Synopsis: Public schools are realizing the importance of value education in their curriculums. As home schoolers, we should also teach our religious values to our children as we teach all other curriculums. Literature, science, history, sports, and even math can have religious applications. We should help our children see that “secular” learning and “religious” learning are not separate, but when put together, they allow us to understand truth.
The need for teaching values to children has been the responsibility of parents since Adam and Eve (see Moses 5:10-12). Adam and Eve “made ALL things known unto their sons and their daughters.” Martin Luther’s mother wrote him a letter while he was at the seminary (or religious school). He was away from home and she was worried about his sense of values. She counseled him to “avoid whatever weakens your reason, … impairs the tenderness of your conscience, … obscures your sense of God, … takes off your relish for spiritual things. Increase the authority of the body over the mind.”
As parents in modern society, we have an even greater need to be concerned about the moral development of our children. We live in a world of school shootings, violence, rage, pornography, sexual promiscuity, and the loss of innocence at a very young age. Yet, what are parents doing about? As A. Lynn Scoresby puts it: “Some of us start out as parents with enthusiasm, believing in the enjoyment we will find… Parenthood has its rewards, but we begin to understand why so many of us need help. We begin to rely on churches, schools, other institutions and even television to assume major roles in rearing our children. Financial necessities and other pressures exhaust us. Teaching children some important lesson often requires so much effort, so much energy, that we are secretly thankful when a church program involves our children, or when a good television program occupies their attention…Unfortunately, however the people in church, school, or other institutions, though they may be helpful, are limited in their ability to influence a child’s development. Specifically, in the absence of strong parental guidance, organizations are notably ineffective in one important area: developing morality. Any thoughtful observer can see that during the past several years, while parents have increasingly turned to other people and organizations for moral training of their children, increased numbers of children are less moral (Scoresby, p. 2-3)”.
Because of the lack of parental moral teaching, public school systems have to take up the slack and teach moral or value curriculum as part of their school day. Some problems with this is which morals should be taught and how should they be taught. There are many value education or moral education curricula in the marketplace for public schools. I was on the curriculum board for Montgomery County, Maryland schools when the school district was starting to institute this kind of curriculum in their schools. Some of them are very good. But, some of them, I disagree with the way morals are taught and/or what is being taught. The other problem with having to institute an entire moral curriculum in the schools is that it takes precious learning time away from the other curriculums. Finally, school is not the place for such education because it should be and must be taught in the home where the most powerful examples of morality are: the parents.
We are blessed as home school parents because we are our children’s teachers in every sense of the word. We must do all we can to teach ALL truth to our children. As we teach each subject area, we can incorporate moral discussions and moral teachings. Daily devotionals and daily scripture reading are imperative. Yet, we can take value education much farther than that in our school day.
There are some basic principles we should know as we teach our children moral values. They are:
1. We must be aware of the power of our example. If we are not living it ourselves, our children will be taught that there is a moral double standard. If I want my child to be honest, I can’t tell them to say: “My mom is not home” when you are home, but just don’t want to talk to someone. If I want my child to respect the law, I can’t be negative when I see a policeman hiding behind a tree with a radar gun. “As moral guides, parents and teachers influence character with every interaction. Children are quick to detect our subtlest inconsistencies (Gaines).” We must ask ourselves: “Are we consistent in our own moral behavior?” As our children grow up, they will model our behavior. They will do what we do more so than what we say. We must keep our value teaching and value behavior consistent.
2. We must help children adapt moral principles to various contextual situations. A child must be taught that he should not lie at church, at home, at school, playing with friends, or at the store. Often, children do not understand that the same moral principles should be lived in all of life’s situations. The world does not teach them that. The world will teach them that the way you live in your home is different than the way you live out in the world. Scoresby states: “We would be wise to think about moral behavior as it is expressed in contexts of time, place, and company…. If we are to help our children learn to live moral lives, we must prepare them to adapt to many situations and act appropriately in them (Scoresby, p. 11).”
Teaching morals in other subject areas can help children learn about adapting their moral behavior to other situations. For example, while teaching Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” children can understand how the need for power and money can drive you to do immoral things you normally wouldn’t do. Ed Schwartz is a Jewish teacher who has developed moral education curriculum for Talmud Day Schools. Part of the curriculum is discussing “dilemma” situations. The students are given case studies or situations that include a moral dilemma. As Schwartz describes: “The primary objectives of the exchanges were to widen and enrich the range of moral perspectives available to the students, and to employ moral problem-solving as a concrete basis for learning (Schwartz).” We can employ moral problem solving in a similar technique as we read literature, history, or science where there is a moral dilemma and help our children talk about how they would handle the situation.
