Academic journal article English Journal

Exploring Personal Values to Promote Critical Thinking, Mindfulness, and Empathy

Academic journal article English Journal

Exploring Personal Values to Promote Critical Thinking, Mindfulness, and Empathy

Article excerpt

Several years ago, while designing a media literacy activity for my high school English class, I came across a list of 418 value words on Steve Pavlina's website, Personal Development for Smart People ("List of Values"). I printed this list for my students to use when analyzing advertisements. I wanted students to discern that when a watch advertisement uses a picture of JFK along with his quote, "We choose to go to the moon," they are receiving a message that ambition and striving should be important to them. My students found this task difficult. I discovered that for them to think critically about what the media was telling them should be important, they first had to spend time thinking about what values meant in their own lives. They had to explore which values their parents, teachers, and cultures had embedded in them, and identify examples of how they expressed these values in their lives. Finally, they had to ask themselves, What is important to me?

In recent years, values-based education has become increasingly common. While headmaster at a school in Oxfordshire, Dr. Neil Hawkes pioneered a version of values-based education in his school community, and then founded the International Values-based Education Trust. Hawkes now works as an international education consultant "leading 'a quiet revolution' to support hundreds of schools to be values-based," and has helped the Australian government introduce values-based education into its schools. In his model, ethical vocabulary, such as respect, courage, honesty, compassion, and integrity, is introduced to young children with the expectation that embracing these values will elicit positive dispositions and self-regulation. Hawkes reports that such an approach "improves student and teacher wellbeing, academic diligence, the teaching and learning environment, studentteacher relationships, and partial parental and family participation."

Using Pavlina's list of values and an adolescentappropriate adaptation of Hawkes's approach, I created a Values unit in which students explore their culturally based values, value clashes, and the notion that values shift with experience, age, and circumstance. The unit builds rapport between the students and myself, establishes my classroom as a safe place to take risks and celebrate sharing, and leads to their first major writing assignment. Ultimately, students will write an essay answering the question, "Which three values define you most?"

I begin by putting students into pairs and giving them the list of values. I ask them to figure out what these words have in common. If they are stuck, I ask them to start with what part of speech the words are, and then whether they are abstract or concrete nouns. Dr. Hawkes argues that we cannot assume that the vocabulary of values will be introduced to children unless schools include it in their curriculum. Students typically come up with "characteristics," "ways to describe people," and "beliefs." Finally, we arrive at the definition of a value: something a person thinks is important in life.

We then discuss where values come from. Are we born with them, or do we learn them? From where do we learn them? Students easily come up with family members, friends, and teachers. I help them see that media and religion also play a role. When they offer "society" as an answer, I lead them into a discussion about culturally based values. Since my classes consist of immigrants and international students, this discussion aids their understanding of their experiences in the United States.

I preface the discussion by sharing that sociologists have observed that Eastern and Western cultures typically cherish different values. I share opposing value statements and ask which statements belong to Western cultures and which belong to Eastern cultures. For example, two opposing statements are "Time is the greatest value" and "Relationships are the greatest value" ("Contrast in Values" 1). For each statement, I present a scenario. …

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