Teaching young people values is key to them finding a sense of purpose and living fulfilled lives, writes CATHERINE SYMS, in press.co.nz on 8 September 2008.
– The full text is reproduced here as it goes to the heart of DAN’s raison d’etre –
I am heartened to see that the Ministry of Education in the new curriculum, to be implemented in all New Zealand schools in 2010, is at last beginning to take seriously the issue of “values education” as a key component of our educational process.
It is also timely that the values education debate has been pushed into the public domain with the visit of values education expert and philosopher Dr Peter Vardy, vice-principal of Heythrop College, University of London who delivered a series of lectures on this subject to students and teachers in Auckland (and in Wellington and Christchurch last April).
Dr Vardy has been hugely influential through the Dialogue Australasia Network in promoting Values Education across our region during the last seven years and is Britain’s leading expert in the field.
A keynote speaker at the Unesco conference on Values Education in Adelaide in 2004 and the UN Human Rights Commission conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, Vardy has been consistently clear and challenging with his message. Today’s youth are growing up in a Western society which increasingly offers them little real meaning and purpose. They live in a world that challenges past certainties whilst embracing tolerance and relativism. The exploding information wave coupled with the fast-paced development of technology has led to a succession of hugely significant ethical dilemmas on which our young people are ill-equipped to respond. New Zealand statistics in relation to teenage drug and alcohol abuse, sexual health, self-harm, suicide, crime and addictive consumerism bear witness to this hopelessness. “Traditional values” of justice, truth and goodness, concepts with which the Ancient Greek philosophers were fully preoccupied, are increasingly marginalised. For some this challenge has provoked a counter-reaction and we see a rise in fundamentalism across the globe. For them, absolute certainty provides comfort and security and gives strength to their conviction.
The growth of this phenomenon is self-evident today in major religious groups whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu. Inculcation of values, from this perspective, is about indoctrinating the young into the certainties of their own truth. While this may appear positive to some, it does not allow young people to think, grow and find a perspective of their own. Frequently, the impact of indoctrination is either a frighteningly unhealthy fanaticism, rebellion or a later complete rejection of certainty.
For Vardy, neither direction is helpful in supporting young people in finding a sense of meaning and purpose and living a fulfilled human life. Instead, successful values education is about asking the questions: what does it mean to be fully human? What can help us achieve our potential? What acts diminish our human nature? In his view, the search for truth and justice needs to be integral to a holistic education. Good values are critical to foster a developing sense of our common humanity. Our young people need to be engaging with questions of truth and goodness. Our teachers need to be properly trained to facilitate this highly complex and critical quest.
As a teacher of values education for more than 12 years I fully concur with the Vardy model. I have seen it work. My students are not interested in being “told” what is right and wrong. They have to be encouraged to think, to be challenged and to engage philosophically and intellectually with questions of ultimate importance. We are doing our young people, the democratic population of tomorrow, no favours at all in either ignoring or inculcating. As educators we are failing our students if we ignore these things.
I conclude with the following passage from Richard Pring’s book Personal and Social Education in the Curriculum:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses, women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is ‘Help you students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.
Nothing more need be said.
Diocesan School for Girls is a member of DAN.
Catherine and Deborah Stevens will conduct Teaching Values Across the Curriculum Seminars in Australian centres during 23-27 March 2009. Read more…