In the beginning of our course, Moral Issues in Education (EDU 6085) I was fairly confidant in where I stood on being a person of faith and a public school teacher. As a public school educator, I saw my responsibility to be a person of moral and ethical character. My personal faith should not be the driving force of my work as I teach students of all religious and cultural backgrounds and no distinction should be made by me as to which is “better or worse” or “correct or incorrect”. I am simply there to teach and to uphold and model a high moral standard of values such as honesty and the Golden Rule which all major religions have in common.
The reading in The Abolition of Man , by C.S. Lewis, was especially poignant to me. I could relate to so many of the insights Lewis discussed and found myself nodding in agreement much of the time. First, the text rose the issue of teaching our students to be great thinkers and discerners of text and the world. Part of ourselves that is innate to us and therefore influences the world and how we see it is our emotions. To discount our emotion as trivial or unimportant, discounts who we are as humans. Likewise, the statement Lewis made, “It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and it presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all” speaks to the strong influence early teachings can have on students. If we teach a wrong or flawed philosophy early on, they may not fully grasp it, but it sinks in and can form their thinking years down the road.
This is where I think parents and society get held up in character education. People think if we “teach” character then we are influencing students and pushing them to make decisions a certain way or that we are teaching “religion”. I don’t agree with that premise. I think without character education that students could be at the whim of any author or teacher to influence them into wrong thinking and patterns as we saw Lewis describe with “The Green Book.” He continues the argument by pointing out that every major world culture has a set of universal truths and “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”
The next section of text is one of the deepest and most thoughtful I have ever read. Lewis describes the universal truth that “children are delightful”, he then turns this discussion to himself and says that he does not enjoy the company of children and he must recognize that as a defect in himself. How profound! What a concept that we can teach our students to test their thoughts and ideas against commonly held truths which may sometimes show us that it is we who are wrong or flawed in our thinking. I teach my students that all mistakes are something to learn and grow from. They are teachable moments. Why shouldn’t we do that with their character and not just their academics?
I teach in a very affluent area and one thing that we as a staff have struggled with the past few years is the sense of entitlement in some of our students and families. Somehow, the rules don’t apply to them. These universal truths seem to be lost on them and we are steeped in a culture of relativism. We tried to bring in a character curriculum to our school and unfortunately due to weak leadership and flawed implementation it failed to take hold. We also had a very vocal group of parents who felt that it was indoctrination and religious in nature. It in fact wasn’t and other schools (over 4000 nationwide) have been able to implement it with great success. The curriculum gave us a common language with the kids and was based on the universal truths of many cultures and religions which C.S. Lewis referenced in the reading.
I believe this kind of teaching is key to our kids. They need to see that there are certain things that are right and certain things that are just wrong. There is not always grey area. Not always a reason why they can justify their position, sometimes we all make mistakes and recognizing that and being able to admit to it helps us grow as humans. Schools need to provide a safe and developmentally appropriate place for this kind of learning to occur.
Without this kind of teaching I think we will see the moral compass of our society shift. I found it interesting that in the readings in Genesis and in All the Kings Men these moral issues of integrity and honesty played out in the characters we met. While separated by thousands of years, the same issues remain. Again, they are universal and common to all men/women throughout time. My hope for my students is that regardless of a lack of curriculum, I will be able to instill guiding principles to them, critical thinking, discernment, and passion for learning and life. The heart and the head go together and need to drive one another. C.S. Lewis put it beautifully, “The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”
Following this, an interesting question was posed in our class, “Are the ‘Ten Commandments’ a form of the Tao?” I would have to answer yes. Maybe that is because of my answer to the next question, “What is the ‘Tao’ by which you live?” My answer for that would be, “The Bible.” Including the Ten Commandments, the Bible is my “blueprint for life.” When the Bible does not explicitly call something out as right or wrong, then I use prayer and seek wise advice from mentors I trust and who hold to the same values that I do. In Exodus, we read about God giving the “Law” to his people. This includes the Ten Commandments, but goes much more in detail in the later chapters. For me the Law is a guideline, but I am so thankful for the New Testament and to live under Grace. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. God knew we couldn’t live by the letter of the law and ultimately he provided “a way out.” However, we are still to live in accordance with the values in the Bible. Jesus commanded us to “Love one another” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” among many others decrees for believers. I see these as being values all humans can aspire to and should live by.
