For Kids' Sake, Let's Teach Values

Article excerpt

Values and ethics instruction, wearing a new suit of clothes as "character education," is reemerging as a hot topic for the nineties. There are good reasons vocational education may be the delivery system of choice for molding our children's morals.

The public appears fed up with the apparent "valuelessness" of young people. The assumption out there is that most kids have done (or are doing) drugs and are sexually active from puberty onward.

Schools appear to have given up on effective discipline; metal detectors are in high school door. ways and grievances often are settled with guns. We hear about so many problems with adolescents that it's becoming background noise--discordant news to be ignored as we read the papers over our breakfast cereal.

Surveys such as the trusted Gallup Poll clearly have shown that the American public wants more accountability and respect from its young people. Most believe that the public schools should be able to achieve this goal.

With more and more of our students coming from single-parent homes or from families where both parents work, standard setting by often exhausted adults is becoming an uncertain enterprise. And organized religion may not be the omnipresent factor it once was.

Public schools have long had a tradition of teaching values, although it's been packaged in different ways. Public schools, in fact, were first organized in this country to teach reading of the Bible. Following the turbulent 1960s, when our society seriously began to question its own beliefs as well as formerly sacrosanct governmental authority, the Values Clarification movement gained prominence. Under VC, values were mostly subjective things. If it felt good, we said, let's talk about it, but the decision to "do it" was the student's. Teachers never, never introduced their own values into the discussion.

Teachers in our vo-tech agency seem to have a different approach. Perhaps it's because they came to teaching a little later in their working lives. Many have had industrial experience and know full well the importance of honesty, punctuality and loyalty.

So vo-tech has pragmatism on its side, but it also has other advantages. One is scheduling.

The typical high school has changed little over the decades. Students still move on approximately 45-minute cycles from subject to subject, facing many different teaching personalities in the course of a day. Subjects remain chopped up in a fairly arbitrary way, with few connections apparent between departments of instruction. …