The secret to life is not to have everything you want, but to want everything you have.
This was a quote presented to us at the Dialogue Australasia Seminar in Brisbane March 2009 on Teaching Values across the Curriculum. We had to say if we substantially agreed or disagreed with that comment. We had a moment to reflect, and then to defend our position. I thought I knew what the quote meant, and I was ready to defend my position. Then I heard someone who took a contrary stance, and their reason for it, and I suddenly saw something in the quote I had totally missed. I then found myself writing down in my notes the following three quotes (only guesses from memory) to use in a similar activity in the future, should I ever run one.
A cynic is the person who knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing (Oscar Wilde)
There are only two types of people in the world. Those who have a dogma and know it, and those who have a dogma and don’t (G.K. Chesterton)
In this world you will have problems, but fear not for I have overcome the world (Jesus)
Do you substantially agree or disagree with those quotes? Why or why not? Let the search for meaning, the exchange of ideas, and the discipline of respectful listening begin.
This is a great example of what the seminar did for me. At every turn, it set me thinking, planning, searching through my resources mentally, to look for applications to my own professional situation. In other words, it was absolutely relevant to my needs, it modeled theories and approaches that could be reproduced and adapted for a personal context, and it set a match to the tinder of my own motivation. I wanted to make my subject, religious and values education, come alive for my students.
Our two presenters, Deborah Stevens and Catherine Syms, engaged us for six hours with excellent content based on recent research into the culture and climate of youth values and issues. They modeled the processes they were teaching by having us “do” the various interactive games and discussions, and they facilitated valuable workshops to explore the practical issues of implementing values education in our own workplaces.
The seminar opened with an entertaining and informative overview of the current climate of youth culture and its discontents. I learnt that “nomophobia” is a real diagnosed condition! We explored the gift and the curse that is modern information technology. We were reminded of the power and relentlessness of corporate advertising and its clever use of image to market “stuff.” This set the context for valuing the relevance of values education! There is a need to help our students become discerning thinkers, able to access and process reliable information, and then to ultimately make personally responsible choices.
The Greek model of personhood, where the Head represents reason, the Chest virtues and morals, and the Belly appetite and desire was helpful here. I was reminded of a similar holistic account of “humaness” represented by the Hebrew notion of “heart, and soul and mind.”
From this platform was launched a series of strategies and techniques aimed at presenting values education to students in an engaging and relevant manner. Quotes, contemporary news stories, lively discussion starters, videos, games, and roll plays were presented to encourage the creative teaching and facilitating of values education.
The importance of non-prescriptive processes was modeled. This must not be confused with nihilism or moral indifference but is about methodology. To simply prescribe a value (unless it is a legal “non-negotiable” that all in the group are constrained by, e.g. wear a bike helmet on the road, or do not murder) is to limit meaningful personal ownership. By allowing a healthy and intelligent discussion around the purpose, utility, practicability, or relevance of a value, you invite a deeper respect for why it is a “value.” Why it is indeed “valued” by the individuals or communities who subscribe to it. Personal ownership born of conviction is preferable to forced compliance. The analytical tool of critical thinking is also equipping our students to better resist the power of the manipulators, whether they are commercial, political, or social.
All this was demonstrated to be quite achievable! I loved the idea of the “teachable moment” presented at the workshop. We do not have to spend hundreds of hours re-writing all our curriculums. We simply need to keep our eye on the newspaper, TV, or latest song to find an idea to engage students with. It may only take a minute or two in one lesson.
I have used three recent high profile media stories as simple discussion starters that have engaged students in meaningful “values” debates. The first was Gordon Ramsay’s indiscriminate use of language during his recent tour of Australia (how did the media “frame” the incident? Who knows anything about his story or TV shows? Who do we forgive and not forgive for abusive language? Why can our politicians speak like that all the time to each other in parliament, and no one cares? Was the media being “holier than thou?” What is professionalism? What is abuse? How far has abusive language gone? Was the media’s reaction timely or exaggerated or hypercritical?).
The second incident was a widely criticised joke screened on TV by an Australian comedy show, The Chaser’s War on Everything, about a charity foundation for terminally ill children. (What is decency, indecency, and why? When is free speech not a right? How do we determine the boundary between funny, not funny, and offensive?).
The third concerned Michael Jackson’s legacy. (Will he be remembered for his music or his dysfunctional personality? Is Michael Jackson a hero, a tragedy, or a casualty? How do talent, skill and ability compete with looks, image and popularity for ones self-worth?). A few pictures, a little background to the story, and a rich discussion was had each time. Use the teachable moment.
The seminar also equipped us with numerous resources along the way. The presenters were gracious enough to share all their sources, recommending their favorite web sites and authors as we progressed. We left with a DVD package that outlined some of the political history behind values education in Australia and New Zealand, described the game and discussion ideas shared in the conference, and presented a complete unit of values education lessons themed around the environment. I know that I am particularly grateful for the generosity and effort that goes into a resource kit like that.
This seminar was certainly one of the most beneficial I have attended in terms of relevance to my professional needs. It was intelligent, fun, and engaging, all the things I want my classes to be for my students. There was not a weak session, and the only times my attention drifted was when I was already thinking ahead to some form of implementation back at school and had to snap back into the “now” to prevent missing further nuggets of gold. I am now putting together my own presentation on Values Across the Curriculum for our next staff development day in term 3, 2009. I’m glad I’ve still got their DVD!
Bruce Fleming teaches Religious Education in the Junior School (Years 7 -10) at Alstonville High School, NSW.
Teaching Values across the Curriculum Seminars may be offered in other centres (including WA) if there is demand. Deborah Stevens is planning to offer a practical follow-up series of seminars following Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss’ recent Teaching Ethics seminar. For more information or to register your interest in either seminar, contact the DAN EO.