Teaching Virtue: National Disasters in Public Education

 

Conservatives and libertarians often decry elementary public education for its failures to turn out students proficient in reading, writing, math, and science. These criticisms are usually backed up by comparing international test scores of US students to that of students from Japan, South Korea, or Finland, for example.

I’m not a fan of this critique, as I believe these other nations do not educate the average student very well (let alone the intellectually-challenged ones), nor include all of them in the testing on which the comparisons are made. When we use these numbers, we’re comparing their best and brightest with our average students. It’s Einsteins to Oprahs (who is very bright, but not a science or math major, if you get my meaning).

No, I think American public education generally does a serviceable job of teaching the basic academic subjects, given the students it’s working with (which is not to say no improvements should be made). Where it fails miserably – savagely, immorally – is on character education. Like all public policy failures I can think of, the blame for this monumental disaster gets placed directly at the feet of the Left.

Every year for the past several years, I’ve attended my daughter’s Hillsdale-model public charter high school’s parent back-to-school night, where parents run through a condensed version of their child’s school day: meeting teachers, receiving the syllabus for each class, and learning teachers’ expectations. And every year, parents receive a packet containing William Kilpatrick’s article “How Not to Teach Morality.” If you read nothing else this year about the beginning of the end of Western Civilization in the United States, read that.

In brief, beginning in the mid-1960s, educators adopted one of two methods of teaching character to students, and sometimes both: Values Clarification, which focuses students on their own feelings, ideas, and beliefs (versus absolute truths and traditional virtues to be found in art, literature, and history); and the Socratic dialogue method, which presents moral dilemmas to students and encourages them to argue the merits of one position or another (a.k.a., moral reasoning). Both methods have served to detach students from traditional Judeo-Christian Western culture, which just so happens generally to correspond to the values held by their parents.

If we can agree that teaching virtue to children is critically important to the healthy functioning of society (let alone to the good of their little souls), we should also be able to agree that public education’s approach has been, and continues to be, both insidious and invidious. Plato himself said the Socratic dialogues should be reserved for adults, lest children learn to love argument more than they love truth. The results Kilpatrick cites confirm what SoCons have been observing (the tyranny of moral relativism) and predicting all along.

It turns out, if you allow children to band together and devise their own system of morals and ethics, the “society” they form looks something like the closing scene of Lord of the Flies. In the Kilpatrick article, an eighth grade teacher asked her students to list “Twenty Things You Love to Do” as a way of clarifying their “values”; turns out the top four are “sex, drugs, drinking, and skipping school.” Who knew!?

Public education can get this right. It has done so in the past (using the traditional approach of teaching classical and Christian virtues), and it continues to do so in schools of choice, like my daughter’s Hillsdale-model charter. It was the homogeneity of good character education that produced the Greatest Generation — if you believe in that sort of thing — and an electorate that had the good (moral) sense to sweep Ronald Reagan to the presidency in a landslide. One could even argue that Barack Obama’s electoral success is attributable to the Left’s accomplishment of instituting such damaging methods of teaching “character” to our kids. Our nation’s moral compass is smashed beyond recognition, and with it, our nation’s future.

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  1. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I suppose I should add, “Have a nice day.” /sorry to be such a downer.

    • #1
  2. Mama Toad Member
    Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Here’s a paragraph in the opening chapter of a history text that one son will be using this year:

    “The Past The Teacher of The Present. The present learns from the past somewhat in the manner in which a a family might become wealthy after many, many years. Think of a man years ago working hard and saving a small fortune. He hands this on to his son who in turn labors very hard, saving money. This man in turn gives to his son the fortune he received from his father plus what he had earned himself. Suppose this went on for two hundred years. At the end of that time the fortune would be large. But it is large only because each generation added to what it had received, and passed along the increased fortune. So it is with civilization.
    Each century receives the benefit of much that the earlier centuries have done, it adds something of its own, and gives the enlarged treasure to the next century. However, there are times when nations lose or waste the gifts of the preceding ages just as a person might waste the fortune handed down to him…”

    • #2
  3. Mama Toad Member
    Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    This book was first published in 1937. 
    It is telling the students that learning from the past is required of them, and that we owe a debt of gratitude to those in the past as well as a debt to the future to improve things for them.
    I don’t know how this could be so controversial, but it appears to be so based on the knowledge of many young people of their history and its relevance to themselves.

