`Moral Education' Teaching Children Values Makes a Comeback in Books and Schools

Article excerpt

Picture this family of the '90s:

Mom makes the children's beds before leaving for work.

She finishes one child's science project. She gives another child money to go to the movies or video arcade. All mistakes - well-intentioned, but still mistakes, says William Damon. He is a professor at Brown University who wrote "The Moral Child" (Free Press, 1988) and "Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in Our Homes and Schools" (Free Press, 1995). He will visit St. Louis County today to speak to private school educators and parents. "We are not helping kids develop skills and habits," Damon, 51, said in a phone interview Wednesday from his office in Rhode Island. "We aren't giving them anything to reach for." He is alarmed by the rise of self-absorption among children and their lack of spirituality and social responsibility. Damon sees a life where mediocrity has become the norm. He sees a culture that panders to a child's momentary gratification, pleasure and comfort. He sees schools that fail to give children enough challenge. "Less is expected of the young, and in turn less is received," Damon said. "Instruction, discipline, the very fostering of competence and character in the young are fast becoming lost arts." While economic and demographic shifts have played a role, Damon says, the source of present-day youth problems lies in the places where children are reared - the family, the school and community. "The whole tenor of our times is to back off and not push kids," he said. "The irony is that kids want to be excellent and have high hopes." He cautions that not all children are demoralized but adds that it is a trend. At a time when children take guns to school and children lack respect for elders, books about moral child-rearing abound. …