In The Abolition of Man, Lewis argues the existence and validity of the Tao. Some call it, “Natural Law or Traditional Morality, or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments.” (p. 43) He does explain that by putting all the “traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew” together, you will “find many contradictions and some absurdities.” However, I think we see more common ground than differences. Much research has been done on this subject and many commonalities between the seven major world religions exist. Four common themes emerged as I read through different literature –
- Commitment to something greater than oneself – honesty, justice, truth
- Self-respect, humility, self-discipline, personal responsibility
- Respect and caring for others (The Golden Rule)
- Caring for other living things and the environment
(Kinnier, Kernes, Dautheribes; 2000)
This leads to another question, “What moral standards do you consider most important for schools?” I refer back to the original posting and the quote from the Washington State –
All teachers shall stress the importance of the cultivation of manners, the fundamental principles of honesty, honor, industry and economy, the minimum requisites for good health including the beneficial effect of physical exercise and methods to prevent exposure to and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and the worth of kindness to all living creatures and the land. (RCW 28A.230.020)
I do believe that teaching manners, courtesy, honesty, respect for self and others, respect for the environment and living things, and personal high standards and character are extremely important concepts and values for students to study and accept. These are the life skills and personal attributes which permeate all cultures and will benefit them for their entire lives. As teachers we have all had very smart and capable students who were very book and study smart, but lacked the social skills and personal values to be successful in the classroom and with their peers. These students “don’t play well with others”. They lie, cheat, steal, don’t share, exclude, are unkind and even mean. I don’t have a problems telling a student who is cheating or lying that that behavior is “wrong”. I believe that falls under the universal values that all cultures hold and it is my job as a teacher to teach that value to my students. I will refrain from using right/wrong when I feel it is a difference in culture or core belief. If it is purely a Christian value that I hold personally then that may or may not be right/wrong to another religion and culture. In that case I will choose different words or speak for myself and not in a way that all should hold that same value that I do. If that is a more private value or something not appropriate for an elementary school discussion then I will say, “That is a great question to ask your parents” and leave it at that. In my paper, Religion in Schools, I go further in to this interesting subject.
The idea of an “entitlement mentality” seemed to be following me throughout this course. In the readings in All the King’s Men, we see that Jack is on a quest to get the information he needs on the Judge. Through this chapter he reflects his past with his dad and uses his thinking about the character of the judge to drive his investigation into the judge’s past. The ideas of money and corruption continue going on in the reading. Willie is giving 6 million dollars to build the hospital and Anna is asking Willie for money for her charity. The motivations of the characters are at the forefront of the writing. In Amos, he is warning the people against entitlement as well. They are morally corrupt in their worship and in their society as a whole. They are practicing slavery for profit, using the poor to get rich off of, and worshiping idols. He warns against their destruction which is an extrinsic motivation, but it is clear that God wants their hearts. He wants to remind them of all He has done for them and have them turn back to Him on their own without having to destroy them. I think that is my bottom line as well with my students. I would rather have them feel an intrinsic sense of reward and pride in themselves than to have them motivated by “destruction” or negative consequences. Ultimately that is my greatest goal.
One example of a cultural difference where the issue of right/wrong was tested happened this year to me. I had a student move here from Iraq. He had previously gone to an all-boys school and the parents warned me that things were very different there especially on the playground. Well, that was an understatement. My student came in and even after going over the rules and guidelines of the school and playground (with translation for him as he spoke only Farsi), we had serious issues with him right away. Very aggressive play, pushing, yelling, threatening behavior, literally scaring other kids. If this was an American student who knew our system and rules and language this would have clearly been “wrong” behavior. However, this was “normal” for my new student and it took a lot of time, conferences, and finally a behavior plan translated into Farsi for him to be able to understand the differences and follow the rules and norms of our playground culture. For me the key was his motivation, his heart so to speak. I knew in his heart he was not a malicious, mean kid. Aggressive and competitive? Yes, but mean and a bully? No. He needed to learn the values and understand that even if “everyone” is doing it, that doesn’t make it right. I am happy to say that he is a very happy and adjusted kid now who has made great gains and no longer needs that behavior plan.
The idea that “everyone” is doing it is how I see the changes happening in Willie in AKM. He was once an idealist and went into politics to make a difference. Now, he “plays the game” and is willing to sacrifice his values to get what he wants. He will literally do whatever it takes to succeed. I thought it interesting that his lawyer had to resign and I took that as his way of distancing himself and not compromising his own values any longer. That shows real character and values in itself.
One theme seems to run strong in my learning around TL standard 1 and that is one of character education. In my opinion, teaching our students character and values in the school can only benefit them. These are character traits and values that they can bring with them throughout their lives. In order to deal with this moral issue, my school decided to implement a character education program called “Leader in Me”. Going through this process caused me to ask many questions and I addressed two of them in my moral inquiry essay. The first question was, “Is character education key to a strong school environment?” I believe yes, and my research agreed with that premise. So I asked myself next, “What are the best practices to implement a character education program into an elementary school?” This is the question I chose to focus on for this project. I took a case study approach to show what not to do in implementing a character education program and provided some practical suggestions for a successful implementation plan that I might use in my future as a principal. The research I did around this inquiry question solidified my belief that character education is as key to our student’s success as their academics. –
The Washington Principal and Program Administrator Standards, Standard Five states – Ethical Leadership: A school or program administrator is an educational leader who has the knowledge, skills, and cultural competence to improve learning and achievement to ensure the success of each student by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner. As I look toward the future and my continued work in education as a principal I know that being a moral and ethical leader will be key to my success.
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