Academic journal article Education

A Moral Code for the Current Secular State of Affairs

Academic journal article Education

A Moral Code for the Current Secular State of Affairs

Article excerpt

Introduction

With the current president, George W. Bush, stating our determination to deal with the "Axis of Evil," interest in values and value education takes on a new sense of urgency. The nation's schools' attempts to address values education have seen a shift in the last fifty years from one that emphasized a Protestant based morality to one that has emphasized the processes of values development. This latter view, what Hunter (2000) calls the psychological regime, promotes a values neutral position. The dominant position in values education in the world of secondary schools is a natural rights perspective as it basically guides the moral/values content of social studies textbooks and curricular guides issued by an overwhelming number of school districts (Hunter, 2000). According to Reiman (1994), the natural rights/liberalism perspective (he uses the term liberalism) is, at its core, a moral conception. That is, the natural rights approach, in its most fundamental sense, is a standard for right and wrong behavior. Those who adopt a natural rights perspective advocate a moral standard that promotes what is required from sane adults in terms of their conduct in such a way as to maximize the scope of everyone's freedom. Freedom, or liberty, is seen as the ability to control one's life according to one's own judgment and is held as the trump value. Any extension of one's freedom that reduces the freedom of others is ruled as immoral behavior. This principle Reiman (1994) calls individual sovereignty.

The origins of this view have many sources. In part, this emphasis on the individual is a product of the commercial base of our culture. Bell (1996) writes how the contemporary cultural scene is a contradiction between the overly disciplined demands of the economic processes of a corporate dominated capitalism and a popular culture that defiantly stands, simultaneously promoting a licentious, undisciplined life style. This latter element is continuously encouraged by a consumerism that is exalted in our media.

Perhaps more fundamentally, our constitutional beliefs in liberty and equality, so embedded in our foundational documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, place a focus on a natural rights bias. These beliefs include the claim that the Creator endows us all equally with certain values as humans and certain rights. While these basic beliefs were originally held under a republican view and have become much more liberalized, especially in the last fifty years, the ideals of the responsible individual date back to the earliest days of our development as a nation. These constitutional beliefs are heavily reliant on a population believing in a Creator and being ensconced in religious conviction. Otherwise, one is hard pressed to provide an answer to the questions: What is the good? and Why should I be good?

This view of placing the individual as central to the questions of moral deliberation in the classroom has led, from the 1960's to the present, to approaches of values education in which students are trained in making moral decisions. Hunter (2000) specifically refers to instructional models developed by Raths, et al. (1966) and Kohlberg (2000). Each of these approaches emphasizes the processes by which moral commitments are made rather than moral content (Lickona, 1991). Two seemingly overarching concerns are expressed by this emphasis on process over content. One is the liberal concern over coercion. If schools advance specific, or even general, pronouncements of privileged values, schools would exert their authority; then they would force school children to a certain view of morality and short-circuit them in defining the moral goals and standards that they might want to establish for themselves. This condition would offend the basic value attached to the natural rights view; i.e., that an individual worth is based on the ability of an individual to make the basic life choices in his or her life. …

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