Morals, Civics, and Comparative Religion
In this chapter, we focus first on the delicate subject of teaching morality and civic responsibility, both on general approaches and on how schools should deal with such controversial topics as sex education. In chapter 2, on educational purposes, we examined how far schools should teach morality, beyond what is relevant to good citizenship. We also asked whether students should be encouraged to deliberate about civic issues apart from their religious convictions, and whether schools should try to counter the negative effects on religious understandings of whatever they teach about civic morality and other aspects of the moral life.
Schools can hardly draw a sharp distinction between civic responsibilities and ordinary morality that concerns relations with other people. Many virtues have civic and noncivic applications. In theory, teachers might be able to distinguish honesty in one's life as a citizen1 from honesty in personal relations and business dealings, but one cannot imagine that encouraging honesty could be very effective if it were limited to a single aspect of life. Much teaching about moral behavior and good citizenship is implicit, in the way classes are run. When a teacher treats boys and girls equally, that sends the message that men and women should not have a sharp division in responsibility and authority, inside civic life or outside.2
Teaching material in a way that suggests appropriate attitudes and actions is not limited to “political” subjects, like the American Revolution; Othello tells us about the dangers of mistrust and jealousy, and inventive geniuses like Thomas Edison are put forward as admirable exemplars.
A final reason why political morality may not be easily distinguished from much of the rest of morality is that we live within a society. How could it not be part of the school's role to teach us to live well together, even in parts of our lives that are not directly civic?