    • #3
  4. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    I do not believe that moral virtue needs to be taught as a subject. It comes up on its own quite well, and if teachers were given a freer hand to discipline, and were backed up by a firm administration (hahahaha), in most cases that would be quite enough. So, for example, stealing, violence, tattling, gossiping, as well as being on time, speaking and dressing respectfully–such matters come up in school in a natural way and should be addressed as they arise. In addition, moral issues may come up in a literature or history or government class, or, indeed, in a science class, and can be discussed there in context. I leave aside the issue of the virtue of the teacher who has heard relativism and leftism espoused for the duration of his training, if not his life, but even such a teacher may be able to teach what used to be called “good deportment,” because if he doesn’t, his life may be made miserable.

    • #4
  5. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Western Chauvinist: I’m not a fan of this critique, as I believe these other nations do not even educate the average student (let alone the intellectually-challenged ones), nor include them in testing at the 10th grade level at which the comparisons are often made. When we use these numbers, we’re comparing their best and brightest with our average students. It’s Einsteins to Oprahs (who is very bright, but not a science or math major, if you get my meaning).

    This is definitely true. By the time the foreign countries submit their “students” to the NAEP test, they have weeded out those who might test poorly. In the US, our public school students are heterogeneously educated through 12th grade. I once had opportunity to see the randomly selected NAEP test list for our HS. At that moment I was no longer in amazement that our national scores were/are so abysmal. 

    • #5
  6. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    Western Chauvinist:

    Where it fails miserably – savagelyimmorally – is on character education. And, like all public policy failures I can think of, the blame for this monumental disaster gets placed directly at the feet of the Left.
    [snip]
    Public education can get this right. It has done so in the past (using the traditional approach of teaching classical and Christian virtues), and it continues to do so in schools of choice, like my daughter’s Hillsdale-model charter.

     You’re so wrong. Not about the virtue of teaching virtues, but using the public school system to do it. It’s politically untenable. Sure it worked in the past when the nation as a whole thought the same general things about religion and virtue, but there’s too much disagreement now. Seriously, would non Christians really let Christians teach their virtues? How about vice versa? There was at least one case where Muslims were able to take over an American school, at least temporarily until they were challenged by Christians in court using the same prohibitions that are used against them.

    That’s why there is home schooling. If you’re sending your kid to public school and you want virtue to be taught, then you’re going to have to do it yourself, along with help from your church.

    Oh, and your examples of the countries of Japan, South Korea, and Finland? They’re SMALLER countries. And they all have cultures that are more in agreement of what their values are partly because they’re smaller.

    The solution for the United States is decentralizing education, as opposed to the present trend of federalizing it. It would be up to the states, but I’d recommend that school districts be limited to 20,000 students. If they exceed that, break them up.

    Let those local school boards figure out what values they want to teach, instead of being dictated to by Washington, DC, or even their own state capitals. And if a parent doesn’t like what their school district teaches, they can plausibly move without having to change jobs (just a longer commute).

    • #6
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    You didn’t read very carefully, Al. My children are getting moral training in a public school. It happens to be a (publicly funded) charter school, which is accountable not to a local school board, but an internal, parent-led, independent one!

    I’m an advocate of subsidiarity in education as in most everything. I think school choice is crucial for saving the nation. But, just because some Muslims and the Left advocate “virtues” antithetical to success of a free society doesn’t mean we should sit down and shut up about them. We know what works.

    Also, if you read Kilpatrick’s article, he quotes parents who are presented with the choice between the “let kids decide morals for themselves” method and the classical method, and their response is, “Are they kidding?!” 

    I don’t think there’s as much disagreement in the populace on virtues as the media and the Left (but, I repeat myself) would have us believe. They promote multiculturalism as a means of dividing and controlling the citizenry.

    • #7
  8. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Al Sparks: If you’re sending your kid to public school and you want virtue to be taught, then you’re going to have to do it yourself, along with help from your church.

