Teaching Values through Elementary Social Studies and Literature Curricula

Article excerpt

Educating children to take personal responsibility for their actions is both a parental and a societal responsibility. Certainly schools can teach the democratic values that help sustain us as a nation: respect for all people, reverence for the sanctity of life, the right of dissent and equality for all people before the law. The school's curricula should also support parental teaching of character and of moral decision making.

Values such as: honesty, respect, care, responsibility, and respecting the rights of others should be systematically taught to the young child. With the breakdown of the family, in America, more than half of all marriages dissolve in divorce. Many children are subjected to a lack of moral training due to the exigencies of meeting life's necessities in a single parent home. In a national survey of 40,000 teenagers conducted by USA Weekend, eighty percent think values should be taught in school because parents don't do it or they believe it's the school's responsibility. Almost half believe that it's too late to teach values to teenagers. We need to start earlier, as soon as the child comes to school. Mass media with its glorification of sex and violence has inundated immature minds with examples of poor behavior and immoral character. Schools in America must take a more active role in the teaching of moral values, since other institutions are failing to meet their responsibilities.

The place of values in the curriculum is controversial. It is clearly inappropriate to teach religious values or political viewpoints in a pluralistic society. But many educators believe that it is inevitable that when teachers view student's behaviors, they become cognizant of the way attitudes and actions shape student's choices. Positive values and attitudes are an important part of school success. Teachers have a unique opportunity to help students make positive decisions regarding their education, their goals for themselves, and the development of positive interpersonal relationships in the classroom. Teachers need to recognize the role of beliefs and values in shaping behaviors.

Learning activities can be developed to help children evolve their values relating to living in a democratic and multicultural society. Among the goals where teachers can have an impact are helping students recognize what they value and how they treat the things they value. The entire elementary curriculum should teach these values.

The social studies curriculum and children is literature offer extensive opportunities for the teaching of moral behavior. Four basic approaches can be utilized including:

1. Inculcation: teaching values and providing consistent reinforcement for desired behaviors.

2. Clarification: helping students to become aware of their own values.

3. Moral Reasoning: helping students develop ethical principles for guiding their actions.

4. Values Analysis: helping students develop careful, discriminating analysis to examine values questions.

In the primary grades, children can be taught simple codes of behavior. Piaget points out that the preconceptual child is egocentric. Therefore we need to provide experiences in the primary grades so the child learns that the world does not revolve around his or her existence. A popular book entitled, Everything I Need to Learn I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum relates common courtesies necessary to function effectively in society. Observations of children in schools reveal a certain self centeredness. They come to school so poorly disciplined that this interferes with learning the importance of honest effort and the taking of personal responsibility for one's actions. There is no growth of the moral and mental powers of the self if the self alone is the ultimate goal of learning. Independence of an enduring kind, noble and practical, arrives only when one realizes what it means, in all its glory and responsibility, that one is not alone," [A. …