Teaching Moral Development in our Society
I received a phone call the other day from a distressed principal and teacher of a small charter school in my state. This school has been in existence for about twenty years as a private school but had recently been granted a public charter. A charter school is a school that is publicly funded and privately operated. Because it is now a public school, she was concerned that she may be breaking some law for having what some may interpret as religious influence in some things they were doing, such as reciting the pledge of allegiance, having a moment of silence, singing patriotic songs with the word God in them, or quoting from the Founding Fathers when the quote contained references to religious themes.
I assured her that not one of the things she mentioned is against the law and that all that is heard nowadays about not doing these things are scare tactics from those who would have us completely abandon all religious influence and teach history differently than the way it really happened. Of course, they have been very successful with these scare tactics in getting some people to believe it is illegal. Rather than risk a court fight, they succumb and as a result many of our schools today are completely void of moral teachings and true history. Is it any wonder then that students are floundering and, not having any encouragement in their lives to be better people of character, they wonder off into unknown and destructive paths?
The Law Actually Requires Such Teaching!
As we have mentioned before, the laws of some states actually require ” all public schools in the State which are sustained or in any manner supported by public funds shall give instruction in the essentials, sources and history of the United States Constitution,. and instruction in American institutions and ideals. .” (Arizona Revised Statutes 15-710) And if that isn’t enough, our state law further declares to public school teachers that “Willful neglect or failure … to observe and carry out the requirements of ARS 15-710 is sufficient cause for dismissal …” (ARS 15-508)
The Seeds of Moral Development In Youth Are Found
In Learning the True History of America
It is a great satisfaction to me as a teacher to hear repeated in various ways year after year, that our high school class on U.S. Government and Constitution is the one class which students enjoy and learn the most. Even one student who didn’t receive a good grade in the class was heard saying, “I learned more and enjoyed more from that class than any other in all my high school years!”
I have thought much about what exactly makes this class so appealing to young people. We begin the class by studying in detail The Twenty-Eight Principles of Liberty outlined in The Five Thousand Year Leap. These principles really make sense to most young people. For example:
The First Principle declares: The only reliable basis for sound government and just human relations is Natural Law . Most Americans have never studied Natural Law. They are not conversant with it. William Blackstone, whom the Founders loved to quote, said that Natural Law is the order in which the Creator set everything in motion to make it work properly. In class discussion it is pointed out that if one tries to create a government against Natural Law, such as forbidding individuals from enjoying the fruits of their labors by prohibiting ownership of private property, the government will fail. By the same logic, if human beings attempt to live in violation of the Creator’s Natural laws by killing, stealing, lying, coveting, etc., they will not be happy.
Why do young people relate so well to this principle? Because they see in it universal and unchanging truth. They see in it a reason to have faith in goodness, because goodness always wins out. As they become more conversant with Natural Law, they begin to see its affect everywhere in their lives. They begin to love it and seek after it and relate to it.
The Sixth Principle declares: All men are created equal. When one appreciates this concept which lies at the root of American government, many things fall into place for a young person. For example, if we are all created equal, as Locke and Jefferson so eloquently explained, then no one has any authority to rule over another person without his consent. This necessitates a government of limited and carefully defined powers. It explains why arbitrary rule by decree or executive order is wrong. It gives a young person hope that they really are to be treated equally in this world and reminds them that each of their peers is entitled to be respected as an equal creation. There is a certain reverence for others and for the Creator which is engendered by such a belief.
The Ninth Principle declares: To protect man’s rights, God has revealed certain principles of divine law. After the Creator placed us here, He did not leave us alone to flounder around and try to discover laws of good human relations. He gave them to us right from the beginning: Don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your parents for giving you life and learning, don’t kneel down to some rock or stone and attribute His creations to it, rest one day a week from you normal labors and turn your attention to the Creator’s laws and duties. America’s Founders made it clear that reverence for these laws of human happiness is the only path for national progress and security. Departure from these would bring a decline and eventually a whirlwind of destruction. One young student was so excited about these Founders’ beliefs he burst out in class recently and said, “These are the Ten Commandments-they make so much sense-they are just plain good things to do-why are some people so against them!”
Other principles such as avoiding entangling alliances which have dragged the U.S. into many wars, respecting the establishment of the family, avoiding the burden of personal and national debt–these principles of our Founding Fathers have all brought some exciting student discussions in the classroom. Most leave feeling as though they want to be better people and treat others better. No teacher could have a better reward than this. This is what the teaching and learning of history is supposed to do to our youth. This is teaching moral development.
Moral Development Is the Only Sure Way
To Give Purpose and Meaning to the Fight for Liberty
Alvin R. Dyer relates the tragic results of no moral training in our youth:
“There was an episode that took place in the Korean War that was very hard for me to take, and hard for me to understand. I am sure that it was much harder for those who were in it who were called upon to endure the privation of that war or any war for that matter. After the war was over, the information concerning the behavior of our young men who had been captured by the Korean Communists revealed the fact that they behaved most ashamedly and with almost cowardice. In the interrogations that were made of our young men, there were less than 5% of them that even knew why they were fighting and what was meant by liberty and freedom and the American way of life. Less than 5% of them were reactionary to the point that they wanted to fight to live, though they had been taken prisoners, and I know that that must not have been a very easy life. But the official records also reveal that 38% of the American soldiers that were taken prisoners by the Koreans, who died in prison camps, didn’t die from starvation or from any punishment. They simply quit and lay down and died, because they did not have the moral stability to fight. This was the disgraceful thing about all of it. Nearly 4 out of 10 of the American Korean prisoners died because they didn’t have the will to live. They did not have any reason or rhyme for what they were there for.”
