Values, Character & Moral Education

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Identify some of the ways that people acquire values.

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Values represent a person's most cherished ideals, like freedom, truth, and equality, and values guide behaviors and decisions. The genesis of values is a philosophical question—the question of nature vs. nurture. Many people believe that human beings were designed by a Creator with certain core values.

The development of a person's values is also influenced by the world around him. Certainly children learn values from watching and listening to their parents and other adults as they are growing up. As children grow they may also learn values from other adults in their lives like teachers, coaches, or members of the clergy. For example, the value of hard work may be learned through participation in a sports team.

As children get older, peers and friends also nurture and develop a their core values. As teenagers struggle to find their place in the culture of school and peer-groups, they many conform to the values of the group.

Life experiences can also impact and change a person's values, whether the experiences are positive or negative. For example, being bullied in school may develop a core value of empathy or compassion later in life. Overcoming prejudice or discrimination may create a passion for equality within a person's system of core values.

Lastly, the culture will influence the development of values. For example, Americans tend to value individualism and competition. In many Asian cultures, such as Japan, the obligation to the group and collectivism are core values. Culture provides a framework for socially accepted behavior patterns that influence personal values.

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The first place where people begin to acquire values is in their home. They do this in two ways. First, their parents and extended family may give overt moral instruction, telling them that, for example, stealing and bullying are bad. Another way people acquire moral values in the home is by observing and emulating the ways in which their parents behave.

Next, people may acquire moral through education. This might include discussions of academic honesty or mandated training about bullying or other important issues.

People often acquire moral values through their peer group. This is done mainly by observation and imitation. People who do not follow the accepted values of their peer groups may find themselves socially excluded.

Finally, people may acquire social values through media and entertainment, absorbing the notion of good and bad ways of acting on the basis of how heroes and villains in books, movies, or video games behave.

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