Magazine article U.S. Catholic

We Need a Value-Added Education

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

We Need a Value-Added Education

Article excerpt

Values. They're in, although it's hard to believe that they were ever out. Yet during the 1996 elections all candidates, of all parties, fell over one another to express their love for values. The spin doctors apparently felt that values would engross the voting public more than opaque subjects like a balanced budget or trade balances.

But how many of us would agree with one another if we were asked what we mean by values? We probably know something about used car values or the value of a good credit rating when contemplating a major purchase. Still, quite obviously, those aren't the kinds of values that politicians, pundits, and writers who have made values a major industry are talking about.

More to the point, happily, is the kind of values that some educators are seriously considering. The chief of the Chicago public school system, for example, has announced and partially instituted a program of teaching values to its students, despite the fact that doing so in taxpayer-supported schools can be, to put it mildly, tricky.

Honesty, for example. Who can be opposed to that value? But, oh, the details. Suppose the classroom discussion concerns payment of income tax. Are we ever allowed to overlook this or that taxable item because the governmental body involved is considered corrupt or inefficient? Even Catholic moral theologians permit, on occasion, what they nicely call "occult compensation." Try bouncing that concept off students in elementary grades.

What about the values of kindness and consideration for others? In Catholic schools of my vintage we learned about the selflessness of models like Saint Martin of Tours who, we were told, cut his cloak in half on a wintry day and gave half to a shivering beggar. The fact that I retain that image after many years attests to its pedagogical effectiveness. That, however, was a Catholic image, and no religion may be taught in public schools. There are, of course, many value-laden models acceptable in the secular realm: Martin Luther King or Clara Barton of the Red Cross, for example. A good model, but perhaps somewhat remote, too pedestal-bound to resonate with the girls and guys in today's classrooms.

The conventional wisdom (and wisdom it is indeed) is that values are not so much taught as learned from examples close at hand. Parents and sometimes older siblings or grandparents are the most influential reflecting boards that most children have. …

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