Our enemies in that disastrous war learned that the American soldiers who stood firm against all their brainwashing tactics and did not give up for lack of purpose were those men who had strong moral training and a sense of purpose for their life and their country. The communists knew they were mostly from the Bible-belt areas of the United States. This explains why a massive effort was made in the ensuing years to strip religious and moral training from every public school in this country. Our enemies know well the source of America’s strength.
The question we must ask is: When our youth face the coming challenges, will they have a sense of purpose for themselves and their country which will carry them through?
Teaching Moral Development in Our Schools
The crying need for moral development in our youth is self-evident. Recently, we undertook a major program of Teaching Moral Development throughout our high school. The results have been amazing. We have had a remarkable decrease in the number of discipline incidents, more positive teaching experiences, and more expressions of happier students as a result. Much of the points made in the remaining portion of this letter were taught to us in material called Teaching Moral Development written by Dr. A. Lynn Scoresby, who published a book in 1996 entitled Bringing Up Moral Children in an Immoral World.
Dr. Scoresby says:
“.most people have a hard time defining morality or moral development. Many think it applies mostly to human sexuality, is the same as religion, or is based on rules of conduct. Others think there is no definition except for personal preference. Except thinking there is no definition, moral development may be about any of these and more. But it is mostly about the development of social competence. It is a competence that permits individuals to achieve their own objectives without hurting other people. It is a competence which includes individual skills in helping others when there may be a cost. It as a competence which includes a sense of personal integrity motivating individuals to help others even when there is pressure not to help. It is a competence that refers our thoughts and feelings to our own actions creating a form of honesty that is clear and at the same time accurate. All of these are possible if individuals have a sense of responsibility for themselves and apply it skillfully to help rather than hurt themselves or others.”
Absence of Moral Development Nearly Everywhere
Dr. Scoresby points out that in the most important areas of our lives, many are not receiving this most needed training. In families, nearly 70 percent of our nation’s children live in families where all the parents work-an average of now 55 hours a week-resulting in very little training of children. In schools, the fear of failing our children has brought an acceleration of required work, more rules, and the current god of education-more technology, which he says may be a false substitute for real learning. Even many churches have adopted the strategies of American business and no longer providing a sense of purpose and meaning for many people.
Moral Development Can Increase the Motivation to Learn
Traditionally, teachers have used grades, praise, attention, recognition and other types of incentives to motivate students. Some respond and some don’t. But instilling into the minds and hearts of the students through skillful class discussions, a set of ideas such as the 28 Principles of Liberty referenced above, can be a powerful motivator to better performance. If the discussion is not based on merely complying with a set of rules, but more directed to connecting individual abilities to what harms or helps themselves and others, students learn about integrity, responsibility, self-discipline, decision-making, competent reasoning as well as cooperation, empathy, sacrifice, patience, etc.
Moral Development Improves Classroom Management
Teaching the United States Constitution has an interesting parallel to our program of Teaching Moral Development. In Dr. Scoresby’s Moral Development outline, teachers are taught how to take themselves as rulemakers and enforcers out of the picture. We have “class meetings” where rules are discussed and adopted, tasks are enumerated and decided upon, and relationship conditions between individuals are identified and established. Then when a rule is violated or tasks not accomplished or relationships harmed, a class meeting is called and members of the class are asked to identify the problem and remedy. Does this not have a parallel with the operation of our country? It was a group of wise men who decided upon the rules, the tasks, and the relationships of the parts involved. When there is a violation, there is a provision for peaceful self-repair by deliberation of a group. What an example of Moral Development!
Teaching Moral Development Presents a Positive Method of Dealing with Misbehavior
When Dr. Scoresby’s staff came to instruct us on Moral Development, his daughter told an interesting little story about how her father, dealt with a rule infraction when she was younger. It seems she broke curfew and returned home an hour late at 1:00am. She knew her father would probably take away privileges for a while. After they talked, his pronouncement to her was, “I see you need some more practice at this. You will keep the agreed to rules next time, won’t you!” She could hardly believe it. More practice! She never was late again.
I have used this same procedure at school. We have a dress code. When a student is sent to me for dress code violation, I usually ask, “What has happened here?” The student knows what rule he has broken and he tells me. I then ask, “What were you thinking when you dressed that way this morning?” They usually see the illogic nature of their decision. I ask, “Are you a person who can be trusted, a person of your word?” They always say yes. I say, “Then I want you word you will never wear that again.” Some have been pained at having to give their promise but the word is out–don’t do that, Mr. Taylor will make you promise! In Moral Development, misbehavior offers an opportunity for more teaching and practice!
The Special Calling of Good Teachers
Armed with true history of the Founders and classroom methods to guide the moral development of our young people, teachers may claim the compliment paid to them by Benjamin Franklin: “I think, moreover, that talents for the education of youth are the gift of God; and that he on whom they are bestowed, whenever a way is opened for the use of them, is as strongly called as if he heard a voice from heaven.” ( The Five Thousand Year Leap, p. 55)
God bless our children and those who teach them.