Fighting the Good Fight to Teach Our Kids Strong Values
“This is the line!” Billy pressed hard with the yardstick as he drew a line, visible only to him and Kenton, down the middle of their bedroom that would separate his side of the room from his older brother’s.
“You cannot put your things on my side or come on my side of the line unless I say it’s okay. This is my private property, so stay on your own side!” Billy said emphatically as he pointed the tip of the yardstick to Kenton’s side of the room.
“That’s just fine with me! And see to it that you stay on your side and don’t you mess around with my things on my side when I’m not home, Twerp, or I’ll punch you out!” came a forceful reply from Kenton.
Even though the line through the middle of the room was imaginary, its power to establish boundaries that would be enforced, respected, even fought over by the parties involved was very real. The existence or power of such a line might be scoffed at as nonsensical child’s play, yet just such lines have always had a very important role in the lives of adults the world over
Lines (Real, Imagined or Metaphoric) Draw Boundaries
Consider the lines of longitude and latitude that crisscross any globe or map of the earth and are designated by incremental numbers called degrees. If you were to search the surface of the earth from an aircraft to observe these lines it would be in vain, yet these unseen lines are used to guide airplanes and ships to their destinations, to establish property lines, political boundaries, to locate sections of oceans or of land, to establish date lines, time lines, climate zones, to plot ocean and wind currents, and so on. Reference to lines can be used metaphorically, such as “the bottom line,” “What’s My Line?” as the TV show was called, “questioning along those lines.” “That wolf hands everyone that same old line.” Some lines are more concrete, literally, such as the Wall of China and the Berlin Wall. In any case, what happens on one side of a line or boundary is very different from what happens on the other side. Lines, real, metaphoric, or imagined, draw parameters that dictate what we do and how we do it. There is great security in lines, in the drawing of lines, for we learn what to expect and how to respond to whatever the line encompasses. If they are absent, no one knows quite what to do.
Many laws or rules are instituted to establish the expected behavior pertaining to lines or boundaries. This is easily seen in the game of football. There are yard lines, goal lines, side lines, lines denoting out of bounds, lines around end zones, lines of defense, the scrimmage line, etc.
Each line or boundary has rules governing its function. There are penalties or consequences if the lines are crossed and the rules are violated. Even more serious rules and laws protect political boundaries or lines and can be seen functioning when we go from one country to the next that are separated only by a line drawn on a map. The crossing of this imaginary, invisible line finds people with different customs, expectations, monies, a different form of government with different laws, a different language than the country you were just in.
On more personal terms, it’s not unusual to hear someone say, “Kids need lines drawn for them so they know what’s expected of them,” or “There’s where the line is drawn and I dare not cross it,” or as Mammy said in Gone With The Wind, “It ain’t fittin’, it just ain’t fittin” when Scarlett had crossed that line separating appropriate behavior from inappropriate behavior. These lines represent the rules and laws pertaining to the rightness or wrongness of what we do or don’t do. They are codes of behavior. Included within these codes are the protection of human rights such as the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, sanctity of the family, honesty in its many forms, sexual morality, rules of etiquette and ethics, protection of the environment, traffic laws, laws in the workplace, political, military, and business laws, and so on. It is universally recognized that these codes are necessary for civilizations to survive successfully. Civilizations rise or fall depending upon how individual citizens respect and practice these codes of conduct.
Vital Lines Have Been Erased
While some lines and boundaries have remained static over time such as the lines of longitude and latitude, the yard lines in football, others have lost their distinctness, especially the lines separating right and wrong behavior. Many can remember the time, not so many years back, when the lines between what was right and what was wrong were clearly drawn, understood and respected. They were taught from birth onward within each family unit. They found their origin in the precepts of the Bible. They were taught from the pulpit and in the home. Most people lived in a family unit made up of a father, mother and children. Most families attended church regularly. The precepts taught have come to be called traditional family values in recognition that the family is the basic unit of society and the most effective teaching of values to children is done in the home. The same values were reinforced and supported by the schools and society at large.
