Recently, there has been an important debate among school personnel, parents, and the general public regarding what values schools should teach (Apple and Beane 1995). Terms like character education, value training, moral education, transmission of cultural values, and socialization have been widely used in the national debate. People from all walks of life and myriad moral and ethical perspectives seem to agree that the moral fiber of our society has deteriorated. Growing inequality and poverty, an erosion of family values, a decline in respect for authority, sex and violence on television, and growing gang behavior among youth are examples of such deterioration.
The Character Education Partnership was launched in March 1993 as a national coalition committed to placing character development at the forefront of the nation's educational agenda (Lickona 1993). As evidence of the importance of this debate, the number of publications about character education is sure to increase rapidly. Entire
issues of established educational journals, like the November 1993 issue of Educational Leadership, have already been devoted to character education.
Defining the Terms
In any discussion, participants should share a common understanding of the terms that frame the discussion. Such agreement is essential in any discussion of the role of public schools in the moral and character education of youth. Ryan (1994) defines several terms commonly used in the character education debate: moral refers to the rightness or wrongness of something based on what a community believes to be good or right in conduct or character; ethical refers to more universal standards and codes of moral principles; values refers to what we desire, a sense of feeling about things; virtue refers to general moral excellence or right action and thinking, but also to specific moral qualities, such as generosity or courage; and character refers to someone's moral constitution or a cluster of virtues. Although A Dictionary of the Social Sciences (1964) provides alternative definitions for these terms, Ryan's delineations are generally accepted by the character education community and provide the operational definitions used in this article.
Proponents of character education exert pressure on local schools to teach morals. This concern has a long history among those concerned with the role of education in society, including Aristotle, the Founding Fathers, Horace Mann, and John Dewey (1916, 1938). The public's perception of a decline in moral values is reflected in its concern with a lack of discipline in everyday life, pervasive drug use, and an increase in violence in schools, as indicated in recent Gallup Poll surveys (1991, 1992, 1993). Critics argue that schools either do not teach moral principles and values or they teach values that conflict with those held by these critics. Teachers, on the other hand, argue that the schools have always taught moral principles and values, either directly or through the "hidden curriculum."
The purpose of this article is to describe several instructional approaches that enhance the skills necessary to make sound moral judgments based on ethical principles and public values. Much of the criticism surrounding the teaching of ethical principles is due to the confusion between personal and public, as well as religious and secular, values. The argument that it is both the historic and proper function of public schools to teach the principles (see Table 1) that are the foundation of our constitutional democracy is compelling. A principal mission of public education has been, and remains, citizenship education (Allen and Stevens 1994; Barr, Barth, and Shermis 1977; Butts 1988). Logically, then, it follows that the ethical principles schools promote should be consistent with those embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution (Lutz 1987) and its interpretation as reflected in United States Supreme Court decisions.
Three ethical principles embodied in these documents that are fundamental to grappling with moral issues in the classroom are respect for persons, beneficence, and justice (The Belmont Report 1978).
1. Respect for Persons. This principle implies that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, while persons with diminished autonomy are
entitled to protection. Children, disabled persons (in some cases), and the infirm constitute persons with diminished autonomy. Four important rules may be derived from this concept (Levine 1987, 8).
A. Informed Consent. Students and parents can make responsible decisions only when they have all the information. They need to know the consequences of decisions regarding course selection, discipline procedures, academic placement, and behavior contracts. School officials must provide all necessary information to both respect and support students in the decision-making process.
B. The Consequences of Telling the Truth. Often students approach teachers with serious personal problems such as abuse, sexual harassment, or peer difficulties. If a second or third party must be informed, as in the case of child abuse, the student needs to be informed regarding what will be done with the information.
C. Confidentiality. Although it is true that there are situations that require reporting, in most cases student confidence should be maintained. Although student grades should be confidential, however, it is the individual's prerogative to share such information with others.
D. Privacy. Students have a right to keep their personal belongings private unless "sufficient cause" exists that may require searches by school or law enforcement officials.