3. We must understand that moral development is a process. Just as you do not expect a first grader to understand a poem by Walt Whitman as well as an adult can understand the same poem; so, you cannot expect a first grader to have the same moral understanding as you, as an adult, do. Both understanding poetry and understanding morality increases with age and maturity (hopefully). There are two tasks that children must be taught in order to be moral or live a valued life:
1. The child must be able to appraise the situation, identify its purpose, and decide what can be done to help and not hurt; that is moral reasoning or judgment.
2. The child can then choose to help and not to hurt and to act as reason and judgment require in this situation; that is moral conduct. (See Scoresby, p. 17)
Children may appraise the situation correctly (moral reasoning), but decide not to do anything about it because their friends would make fun of them (moral judgment). As parents, we must help our children understand both sides of the dilemma. They must be able to see a situation for what it is and make the right decision about it.
The best way to teach this to our children is to talk to them about our own moral journey. Share with them stories from our youth in which we had to make a moral choice. Noddings says: “Talk about your mistakes: ‘When I was your age, I did something I didn’t feel good about.’ Then talk about the circumstances, who might have helped, and how you feel about your mistake. Then the real world opens up. Then there can be a conversation in which all parties speak, listen, and respond to one another (Gaines). “
Another way to talk about values is through the situations and choices of characters in fiction you are reading together, or historical figures you are studying. Science can definitely have interesting moral discussions and math can be written to include moral thoughts.
Some Ideas on How to Teach:
Literature: As a lover of books, learning about values has been an integral part of my reading. I can remember as a young girl reading Herman Wouk’s “Marjorie Morningstar” and understanding for the first time why it was important to stay morally clean. I had been taught many times previously through scripture study, Young Women’s lessons, and family home evening about staying pure. But, when I read Marjorie’s bad choice after years of keeping herself morally clean. Then, the heartbreak she felt when she finally met the man she truly loved. It finally opened my understanding in a way that I never got before. Moral reasoning and moral conduct finally came together for me through that book.
You can use excerpts from books as case studies for moral dilemma discussions. For instance, as you read “Across Five April’s” by Irene Hunt you can ask: Which side of the Civil War would you fight on? Why? What moral decisions would you have to make for or against your own family?
You can use character studies to help understand moral motivation. Take one character and analyze why he is the way he is. What are his moral motivations? Why did he choose the right or the wrong? Is his background a good enough reason for why he made the choices he did?
You can compare and contrast different characters for the moral decisions they made. Compare and contrast characters that choose the right versus characters that choose the wrong. Why did they make the choices they did? What were the motivations?
You can have the child place himself in the role of the character and ask: What would you have done? The child can explore how he would have made different choices. Make sure he explains why. He must explain his motivation.
History: While teaching history, many of the same teaching strategies can be used. Also experiment with “What if’s” as you study history. For example, What if Hitler had become a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints (as a child, he supposedly went to Primary). How would Nazi Germany have been different? What would have happened with World War II? OR “What If” the British had won the Revolutionary War? OR “What If” the guillotine had not been invented just before the French Revolution? Does an invention cause evil to happen? Many moral dilemma discussions can occur through the study of history.
You can also follow scripture study with your history lessons. As you study ancient history, incorporate the timeline of what is happening in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Book of Mormon.
Current events are also an important part of any history or social science curriculum. You should talk with your child about what is going on in the world around him. How do these events make him feel? What good is happening in the world? How can we change the bad?
Science: There are many value discussions that are important to have as you teach science. The theory of evolution versus the creation is a great subject to discuss openly with your children. Is it morally right to clone another individual?
Math: Even math can have value discussions placed upon it. Rewrite word problems so that they have moral decisions placed upon them, not just math decisions.
For example, Tammy ate ¼ of a sandwich. Todd had forgotten his lunch. Tammy gave Todd the rest of the sandwich to eat. How much of the sandwich did Todd eat? How much more of the sandwich did Todd eat than Tammy?
This rewriting can make math more interesting. You can even have the children rewrite their own word problems.
Value education can be fun. It can improve your relationship with your child as you stop preaching about what you believe and start discussing together about values and how to live them. Teaching our children moral judgment and moral conduct is one of the most important subjects we can teach. It is truly a subject that crosses over to all curriculums.
This is a very short list I used for this article. For further reading, enjoy hopping around the Internet. There is a wealth of materials out there, including value or character curriculums, reading lists, chat rooms, and books on the web.
Scoresby, A. Lynn. 1989, 1998. Bringing Up Moral Children: In an Immoral World. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gaines, Susan. 1999. Growing Conscience: Trend in return to teaching children polite, moral and responsible behavior in schools. Better Homes and Gardens, May.
Schwartz, Ed. 1999. Developing a Moral Education Curriculum. Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.