These traditional family values were the guidelines (real, imagined or metaphorical) to assist parents in teaching children how to grow up into healthy, happy, well-adjusted, knowledgeable, productive, contributing adults who have strong character. Schools reinforced the process with an emphasis on the knowledgeable part so they would be equipped with the skills necessary to earn a living and provide for themselves and those dependent upon them. The parents taught the value of self-discipline through a strong work ethic that was vital since many families lived on a farm and survival depended largely upon everyone being disciplined and responsible in doing their part. Families not on a farm still had many chores to do since the modern work-saving appliances were not available yet. Work came before pleasure. Children were taught that there is a time to get up and a time to go to bed, there is a time to work and a time to play and in that order, that the family ate together, that everyone knew where everyone was and what they were doing, that you reap what you sow and must stand accountable for your own actions, that you made do with what you had or did without since debt was a last-ditch consideration, that you waste not, want not, that you provided for your own, that raising kids is the responsibility of the family - not society, that honesty is the best policy, that you did unto others as you would have them do unto you, that cleanliness is next to godliness, that you wait until you are married to have sex, that life is sacred and must be preserved at all costs.
Today, there is overwhelming evidence that the value structures so prevalent a generation ago are largely nonexistent for many individuals and account for the increasing incidents of crime, burgeoning welfare rolls, wholesale greed, vanity, and corruption in business and politics, sexually-transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, drop-out rates, drug and alcohol abuse, neglect and abuse of children, widespread violence, suicide, despair and misery. Irresponsible adults are raising irresponsible children. Children are killing children. Schools are being expected to pick up the pieces of broken homes. No matter how well-intentioned their efforts or how effective the programs, the schools, or any agency other than the home, cannot be successful in being surrogate parents because they are not the home, they are not the dominant influence in the life of a child. They can only Band-Aid the most gaping holes or patchwork the leaks the best they are able.
The Demise of Traditional Family Values
Many factors have contributed to the demise of family values over the years such as:
Values Clarification, an approach that neuters right and wrong and erases the lines we must not cross, replacing the teaching of traditional values.
The last factor, Values Clarification, began building value structures of clay and sand for the young nearly thirty years ago when this new philosophy, which espouses that “values should not be crammed down anybody’s throat,” was successful in convincing educators to shift the focus from identifying and teaching the traditional values that formulate the frameworks of thinking patterns and behavior patterns necessary to develop responsible decision-making skills to a 7-step valuing process. (For in-depth information about Values Clarification, look into the works of Rath, Harmon and Simon in book form and training films in the late 1960s).
The idea of Values Clarification is to take any decision or choice you want to make and put it through seven steps. If it meets with the criteria, then the decision or choice is a good one for you. Those seven steps are:
Problems with the Valuing Process
There are two serious problems with the valuing process. First, when espousing that values should not be crammed down anybody’s throat, the philosophy has a partial valid point. Nothing should be crammed down anybody’s throat; not values, reading, history, how to sew, cook, the mating habits of an angleworm or anything else. However, there are two issues in the statement, not one: 1) Methodology or how a topic is presented and 2) Content or what is presented. Cramming it down someone’s throat is the methodology and values is the content. Values need not be ‘crammed down anyone’s throat,' but can be taught as rationally and objectively as any other topic when using the correct methodology. This seemingly obvious error in fundamental philosophy went unnoticed by thousands and thousands of educators, parents, and the general public.
The second problem is even more serious than the first. The valuing process neuters right and wrong. Any choice a person wants to make can be put through the process and come out just as it went in because our basic uninformed, self-serving way of thinking would mold the decision to fit the process without alteration. Even a madman tyrant could put a choice or decision to murder and plunder millions of people through the process and have such a choice stripped of any remonstration that what they are doing is wrong, but rather that it is a prized and cherished choice because of the power and glory it brings to them. They can affirm that it is an important choice for them. The choice to do anything you want to do can make it through the process unscathed by any judgment or denunciation that your choice has crossed the lines drawn to separate good decisions from bad decisions or right from wrong.
