Morality in Public Schools: Common Ground on What To Teach

If values and morals are to be taught in public schools, what should be taught? Are there universals that are worthy of teaching to all children in our multifaceted, democratic society?

There has been considerable debate about which moral values to teach children -- and fear among some that teaching a specific set will put society in a moral straightjacket, quash the values of those cultural and ethnic minorities who differ somewhat -- that in a multicultural society, such as America, there is no common ground in values and morality. I believe there is.

Cross-cultural universals do exist. Furthermore, I believe that if an individual internalizes those universals, his chances of a life that is more fulfilling personally, socially, and, yes, even materially, will be enhanced. There's no need to worry about putting people in a moral straightjacket. Children can't be forced to internalize a given moral or value, no matter how attractive it might be. All society can do is set up learning conditions that promote these universals and hope they will be internalized.

Proposed Core Curriculum for American School Children

Morality in Public Schools: Common Ground on What To TeachThe following moral values are proposed as the core curriculum for American school children and for values and morals programs designed for more mature participants. Although they are based, in part, on the examination of life in Small Town, America of the Fifties, I believe that they can serve equally well as a foundation for life in the 21st century.

1. Honesty/truthfulness (personal integrity) in dealing with others in their personal lives, business, and all other interactions; the individual displays personal integrity and a desire to follow through with commitments to others.

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2. Intact, loving family (both parents and their biological children) viewed as the most desirable environment for propagation and child rearing.

3. Self-reliance, including goal-setting and management of necessary resources for achievement of those goals, providing for own basic needs and achieving recognition for doing so.

4. Accountability for decisions, not only enjoying the fruits of one's decisions, but also accepting any undesirable consequences without blaming others, and responding to undesirable consequences of decisions in a socially constructive manner (learns from mistakes).

5. Respect for property of others public and private.

6. Sensitivity to/respect for the dignity and rights of others, and a desire to respond to the condition of those less fortunate in an understanding, helpful way when needed.

7. Tolerance and respect for the right of each person to determine his/her own lifestyle.

8. Personal ambition, the desire to become, achieve; to develop occupational/professional job skills and assume a socially and legally responsible job role that is sufficiently financially rewarding for the individual's desired lifestyle and property accumulation.

9. Other character traits such as self-control, poise, patience, compassion, a sense of humor, a sense of purpose, punctuality, loyalty, open-mindedness, tactfulness, and initiative.

10. Development and maintenance of a mutually satisfying, intimate relationship with another person for the purposes of meeting the need for companionship and satisfaction of emotional, social, and sexual needs.

11. Development and maintenance of friendships for the purpose of meeting various social and emotional needs

12. Work as the preferred means for meeting financial needs for living and acquiring property, and for achieving financial independence; that work is good for the individual physically and emotionally, and that it makes a constructive contribution to society.

13. Development and maintenance of constructive relationships with others at work (work well with others).

14. Education as an important element in the makeup of a well-rounded adult; that it is an integral part of preparation for a socially constructive career that enables the individual to meet his financial needs.

15. Recognition and acceptance of limited resources and rewards in lieu of unlimited wants.

16. Long-range planning and goals are preferred to immediate gratification; willingness to sacrifice short-term gratification for pursuit of long-term goals.

17. Personal ownership of property viewed as basic to human motivation: The individual has the right to accumulate property, to accumulate wealth as a fruit of his work, as a measure of his occupational success.

18. Freedom of speech and tactfulness in expressing one's ideas.

19. Freedom to make decisions about personal goals and daily activities, including decisions about social, business, civic, and political affiliations to the extent that they do not infringe on the common freedoms of others.

20. Appreciation of, and commitment to, a democratic form of government as demonstrated by (a) a willingness to provide a fair share of financial support (taxes) for the government, (b) development of an understanding of the underlying principles of a democracy, and (c) active participation in the democratic process in a variety of ways, such as educating oneself about issues and candidates in elections, serving in various capacities, and voting.

21. Privacy in the daily affairs of the individual.

22. Appreciation of, and commitment to, a safe, clean living environment, beginning in the home and extending to the community, nation, and world.

23. Personal hygiene and personal grooming as measures of one's self-respect.

24. Appreciation and promotion of the arts, traditions, and history as key elements in the promotion of cultural continuity.

25. Good mental health and physical health are treasured.

26. Recreational activity is viewed as physically, socially, and emotionally healthy and desirable.

Article Source:

The Challenge of the New Millennium - Winning The Struggle With Ourselves
by Jerral Hicks, Ed.D.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher, New Falcon Publications. ©1997.

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About The Author

Jerral Hicks, Ed.D., has taught at the public school and university levels for over thirty years. His service as a public school classroom teacher in the mid-1960s, and again in the mid-1980s, provided opportunities for first-hand observations about changes and problems in children, families, and society. His other works include Let's Get Serious About Teaching Children To Write.