2. Beneficence. This principle is viewed by the medical profession as the most basic ethical canon. The Hippocratic Oath declares, "I will keep them from harm and injustice" (Levine 1987, 9). Again, four operational rules follow, which provide a positive model for classroom management, affording students protection and teaching respect for the individual:
A. One should not inflict evil or harm.
B. One should prevent evil or harm.
C. One should remove evil or harm.
D. One should promote good.
3. Justice. This principle is based on what is fair or deserved. Equals should be treated equally, thus expanding the concept of individual rights and responsibility. The concept of individual rights, a core value in American society, is the foundation of our legal system. That individual responsibility is the flip side of such rights is axiomatic, or should be!
Butts (1988) delineates twelve important values to teach students. He divides this list into two categories, namely, the obligations of citizenship and the rights of citizenship (see Table 1). Because there can be no rights without concomitant responsibilities, it is this juxtaposition we need to help students understand and incorporate into both their vision of active and responsible citizenship and personal behavior patterns.
The Role of Social Studies
Although the entire school program should reflect a clear commitment to promoting civil values, social studies plays a unique role in teaching active and responsible citizenship. It is only in social studies curricula that knowledge, skills, values, and commitment to participation may blend into a concerted program of citizenship education. As an "integration of experience and knowledge concerning human relations for the purpose of citizenship education," social studies offers students the opportunity to become good citizens (Barr, Barth, and Shermis 1977). Sadly, the reality is much less positive. In fact, much of what passes for social studies curricula and instruction is designed to promote good citizenship in a rather narrow sense of citizenship transmission (Barr, Barth, and Shermis 1977).
There are curricular approaches suitable for the promotion of the ethical principles described above, the most effective of which allow students to imagine themselves confronted by moral dilemmas. Character, morality, and ethics are typically demonstrated by people faced with problems that are difficult to resolve, in which the easiest course of action is often one that demands the least character and ethics. Methods that allow students to project themselves into situations characterized by such dilemmas may leave a lasting impression on students. Three operational approaches of this kind are the use of literature, especially drama, the use of court cases (both real Supreme Court decisions and mock trials), and the promotion of active classroom discussion of selected moral dilemmas.
Society's literature has influenced its moral education since ancient times, when the heroes in the Iliad and the Odyssey were, in a real sense, the moral tutors of the Greeks. Character education and literature are closely linked and complementary in the development of active and responsible citizens.
Bettleheim (1977) has stated that the most important and, at the same time, most difficult task in child rearing is helping youngsters find meaning in life. "To find meaning one must be able to transcend the narrow confines of a self-centered existence and believe that one will make a significant contribution to life" (Bettleheim 1977, 1). Transmission of cultural heritage is an essential ingredient in this search for meaning in life. Literature is an excellent vehicle through which to achieve this educational and cultural goal.
Kilpatrick (1992, 1993) cites a number of reasons for the use of stories as a means of moral education. In a heroic story, in particular, everything revolves around the character of the hero, and his success or failure in the exercise of virtue. The virtues of loyalty to one's group and one's principles are highlighted. This moral sentiment often reflects the ethical principles of a culture to be passed to succeeding generations.
Drama can be a particularly effective literary medium for the transmission of values. One particularly appropriate play for social studies classes is Arthur Miller's The Crucible, written as a critique of McCarthyism in the 1950s, but set in Salem village in 1690. In this drama, several adolescent girls accuse Tituba, a slave from Barabados, of witchcraft, setting in motion a tempest that ends with the hanging of nineteen innocent people and the imprisonment of many more. An excellent introductory work for character education is James Clavell's The Children's Story, a provocative play showing how the efforts of a highly skilled new teacher result in a transformation of the values of an elementary classroom.
Supreme Court Cases
A second approach to conveying the three ethical principles described above is the systematic study of United States Supreme Court cases. As an extension, students should also be encouraged to participate in mock trials. Such activities will enable them to begin to formulate a value structure based on the Court's interpretation of the United States Constitution.
Students may particularly benefit from an investigation of court cases that apply to their lives. Sgroi suggests the following cases (1993):
Students are People: An examination of the Tinker Case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court extended free speech rights to students. Using the principle of respect, the Court wrote, "Young people are now considered 'persons' and do not shed their humanity at the 'school house gate' or anywhere else" (Sgroi 1993, 22).