At first, the 7-step valuing process seemed wonderfully freeing. You could make any decision you wanted without the constrictions of dogmatic preaching from those in authority. Now there wasn’t any authority other than yourself to tell you what to do or how to do it. No more inculcation of a set of given values. A massive swinging of the pendulum began. No longer did young people have to listen to their parents, to their clergy, to their teachers or leaders of any kind to tell them what was right and what was wrong, what they should or shouldn’t do. Anyone could make any decision without fear of recrimination from any musty, old-fashioned morality authorities or mores. The lines between right and wrong, which once were so distinct, faded into the dust of antiquated ideas.
Erasing the Lines of Right and Wrong As the schools embraced the new philosophy towards moral judgment, several techniques were developed to avoid teaching anything that would indicate that there is a right way and wrong way to behave:
The use of open-ended stories — stories that present a moral dilemma to students, but do not have an ending or closure that would establish the correct or right way to deal with the dilemma. The phraseology that teachers were instructed to use was “there is no right or wrong, but it is how you think about it that counts; it is your own opinion that is important and anyone’s opinion is as important as anyone else’s.” The teacher was not to impose upon the students how she felt the dilemma should be solved.
The placing of all decisions on the same level In a typical values-clarification discussion, a student’s decision to have an abortion is treated just like a student’s decision to spend the summer with one parent instead of the other. Selecting a sexual orientation is treated in the same manner as selecting a flavor of ice cream.
Values are not taught but are discussed, or, more accurately, argued heatedly Those who can holler the loudest or argue the cleverest win. You can tell when this is happening by the raucous noise emanating from a classroom, especially at the high school and college levels. Persons participating may feel stimulated and have been given a vent for intensive emotions, but very rarely is there any credible learning taking place, certainly no delineation of the rightness or wrongness of an issue.
Some of the results of the valuing process replacing the teaching of traditional values can be seen:
The philosophy of Values Clarification has permeated the educational scene for 25-30 years. The general thinking of the nation has been affected by it. Even though it is now being called a “quagmire of rot” that has left a generation of valueless young people that have been reared by valueless adults, the devastating damage is there. People are making calamitous decisions with calamitous consequences, not knowing why such a thing is.
Cartoon Portrays It Well
An award-winning cartoon about two lines was aired on an educational channel several years ago that illustrates concisely the principles working in the rise and fall of the Values Clarification philosophy. The cartoon was about two lines, one was a very straight line and the other a scribbly sort of line. The straight line was organized, confident, directed by noble intentions, knew where he wanted to go and was interested in getting from here to there without wasting energy on useless by-paths. A pretty girl line, whom he wanted for his girlfriend, found him quite structured and uninteresting. Soon the scribbly line came onto the scene. He was not constrained to follow any direct paths but pursued any whim that struck his fancy. He was carefree and looking for fun. The pretty girl line found his manner to be flamboyant, exciting and attractive. She left the company of the straight line to keep company with the scribbly line. They danced and romped over the countryside with sheer abandon. In their frolic they would poke fun at the dull, ordered life of the straight line. The straight line was saddened by losing the pretty girl line and being made fun of. He withdrew to the sidelines. However, he did not change to become like the scribbly line since he believed in himself and what he stood for.
Time passed and all the while the scribbly line and the pretty girl line did as they wished. It wasn’t very long before the pretty girl line became weary of the scribbly line’s ways. What she once thought was flamboyant and fun about the scribbly line now seemed careless, disorganized, and irresponsible. She spoke to the scribbly line about it and pleaded for him to settle down and do something worthwhile, like straightening out his line a bit. He scoffed at her seriousness and invited her to go frolic with him some more. She found the thought of that distasteful and wondered why she had found him so attractive to begin with. About that time, the straight line comes by on his way from here to there to accomplish a goal. The pretty girl line found his well-groomed straightness handsome, the meaningfulness of his directed ways very appealing. He knew what he wanted and how to accomplish it. The straight line was shy about looking at the pretty girl line because he felt she did not like him, but he wished she did.
The pretty girl line made a decision. She wanted to become like the straight line and hoped he would forget her past foolishness and help her to be a straight line- that was the best way to be after all.