    I have to agree. Virtue is a family affair that can be shared with the community by example and interaction.
    I don’t think it is practical to expect authentic virtue be taught explicitly in school. The biggest challenge would be getting all staff in a public school to have the same viewpoint on virtue. The second challenge would be getting all those in the community to “submit” to the instruction. 
    All anyone can do in regards to virtue is be responsible for themselves and their own children, live by example, and hope to be a positive influence on those who see the value of virtue and want to reap the benefits that virtue brings to a life.

    • #8
  9. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Western Chauvinist: My children are getting moral training in a public school. It happens to be a (publicly funded) charter school, which is accountable not to a local school board, but an internal, parent-led, independent one!

     Kudos to you, and hopefully more and more people will see the value in the virtue taught, and adopt it for themselves in their own lives and schools. 

    • #9
  10. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Julia PA: I have to agree. Virtue is a family affair that can be shared with the community by example and interaction.

     You’re ceding virtue education to the Left. 

    • #10
  11. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Western Chauvinist:

    Julia PA: I have to agree. Virtue is a family affair that can be shared with the community by example and interaction.

    You’re ceding virtue education to the Left.

    I don’t think you can force anyone be virtuous, appreciate virtue or strive to be virtuous. I think we can only promote it by example. I do believe you are right on this:

    Western Chauvinist: They promote multiculturalism as a means of dividing and controlling the citizenry.

    and that your current course of action is a good one.
    Everyone who chooses to go to your charter school is of like mind, or at least values the path and the results from the program offered. Your success at home and in the school is a way to share the value of virtue, and counteract the media and its power of the “non-virtuous.” 

    • #11
  12. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    Western Chauvinist:

    You didn’t read very carefully, Al. My children are getting moral training in a public school. It happens to be a (publicly funded) charter school, which is accountable not to a local school board, but an internal, parent-led, independent one!

    Ok, you got me, I didn’t get that.

    Still, friendliness towards charter schools varies from state to state. In Alaska, all charter schools are chartered by the local school board as well as the state. And there are plenty of public school advocates that are hostile towards the whole idea. While the new mayor of New York was circumvented by the governor, his intention was to use the considerable powers he has to close them down.

    The charter school movement is an iffy one, and has some very strong ideological enemies. So does the home schooling movement, but it seems to be on more solid ground.

    There’s no unity even on that issue; my original point.

    • #12
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    How public is a charter school, really?

    • #13
  14. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    How public is a charter school, really?

     Midge, 
    It depends on where, including the state & specific community. But I think a public charter school is always approved by the state & local community. It is paid for with tax dollars, not by individual student tuition payments. It can have a theme or focus, as part of its mission, as it seems WC’s does. Some charter schools have admission by lottery if constituent demand is greater than available seats allow. 
    What is often unique about charters is that they make demands on participants to follow whatever their specific mission is…there is an expectation that participants will actually participate.

    Not all charters are good, their success is dependent on positive outcomes generated by those that run it, and by those that commit to participating in the teaching/learning offered.

    • #14
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Julia PA:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    How public is a charter school, really?

    It is paid for with tax dollars… What is often unique about charters is that they make demands on participants to follow whatever their specific mission is…there is an expectation that participants will actually participate.

    So public by funding, but private by association. And it’s possible charter school members might consider their local school tax (say, property tax) “tuition”.

    • #15
  16. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Midge, 

    Charter schools are either chartered by their local school district (in which case they are accountable to the local school board) or by the state (of Colorado, in our case) chartering agency. This means that, typically, a charter (document) describing the educational philosophy and plan to implement the program is written by a group of parents interested in starting the school, which must then receive approval from one or the other official agencies in order to open. Once in operation, charters have to undergo accreditation re-approval in Colorado every 5 years. However, if the failure rate is high, I’m pretty sure officials can step in and shut down the operation.

    Charters in Colorado which have their charter through the state are allowed to be independently governed — that is, by a school board operating within the school. My daughter’s high school has been one of the top performing college-prep schools in the nation from the start, and so has had no issues with accreditation or interference from the state.

    They teach the Bible in all their (honors) Literature and (honors) History classes — even to the Muslim students, of which there are always a few. No complaints.

