which values are important. (And to be honest, most parents don’t want other people making all the calls about what their children are taught!)
Where do we draw the line?
The problem is that morality can be difficult to define, especially in a diverse country with countless religions, perspectives, and creeds represented in the public school system.
Why is morality so important to education? And, if it is important, what is it exactly and how can parents and school board members unite around common values?
How do values impact education?
The West East Institute shared, “Research shows that young people are caring less about morals and ethical values, and are instead focusing on themselves in order to promote their own agendas, and the agendas do not focus on morals or values.”
Without morality, many students are left to lead lives where they are willing to cheat, lie, or bully others to get what they want. After all, why shouldn’t they? Unfortunately, these children often grow up to become adults who likewise have no moral compass, putting a strain on a society that should have taught them better.
An article in the Atlantic bemoans how unrealistic Common Core standards have pushed a focus on character out of schools. “Quantifying academic gains remains at the forefront of school-improvement efforts to the detriment of other worthwhile purposes of schooling.”
The author also discusses a 2012 study of curriculum-based character education, which found that 57% of teens thought it was okay to cheat to get ahead, 24% were okay with violence or threats against a person they were angry with, and 52% said they had cheated before.
In contrast, a well-educated individual with morals is a valued member of society. Rather than just being filled with information, they know how to wisely apply that information in real-life contexts and bring something beneficial to the world. As such, character development must be a key part of education in schools. We need to do better.
It is worth it, then, to consider where morality comes from, and what is considered moral. Better yet, it is important to question whose core values are taught in schools.
How do we define morality?
For some, morality may be based on religious texts. Others may find it from culture or natural law. Some of it may come from an internal nudging in people or “conscience.”
Psychology Today defined morality as something that comes from within and can be mirrored by other individuals. People are prone to good qualities like empathy and kindness, but they can also have violent and selfish tendencies. Since this is the case, most people believe that some standard of good conduct is necessary for culture to promote order and the general good.
Who gets to choose the values taught in school?
In society, morality is often passed down by authority figures and others with influence. In free societies, parents play the most crucial role in teaching kids right from wrong and retain the right to make choices for their children.
In a school setting, parents (and taxpayers in general) have the authority to oversee the local school board members who make decisions for their children.
Since many school board members are elected to their positions, citizens have more power than they often think to make sure their local government and school system are respecting proper parental involvement and—at the very least—not using their power to undermine individual and community values.
The Family Research Council reported that COVID-19 has uncovered some not-so-popular ideas that children are learning in schools. As their children participate in online learning, many parents are finding that the administrators have been pushing an agenda on the kids.
One mother said, “My first experience with this was at a working group meeting where the director of counseling at Arlington Public Schools said that the school needs to ‘help parents along’ if they’re not there yet. I thought this was the most arrogant thing I had ever heard, that the school is assuming they know better who my children are than I do.”
Controversial political and religious ideas should not be forced upon students in public education…but the sad truth is that this often happens. Impressionable children and young teenagers are often left to decide who to believe: their parents or their teachers.
To prevent teacher and government overreach, parents need to be more engaged in schools. They can have conversations with their children and the administration to learn what is being taught.
At the end of the day, the values taught to children should never just reflect the beliefs of the school board.
Noah Webster said, “It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”
Value-based education should prepare a student not only to succeed in the future, but also to be a good citizen and a kind member of society.
How can diverse individuals agree on a moral code?
It can be difficult for a school to unite when parents and board members hold diverse beliefs (which is their First Amendment right).
But it is not impossible.
Agreeing on a moral standard will be messy, imperfect process. Fortunately, most people share common ideals of decency that provide a starting place for unity. Such ideas promote a better world for everyone–one where people are brave, kind, considerate, persevering, and honest.
Morality is vital for a child’s education, but defining a shared moral code can be tricky. To achieve this goal, schools and parents must work to unite over common values that are beneficial to all.
How can you help establish better school values? Where do you start?
Well…Noah Webster Educational Foundation is here to help with that. Follow our blog to stay up to date on national issues, find tools to help you speak to your local school board, and learn how you can influence your local education policies. It’s up to us to make the change happen!