Speaking in a values sense, the difference between straight and scribbly lines, the difference between being on one side of the line and the other is the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, between harmful and beneficial, between success and failure, between happiness and misery. Things (things being ideas, objects, situations, people, actions) that are right, good, beneficial, successful, happy, are things which uplift and recognize the hand of God in all things; that give an inner sense of peace and well-being; that motivate one to be disciplined, responsible, honest, productive and contributive to the good of the whole, to society in a positive sense; that inspire individuals to become the best they were born to become; that cause us to reach out and help others; that build a deep love and respect for the human family: those who have gone before, those living how, and those yet to come, for plant and animal life that fosters a protection of the environment and food chain. Good things bear good fruit and stand the test of time.
On the other hand, things that are wrong, evil, harmful, cause failure and misery are those things which do not uplift but fight against God, are dishonest, destructive, do not perpetuate the species, do not bring inner peace and happiness, do not reach out and build others, are not responsible, productive and contributive, do not reverence life nor protect the environment and food chain.
The Face of the Child Entering the Classroom Has Changed
Educators whose careers have spanned fifteen or more years will agree quickly that the face of the child entering their classrooms has changed over the years since their career of teaching began. Schools have been traditionally instituted as places to learn. It has been assumed that parents will bring to the schools children who are cared for, well-adjusted, and ready to learn with a support system at home that will assist them with the expectations of the educational effort. Fewer and fewer children are arriving at school with these qualities. Teachers are teaching less and managing more. Disruptive behavior is more intense, more common. Schools are being expected to feed the nation's children breakfast, even preschoolers, keep children who are sick because neither parent will come get them, tend children out of control, tolerate vile disrespect, provide counseling for children experiencing emotional distress often due to sexual, physical, or mental abuse at home, provide condoms, run maternity and daycare units, frisk for weapons, man the hallways, lunchrooms, and campuses with security personnel, all while keeping SAT scores off the charts.
When compared to students fifteen or more years ago, today's children:
Kids Cheer Death Where Once They Cried
A seemingly simple incident is a sobering example of how young people in general have become desensitized to the consideration of others; of their feelings, even of life. There is an excellent educational guidance film called "Big Henry and The Polka Dot Kid" sponsored by the National Education Association. It first came out in the late 70s or early 80s. It is a story about a young boy named Luke. His parents have been killed in a car wreck and he is on a train going to live with his uncle, Big Henry, who is a logger in Canada. Big Henry is a gruff, practical man and not very easy to live with. On the way to the depot to pick up Luke, his foreman brings Big Henry his big dog, Old Dan, who is old and blind and has tangled with a raccoon. Big Henry makes the decision to have the dog put away and has the foreman put him in the cab of the pickup intending to drop him off at the vet after picking up Luke.
Big Henry picks up Luke and loads him into the pickup. As he sits by him, Luke notices the big old dog and that he is bleeding. Big Henry explains that he is old and blind and has tangled with a raccoon. He drops Luke and the dog off at the vet instructing Luke to take him to the vet, he'll know what to do with him, and then to head on home ... just take the road north out of town; he'll find it for sure.
Luke takes Old Dan into the vet, meeting the old gentleman for the first time. The vet lays Old Dan on the examining table and takes a large hypodermic needle, filling it with a solution. In the course of the conversation between Luke and the vet, it dawns upon Luke that the shot is to put the dog to sleep rather than to make him well. Luke steps between the vet and the dog, hugging the old dog on the table and begging the doctor to not give him the shot. Luke pulls a $5.00 bill out of his pocket, which is all the money he has in the world, and offers it to the vet to not kill the dog. The vet is touched by Luke's willingness to give all he has to preserve the old dog's life. He doesn't give the dog the shot, doesn't take the money, but gives him a medicine to put on the dog's wounds to heal them up, then sends the dog and Luke walking home.
Big Henry is angry that Luke did not obey him in leaving the dog with the vet but lets the dog remain. One day Big Henry is giving Luke a lesson in sawing down a 100-foot tall pine with a cross-blade saw. As the huge tree cracks and begins to plummet to the earth, Luke sees Old Dan lying in the grass in the path of the falling pine, oblivious to the tree falling because of his blindness. Luke yells at the dog and runs to get him out of the way. Big Henry runs after the boy trying to get to him before the tree crushes him and barely manages to grab him and roll them both out of the path of the tree as it crashes to the ground in a deafening roar of crackling limbs and thudding trunk. The dog has run out of its way because of the sound of the excited voices. Big Henry is very agitated and says that that's that and the old dog will be put away. He then tells Luke to ride his bike home.