    • #16
  17. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    As a publicly funded school, charters must accept all applicants if they have space available. After that, they may impose a lottery. The only other means of selecting out students is by the all-important placement tests. This is a very rigorous school offering only honors or above classes. Children who do not test as proficient at grade-level are offered a spot in the lower grade (the associated K-8 school is also high performing, but most freshman don’t wish to go back to junior high to acquire proficiency, so this is one way to screen out under-performers. A lot of kids are too intimidated by the reputation, too.

    Charter schools are also not as well-funded as most public schools (by tax dollars), as they only receive the base, minimum per-pupil rate, whereas public schools have special needs students which bring two, three, or even four times the amount of per-pupil funding with them. However, charters have more flexibility in fundraising and can even vie for grants and donations. Still, I’d guess most of a charter’s funding comes from the state.

    Charter teachers are paid < public school teachers. But, > private school teachers.

    • #17
  18. liberal jim Inactive
    liberal jim
    @liberaljim

    I think the question is, how much parental influence is there in a given system? In most inner cities, professional educators (I hesitate to use that term when speaking of inner-city systems) and politicians have almost iron fisted control and parental influence is almost non-exsitant; the results cannot reasonably be called serviceable. Yes there are a few schools in these systems where parents have more influence and the education is of higher qualified and traditional virtues are given more respect. These exceptions bolster my point. Generally speaking as you move away from the inner city parental influence increases, as does quality and respect for traditional virtue. I guess you must correctly think of “No Child Left Behind” GWB and his brother,” Common Core” Jeb as part of the Left. I agree with your arguments, but think it might be good to start to use the term “traditional virtues” seeing as this word along with morality has be highjacked by our friends on the left. Welcome to 1984.

    • #18
  19. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    At the risk of repeating myself:

    “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man shold be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius

    • #19
  20. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Misthiocracy:

    At the risk of repeating myself:

    “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man shold be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius

    Right. And what is a good man? And, since you’ve left out half the population from your quote, you must be sexist! ;-)

    Most public schools are administered by liberals. They’re teaching our children that a good person recycles and holds the “right” position on AGW and SSM. It’s not that character isn’t being taught at all. It’s that it’s being taught in relativistic, irrational ways which conflict with the values underpinning the success of Western Civilization.

    I’m arguing it is unwise to cede character education to these people. If students were taught Aristotelian ethics, we’d be a better nation with a better electorate and a hopeful future. As it is, our outlook is bleak.

    • #20
  21. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    I agree with you that about the method of teaching virtue. I am worried that doing this through the public school system is creating a very powerful weapon that the Left will be more than happy to hijack to create a system where all of our children sing songs in praise of Obamacare. Given the push to make Advanced Placement history in race/class/gender studies, I tremble at what they would do if they got their hands on the substance of moral education.

    Conquest’s Second Law should definitely be a concern here, i.e. Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.

    • #21
  22. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Quinn the Eskimo: I tremble at what they would do if they got their hands on the substance of moral education.

     That’s my point. It’s too late. We can either fight back, or ride out the decline.

    • #22
  23. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Western Chauvinist:

    Conservatives and libertarians often decry elementary public education for its failures to turn out students proficient in reading, writing, math, and science. These criticisms are usually backed up by comparing international test scores of US students to that of students from Japan, South Korea, or Finland, for example.

    I’m not a fan of this critique, as I believe these other nations do not educate the average student very well (let alone the intellectually-challenged ones), nor include all of them in the testing on which the comparisons are made. When we use these numbers, we’re comparing their best and brightest with our average students. It’s Einsteins to Oprahs (who is very bright, but not a science or math major, if you get my meaning).

    The article you linked to references the PISA exam which uses a random sample of 5K students per country. Here is Wikipedia article which talks about the sampling methodology. I don’t think it is Einsteins to Oprahs. My own article from Ricochet 1.0 which I can no longer find showed that, based on PISA, you cannot buy good test scores (thus throwing more money at public education is not the solution.) The solution to public education is really what you propose – which takes no additional money to solve, just the willingness to change what is taught.

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I must say, it’s very disheartening that so many right-wingers don’t recognize what’s already going on — since the mid-1960s!

    I don’t expect libertarians to put up a vigorous fight in defense of traditional Judeo-Christian values, but when other right-wingers roll-over for relativism, well… the Left wins.

