Values Clarification



The corruption of America’s youth is a popular topic today in the media, among lawmakers, and with concerned parents. Often the “good old days” of generations past are looked upon with longing because of their simpler ways. Decades ago the largest problems in schools were talking out in class, not paying attention, and forgetting to do homework. Today’s problems are violence, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and delinquency in general. Everyone believes these issues are a result of something different: bad home lives, lack of religious ideals, the media, the wrong education or no education at all. Throughout the years, moral education has been looked to as both an answer and cause. Schooling in morals and values that is provided to youth can be categorized (somewhat) two ways: values clarification education and character education. I believe that the extremes of both of these options are not the answer. Concentration on values clarification education, with some indirect character education woven into the general curriculum, is the most practical answer to this on-going argument.
Not all people are familiar with values clarification and character education, so it is necessary to specify the standpoint of both positions, neither of which I agree with completely. Values clarification education (V.C.) was a popular way of teaching values education in the 1960s and 1970s. Now referred to as “non-directive education,” it is a system where students are not told which ways of living, thinking, and feeling are right and wrong. Instead they are encouraged to explore their own personal values and become familiar and comfortable with them. Through this process the youth has formulated a strong set of beliefs that are entirely their own, allowing them to adhere firmly to their values. This is a relativist way of viewing ethical thought because each situation is relative to its own circumstances. (Rachels, Ch2) Another technique that is often incorporated along with clarification is dilemma ethics. In this methodology, originally founded by Lawrence Kohlberg, teachers assist students in resolving moral conflicts, facilitate student reasoning, and ensure that discussions take place in conditions that are conductive to growth in moral reasoning. Kohlberg’s dilemmas are meant to foster reasoning and thought in forming ones values and morals. (Kohlberg) Using these techniques helps strengthen a child’s convictions without forcing a set values system upon them and brainwashing them to one view.
As pregnancy, substance abuse, and violence among teenagers has grown worse, the call for a different kind of ethical education system has been made, thus causing a return to the “character education” of previous decades. Proponents of character education want a restoration of traditional ways of teaching ethics to students. In these types of courses, students are taught exactly what is “right and wrong.” Their values are judged and deemed to be acceptable or unacceptable standards to live by. Educators who choose to implement character education programs focus on core values: values that are thought to be “universally” accepted by all cultures (if such a thing can exist). Two researchers, L. Gibbs and E. Earley, identified these “universal values” to be: compassion, courage, courtesy, fairness, honesty, kindness, loyalty, perseverance, respect, and responsibility. (Titus, 4) This is most closely related to the school of thought of Immanuel Kant who believed that one’s conduct should be guided by the “universal laws” of morality. (Rachels, Ch9)
At first glance, these principals do seem to fit a “universal” mode of thinking, but their universality can easily be questioned when they are put into “what if…” circumstances. And who is most likely to question what is being told to them? Kids. Children are often curious and ask numerous questions; while teenagers are skeptical and will think up the “exceptions” to anything that is passed off as “universally accepted.” This is the situation. There is no one set of moral “rules” that can apply to all situations at all times; therefore no one set of values can be taught. Children must learn what their morals and values are through experiences which includes input from parents, clergy, friends, relatives, peers, the media, and other outside parties. A system of values clarification is most effective in helping a child to sort through all of theses experiences and choose the best values from lessons learned.
Values clarification promotes reasoning and