By- Anu Sukhija
Let’s forget for a moment whether your kinder gartner can mellifluously croon a twinkle twinkle little star or your fourth grader can write a 500 word essay or whether your teenager is good atPythagoras Theorem. Consider instead whether they can tell good from bad, right from wrong, and whether they can make morally informed decisions? Do they understand responsibility and how to shoulder it and what about tolerance towards those who may be different from them in colour, caste, status and physical and mental attributes? Have they been told about the virtue of community sharing with their lunch box during recess and do they know what compassion is?
Educators the world over are advocating a more holistic curricula within the classroom to make value based teaching and character building a vital component of education. However is it really possible to teach values in class rooms? Is it really the job of a teacher to do character building of pupils whilst teaching academic and technical subjects?
Interest piqued? Then, let us sit down and discuss this further. Some people claim that values cannot be taught so making these a part of academic syllabus is not practical. There are a number of reasons given in support of this claim. To begin with, there are no rules or standard definition of “Values”. What is right for you may not be right for someone else. Values are formed from cultural, religious, spiritual and other such factors and these obviously differ from person to person and community to community. For example whilst it may be easy to teach ‘respect yourself and respect others’, when it comes to teaching patriotism- it may mean different things to different people. The new age parents have redefined parenting. Some of them are as smart as their smartphones displaying cool features like unauthoritarian and double liberal when it comes to raising their children. Very often you hear P.T.A tales of how a ‘supportive’ father objected to a school’s decision of disciplinary action on use of foul language citing it as a breach of freedom of speech and expression. Therefore one part of society balks at what they see as the school’s intrusion into what has historically been the role of the family.
Even one of the editorials on the topic in the Wall Street Journal stated that “ethics courses are useless because ethics can’t be taught”.
Almost 2500 years ago, philosopher Socrates debated the same question with his contemporaries and made a clear declaration: “Values consist of knowing what we ought to do, and such knowledge can be taught.”
In the modern world, the late Harvard psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg was one of the first people to look seriously at whether a person’s ability to deal with ethical issues can develop in later life and whether education can affect that development. The earliest level of moral development is that of the child, which Kohlberg called the preconvention level. The person at the preconventional level defines right and wrong in terms of
what authority figures (Family) say is right or wrong. Ask a four year old for example, why stealing is bad? The most likely response would be, “Because my mommy says so…”
The second level of moral development is the level most adolescents reach. Kohlberg called this the conventional level. For the adolescent, right and wrong are based on group loyalties. Ask them why stealing is bad and the chances are they would tell you, “Because society says so…”
The third level is what Kohlberg labeled the post conventional level. The person at this level stops defining right and wrong in terms of group loyalties or norms. Instead, the adult at this level develops moral principles that define right and wrong from a universal point of view. If you
ask a person at this level why stealing is wrong, they will appeal to what doesn’t promote the universal ideals of law and order , justice or social welfare.
Kohlberg concluded by saying that many factors can stimulate a person’s growth through the three levels of moral development. One of the most crucial factors, Kohlberg found, is education. The first education commission of India headed by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan emphasised that “No
amount of factual information would make ordinary men into educated or virtuous men unless something is awakened in them – an innate ability to live the life of the soul”.
Today schools need to be interested in three kinds of outcomes:
1. Skills—what our students are able to do, 2. Knowledge—what they know, 3. Character—the kind of people they become.
As for educators mulling over self doubts, my question to you is, “Do we ask parents if we have to teach our pupils reading or writing?” A child is not born with math or language skills and a child is not born with values. If you are not teaching them values in the class room, you are not
developing a whole child. You are only giving them part of their education!”