Sunday, September 05, 2010

On (Not) Teaching Values

Over on the EC Ning, Michaeld asked me 'is a reluctance to teach others your values some sort of value you hold? Do you try to pass it along?'

He followed it up with another comment in which he asked 'Are values merely "mine" or "yours" and not "correct" or "incorrect" (or "good" or "bad")?'

In short - no, I don't try to teach my values. But I will explain them if I'm asked. Or if someone asks me to do something that goes against my values, I'll explain why I've declined.

And I think it's wrong for public schools (or their employees) to teach values directly. This goes for liberal values as well. Teaching about what recycling is and how it works? Fine. Telling students that THEY should recycle? Not so fine. Schools do have a responsibility to teach students how they should behave within the context of being at school. So "we don't throw rocks at recess" is okay, as is "we don't chew gum in class." But "nice people don't ever play with guns" is NOT okay.

Now, that's not to say that I'm going to peach on a colleague for doing something like this. But I will think less of that person as a professional, even if they happen to be teaching a value I espouse.

OTOH, I think it's impossible to avoid having your values influence your instruction indirectly. And I don't think that's a bad thing, either; they're a part of who you are, and who you are should affect how you teach.

I haven't the foggiest idea where I developed this. It definitely bears more thought.

Now, none of this actually bears much connection to my disdain for abstinence-only education (I support abstinence-plus). I'm against abstinence-only because it's pro-ignorance: those who teach it have decided to avoid giving students information because it's "unnecessary." Of course, every high school health program I've ever heard of teaches the effects alcohol has on the body. How is that any more "necessary" than information about contraception? After all, drinking is illegal if you're under 21! And if we're telling them what to do if they suspect a friend has alcohol poisoning (or is high) aren't we promoting illegal activities?!

Protecting people by encouraging them to be ignorant smacks of indoctrination, and it turns my stomach.

Image thanks to


Mrs. Chili said...

I struggle with this all the time. My values ABSOLUTELY influence how I do my job, and I have the added layer of being able to choose my own curriculum materials, so I have to be particularly vigilant to not turn my classes into "Mrs. Chili, 101." I think I strike a balance, but I keep writing about what I do, just so I can have others look in on it and tell me how THEY see it. After all, I can only see with my own eyes.

mlu said...

So do you avoid communicating that plagiarism, bullying, and stealing are bad? And do you avoid suggesting that slavery was bad or that the Women's Suffrage movement was good?

Clix said...

Actually, slavery and suffrage haven't come up that much. And... I really don't think I get into how "bad" plagiarism, bullying, and stealing are. "Stay focused on your work, please" is a phrase I use a lot.

I don't have lessons on bullying or stealing, but I do go over plagiarism - what it is, and what my expectations are for documentation.

Liz said...

I don't believe you. There's no way you can't teach values. Your values are a part of who you are.

I'm not saying you have a lesson plan that says, "Standard 10.4.6 The Dangers of Growing Up in a Single Parent Home..." but your values come through in who you are. Just given the fact that you, "explain them if I'm asked. Or if someone asks me to do something that goes against my values, I'll explain why I've declined." Is that not teaching? If I'm explaining the difference between independent and interdependent, am I not teaching?

Look, I think I get what you're saying - I have the same problem when it comes to religion and politics in the classroom - I don't try to indoctinate my students into believing what I believe - in fact, I try not to let them know until the end of a discussion - or maybe even the end of the year... but certain values you can't get around teaching - such as mlu's "bullying is bad," because if you as the teacher don't reprimand the bully you're sending the message that it's ok - which (also a value) is probably not the school environment you're going for.)

So, you can look down on me if you want, but I teach values. I don't teach them outright, and I work all the time at staying open-minded, but I'm sure they come through in who I am.

-Philip, not Liz.

Liz said...

Ok... and I know I said "I'm not saying you have a lesson plan that says, "Standard 10.4.6 The Dangers of Growing Up in a Single Parent Home..."" but that might even come up too...

Just look through some of these: 7.2.5, 7.1.17, 7.3.13: Human Systems: Define the term ethnocentrism and give examples of how this attitude affected the relationships between the English settlers and the Kikuyu in Kenya and the British immigrants and the aborigines of Australia.

Then look at the resource materials...

Clix said...

Well, like I said - the issue I have is whether it's direct or indirect.

For example, with bullying, I don't teach that "bullying is bad." I teach that "bullying is not acceptable in school." That's different for two reasons - (a) it's contextual, and (b) it makes it a disciplinary issue, not a moral issue.

I think it's harder to do in the humanities because in those courses in particular, our culture's values also influence the way the standards are worded and the curricular resources that are used.

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