As Luke is riding home he passes a pond in the forest where he sees the foreman put Old Dan in a rowboat then row to the middle of the pond. The dog has a rope around his neck with a heavy rock tied to the other end. As a horrified Luke watches, the foreman throws the dog and rock overboard. Underwater photography shows the dog being jerked and dragged to the depths of the pond by the heavy rock tied to the rope around its neck. The trauma of the event is dramatic and full of awfulness. Luke runs for all he is worth and dives into the pond, taking out his pocketknife from his pocket in the pursuit. After having to surface for air a time or two while trying to locate the dog, he is finally successful in cutting the rope and dragging the lifeless, limp old dog out of the water. Exhausted, Luke lies by the dog, crying, patting him and begging him not to die. His parents have already died and the dog is his best and only friend. After what seems like forever, the dog opens one eye and his tail twitches a bit. Eventually, he recovers. Luke and Big Henry work some things out and all ends well.
When the film was shown to students in the late 70s and early 80s, girls wailed and cried as Old Dan was jerked to the bottom of the pond, knowing his death was imminent. A few boys cried, all gasped, were quiet, and noticeably glad when Old Dan made it out alive. Now, when it is shown, students make jeering remarks throughout the film, cheering and laughing when the old dog sinks to the bottom of the pond rejoicing in his violent destruction and imminent death. Many boo their disappointment when the old dog makes it.
Graphic, violent, gruesome media and computer games have done their work well. Kids search out and destroy a good part of their leisure time, seeking for more clandestine ways to achieve the annihilation of anyone or anything in their virtual paths. Gangs or roving packs of kids causing death and destruction are acting out that which they watch and listen to daily. Their actions are a natural outcome of all the things that many youngsters are missing in their lives which build strong values structures, such as a stable home life which teaches them principles of good behavior on a daily basis, having a strong work ethic, having a close contact with nature and its life cycles, feeling a responsibility towards others and society. Too many have lives filled with things of little or no substance and are exposed to a constant diet of contorted media with no one caring enough or knowledgeable enough to protect them from it all.
The Lines Must be Redrawn at the Preventive Level to Re-establish Traditional Values
It is time for parents to retake the helm of being the predominant teacher of their children in the values area and clearly draw the lines between right and wrong behavior. It is time for teachers to have a time made available within the curricular framework to identify and teach the same values which reinforce and extend those taught in the home using a methodology which has closure and establishes that which is right and wrong, good and bad confidently.
In his discourses On Walden Pond, Thoreau said, “For every thousand hacking away at the leaves of evil, there is only one striking at the roots.” No where is this axiom more observable than in the area of values. There are innumerable agencies that have been instituted, at an enormous cost to the taxpayers, to try to repair the damage of irresponsible decision-making based upon weak or nonexistent values structures. Very little is being done at the preventive level or the root level. Perhaps not many know how. Perhaps not many know that that’s where the work must be done if the next generation is going to make better decisions than the present one. How do we go about redrawing the lines? We must begin at the root or preventative level.
It is consistently amazing to ponder the discovery that the greatest happenings are controlled at the micro level. The turning of the universe is governed at the atomic and molecular level. The same is true with disease, heredity, and all functions of living organisms. They are governed at the molecule and cell level.
Logical reasoning tells us that the principles governing human behavior will follow like patterns; that successful human behavior does not just happen randomly, but is an outcome of practicing the principles governing successful human behavior. If those principles are not practiced, the outcome is behavior that is not successful. Teaching children in such a manner that they grow up to be healthy, happy, knowledgeable, productive, contributing adults having strong character and capable of providing for themselves and those dependent upon them is governed by certain fundamental principles or values, which terms are synonymous.
There can be much confusion as to which or whose values ought to be taught and can be the topic of heated debate. This need not be so. While there may seem to be a great number of values, actually there are only five root, core, universal, or fundamental values and all other values or principles are a subset or part of one of the core values. These five core values encompass all values, form a hierarchy and bear an interrelationship one with another. A diagram of the hierarchy and values relating to each is shown to the right.