Chapter 4: How Can Ethical Behavior Be Taught?
Teaching Children Ethical Behavior: An Overview
About the author: Wray Herbert is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, a weekly news magazine.
Only in contemporary America could selecting a family anthology be considered a political act. On one cultural flank is famous Republican moralist William Bennett’s bestselling Book of Virtues, a hefty collection of tales, fables and poems celebrating universal virtues such as courage, compassion and honesty. Side by side with the Bennett tome in many bookstores is Herbert Kohl and Colin Greer’s A Call to Character, a similar assemblage of proverbs and stories organized around equally cherished values. No one could blame the casual browser for arbitrarily grabbing one or the other. But it’s not a casual choice. These two volumes represent a fundamental and acrimonious division over what critics call the most pressing issue facing our nation today: how we should raise and instruct the next generation of American citizens.
A Fundamental Division over Ethics
The differences between the two volumes of moral instruction aren’t even that subtle, once you’re familiar with the vocabulary of America’s culture war. Both agree on qualities of character like kindness and responsibility. But look deeper: Is unwavering patriotism more desirable than moral reasoning? Does discretion trump courage, or the other way around? Read the Book of Virtues to your children and...
(The entire section is 3675 words.)
Character Education Programs Teach Students Ethical Behavior
About the author: Sanford N. McDonnell is the chairman of the Character Education Partnership, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that encourages schools to stress ethics. He is also chairman emeritus of McDonnell Douglas Corporation, an aerospace company in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1748 Baron Charles de Montesquieu published his magnum opus, The Spirit of Laws, a work that had a profound effect upon our founding fathers. In it Montesquieu developed the concept of the separation of powers, which formed the basis of our Constitution over two hundred years ago. In his work Montesquieu also explored the relationship which must exist between a people and their governments without which that form of government cannot survive. For example, a dictatorship depends upon fear and when fear disappears the dictatorship is overthrown. A monarchy depends upon the loyalty of the people and dies when loyalty dies. The most desirable form of government is a free republic, obviously; but it is also the most fragile form of government because it depends upon a virtuous people. What did he mean by a “virtuous” people? Virtuous means living by high ethical values. What do we mean by ethics? One of the best definitions was given by Dr. Albert Schweitzer: “In a general sense, ethics is the name that we give to our concern for good behavior. We feel an obligation to consider not only our own personal well-being but also that...
(The entire section is 2198 words.)
Character Education Programs Do Not Teach Students Ethical Behavior
About the author: Alfie Kohn writes and lectures widely on education and human behavior. His books include Punished by Rewards and Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community.
What goes by the name of character education nowadays is, for the most part, a collection of exhortations and extrinsic inducements designed to make children work harder and do what they’re told. Even when other values are also promoted—caring or fairness, say—the preferred method of instruction is tantamount to indoctrination. The point is to drill students in specific behaviors rather than to engage them in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being. This is the impression one gets from reading articles and books by contemporary proponents of character education as well as the curriculum materials sold by the leading national programs. The impression is only strengthened by visiting schools that have been singled out for their commitment to character education. . . .
Some of the most popular schoolwide strategies for improving students’ character seem dubious on their face. When President Bill Clinton mentioned the importance of character education in his 1996 State of the Union address, the only specific practice he recommended was requiring students to wear uniforms. The premises here are first, that children’s character can be improved by forcing them to dress alike, and second, that if adults...
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Studying Classic Literature Can Teach Students Ethics
About the author: Christina Hoff Sommers is a professor of philosophy at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the W.H. Brady Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. She is the editor of Right and Wrong: Basic Readings in Ethics, the coeditor of Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life: Introductory Readings in Ethics, and the author of Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women.
A lot is heard today about how Johnny can’t read, can’t write, and the trouble he has finding France on a map. It also is true that Johnny is having difficulty distinguishing right from wrong. Along with illiteracy and innumeracy, deep moral confusion must be added to the list of educational problems. Increasingly, today’s young people know little or nothing about the Western moral tradition.
This was demonstrated by Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who frequently does “man-on-the-street” interviews. One night, he collared some young people to ask them questions about the Bible. “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?,” he asked two college-age women. One replied, “Freedom of speech?” Leno said to the other, “Complete this sentence: Let he who is without sin. . . .” Her response was “Have a good time?” Leno then turned to a young man and asked, “Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?” The confident answer was...
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Children Can Learn Ethics Through Hunting
About the author: A freelance writer based in Kansas, Michael Pearce contributes frequently to Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, and other hunting magazines. He is the author of three books about hunting and shooting.
I talked with a boyhood friend a while back, a guy with whom I’d shared bass ponds and bobwhite hunts years ago. As is usual for thirtysomething parents, talk eventually turned to our children.
Spending Time with Kids
Like many parents, he was confused and concerned about his two teenagers. The word coming from school wasn’t good, nor were relationships around the house. “Even when we’re together, we’re not really together,” he said, admitting he was worried about the kids’ lack of commitment, responsibility and respect. He eventually got around to the old cliché: “Kids these days. . . .”
When his complaining turned into pensive silence, I asked him a question for which I already knew the answer. “Are you getting into the field much these days?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve always wanted to get the boys out hunting, but I just haven’t had the time.” In that response, he summed up one of the reasons so many “kids these days” act the way they do. Much of the problem is “parents these days.”
Whether it’s because they’re trying to run a household on their own or hustling to maintain a standard of...
(The entire section is 1900 words.)