Children and the Supreme Court-
The Barnette Case, Part II: The court decided whether or not Jehovah's Witnesses should be compelled to salute the American flag, examining the relationship between minority and majority rights. The court ruled in favor of the Jehovah's Witnesses' complaint, citing the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause protections of minority rights.
The Brown Case. Using the principle of justice, the Court dealt with the serious problem of race relations. Schools were ordered to desegregate. The Supreme Court declared with one voice that no longer would Blacks be treated as second class citizens in the field of education.
Other appropriate Supreme Court cases recommended by Sgroi include the following:
The Dred Scott Decision: This examined the concept of "separate but equal."
TEL. v. New Jersey: Do school administrators have the right to search students' personal property?
The United States v. Nixon. Is the President of the United States above the law? (see also Mixdorf 1987).
These encompass just a few of the cases that support important democratic values and may help students develop ethical perspectives on important legal issues. Through examination of both the majority opinion and dissenting views in each case, students have the opportunity to wrestle with the value conflicts that were decided in court. Through study of these issues and the ensuing discussions, students will begin to clarify their own thinking.
Mock trials are another excellent way to engage individuals in important moral issues (Allen and Stevens 1994). The kind of issue that lends itself well to this kind of approach would be the conflict between freedom of expression (First Amendment) and the right to a fair and speedy trial (Sixth Amendment), as each relates to a newspaper reporter who refuses to divulge his sources in a drug-ring investigation. (For an example of this kind of activity, see "Protect that Source," in Allen and Stevens 1994, 166-69.) Mock trials have the added value of allowing the class to go beyond the limits of established case law, and to consider the community values that are affected by a case.
A third valuable curricular approach is the introduction of moral dilemmas to students in a debate format (Kohlberg 1981). What is right or wrong, good or bad, and what is fair can all be discussed using examples that are of interest to young people. Environmental concerns, endangered species, social issues, and local community debates are all excellent sources for creating moral dilemmas. The following example illustrates one possibility.
The New York Times article "Should Children Be Told If Genes Predict Illness?" (Kolata 1994) featured a discussion of whether or not children should be tested for genetic traits that lead to disease and subsequently informed, if they possess such genes, of the likelihood of their contracting the indicated disease. The impetus for such a debate resulted, in part from the efforts of genetic researchers to isolate the breast cancer gene. What was discovered, among other things, was that 85 percent of the relatives of women who had this particular gene were at risk for the disease. The complicating factor in the debate is that many of these "at-risk" relatives are children. Thus, the question was, should they be informed of the risk?
Questions posed by this moral dilemma may include the following:
1. Should researchers inform both parents and children of what they know?
2. Should researchers inform only parents of what they know and leave the question of informing the children to parents?
3. Do people in general have a right of access to medical information about themselves?
4. Do parents have a right of access to medical information about their children?
5. Is there a benefit to knowing the presence of a gene associated with a particular disease?
6. What impact might knowledge of such a gene have on a young person's self-esteem?
As researchers uncover ways to identify individuals at risk of various diseases plaguing humankind, the issue of whether or not to inform potential victims becomes of paramount concern because our ability to predict the incidence of certain fatal diseases far exceeds our ability to cure them. Furthermore, as the number of tests available to identify and predict the incidence of disease increases-to date, some nine hundred genes have been identified that can cause genetic diseases-the issue of testing and its concomitant expense gives rise to further debate. The reality is that scientists can predict diseases much sooner than they can cure them-a sobering reality indeed.
The future will depend, in some measure, on society's willingness and ability to struggle openly with moral dilemmas and make hard choices. A proper function of social studies education is the provision of opportunities to develop an ethical framework from which decisions may be derived. One characteristic of maturity is the ability to tolerate ambiguity. Appropriate educational experiences should provide early adolescents with the intellectual tools, based on the ethical principles described above, for participating in the ambiguous and complex realities of active and responsible citizenship.
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Robert L. Stevens is Associate Professor of Middle Grade and Secondary Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. Michael G. Allen is Professor of Middle Grades and Secondary Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.