    Sure, you can homeschool your kids. You can find a decent charter if your state allows them. But, what about your neighbor’s kids? Don’t you care what they’re learning? They’re fellow citizens and the individuals who will make up the society in which your child will have to function.

    I’m baffled.

    • #24
  25. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Western Chauvinist: Sure, you can homeschool your kids. You can find a decent charter if your state allows them. But, what about your neighbor’s kids? Don’t you care what they’re learning?

    What a great point. 

    I used to teach ethics, justice, and related issues at a university. Most of my students came in as moral and cultural relativists. It was obvious that they had learned this at school, and they were easily flummoxed when I would take a contrary position, i.e., they could not believe that some educated people did not accept relativism as truth.

    However, most of these students were open to argument as to why relativism is false and contradicts their basic moral notions (“Who am I to say that it’s wrong to behead journalists?), and is at best a kind of pure utilitarianism (if the majority in a culture approves of killing homosexuals it must be “right”). They were excited by the distinction between negative and positive rights. They came to realize that a good society cannot be morally vacuous. 

    My take is that most people don’t want to be moral relativists. They simply need ammunition to refute relativistic notions.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: If students were taught Aristotelian ethics, we’d be a better nation with a better electorate and a hopeful future.

    My understanding of Aristotelian ethics is that is boils down to defining evil as “too much or too little of a good thing”, and therefore one can argue that it is indeed the basis of the relativistic morality favoured by unionized public education. The goal is to create a mass of people who adhere uniformly to the golden mean, with no outliers at either end of the spectrum.

    • #26
  27. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Instugator:

    Western Chauvinist:

    The article you linked to references the PISA exam which uses a random sample of 5K students per country. Here is Wikipedia article which talks about the sampling methodology. I don’t think it is Einsteins to Oprahs. My own article from Ricochet 1.0 which I can no longer find showed that, based on PISA, you cannot buy good test scores (thus throwing more money at public education is not the solution.) The solution to public education is really what you propose – which takes no additional money to solve, just the willingness to change what is taught.

    We’re in agreement.

    BTW, I don’t think we should be sending everyone to a college-prep school. But, I think we should be teaching certain fundamental values — fundamental to the success of Western Civilization — to all students at every grade level. That’s the biggest failure of public education since the mid ’60’s.

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  28. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Misthiocracy:

    Western Chauvinist: If students were taught Aristotelian ethics, we’d be a better nation with a better electorate and a hopeful future.

    My understanding of Aristotelian ethics is that is boils down to defining evil as “too much or too little of a good thing”, and therefore one can argue that it is indeed the basis of the relativistic morality favoured by unionized public education. The goal is to create a mass of people who adhere uniformly to the golden mean, with no outliers at either end of the spectrum.

    One of us misunderstands it, then. I’ve been listening to Larry Arnn on the Hillsdale Dialogues this morning. Speaking about Aristotle with Hugh Hewitt, he says all actions point toward the good — iow, there actually is something transcendent, an absolute truth — although people often make un-virtuous choices and behave badly. That’s not relativism.

    • #28
  29. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: Sure, you can homeschool your kids. You can find a decent charter if your state allows them. But, what about your neighbor’s kids? Don’t you care what they’re learning?

    I think the answers come down to whether the answerer holds theory or practice in higher esteem.

    In theory, there exists a single “best way to do things”, so if one puts theory in higher esteem then one will demand that all be required to follow the same path towards this ideal.

    In practice, any attempt to enforce a single “best way to do things” throughout history has failed. Therefore, one who holds practice in higher esteem will be skeptical of enforcing any single path on their neighbours.

    My neighbour’s kids will have the best chance of learning something closest to my understanding of the ideal if my neighbours have the freedom to choose how best to educate their own kids.

    Or, to paraphrase Friedman, when a society puts ideals ahead of freedom, it gets neither, but when a society puts freedom ahead of ideals, it gets a great deal of both.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: One of us misunderstands it, then. I’ve been listening to Larry Arnn on the Hillsdale Dialogues this morning. Speaking about Aristotle with Hugh Hewitt, he says all actions point toward the good — iow, there actually is something transcendent, an absolute truth — although people often make un-virtuous choices and behave badly. That’s not relativism.

    That ain’t what I’ve gotten out of The Ethics, but I must admit I’m not yet through the entire book.

    • #30